Here's a preview of the next six non-MWC contests facing the Cougars over the holidays and heading into conference play next month...
Remaining Non-Conference Games:
BYU vs. Wagner - Thursday, December 17
7 PM Tipoff (MST); TV: BYUTV
The Seahawks hail from Staten Island. They are currently 1-7 and their best-known opponent thus far has been Bucknell, who beat Wagner by 24 in New York. Prediction - Cougars 96, Seahawks 60.
BYU vs. Eastern Washington - Saturday, December 19
7 PM Tipoff (MST); TV: BYUTV
Rodney Stuckey's alma mater is 4-5 but has been competitive in most of their matchups this season. The Eagles most recently lost to Seattle at home in overtime (The same Seattle that beat Utah in Salt Lake and Fresno State in Washington. Their star, Charles Garcia is getting serious NBA attention.). This is a very winnable game for the Cougars at home but senior Brandon Moore could give them problems inside. Prediction - Cougars 89, Eagles 76.
BYU vs. Nevada - Tuesday, December 22
HoopTV Las Vegas Classic - Las Vegas (Orleans Arena)
1 PM Tipoff (MST); TV: BYUTV
This tournament game was originally scheduled for 8:30 pm, but was moved up due to the Cougars contest in the Las Vegas Bowl that evening. BYU has played very well in Orleans Arena in the past - games against Louisville and North Carolina come to mind - but Nevada should have some fans and this is by no means an automatic win. The Cougars have already lost to one WAC opponent and can't afford to lose another. The Wolfpack is currently 4-4 but their losses have all been to quality competition: North Carolina, UOP, UNLV and VCU. The game against EWU will be a good test for the Cougars' post players going against Moore in preparation for Nevada's Luke Babbitt. The sophomore forward is the latest NBA prospect to come out of Reno and has recorded 7 consecutive double-doubles. Prediction - Cougars 74, Wolfpack 71
Nebraska is 7-2 so far and have already knocked off two PAC-10 opponents: USC (in L.A.) and Oregon State. BYU assistant Walter Roese (the surname is pronounced with an 'H' not an 'R) is now coaching in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers are winning with some very impressive defense, holding both of the aforementioned schools below 50 points. This could be a scrappy contest should the Cougars draw Nebraska and BYU will need Tavernari or someone other than Fredette and Haws to really step it up offensively. Prediction - Cougars 64, Cornhuskers 58
Tulsa is also a quality program and potentially a tough matchup for BYU. They are 7-1 and crushed Oklahoma State earlier this month in Tulsa. The Hurricane's lone loss came to Missouri State in Springfield. (Missouri State (9-0) will probably be ranked soon as they have also beaten Auburn and Air Force pretty convincingly.) Tulsa has one of the best centers in the country in Jerome Jordan. Jordan might have been a first-round selection had he made himself eligible last June. If the Cougars can't get their perimeter shots to fall it will be very, very difficult to score on Jordan inside. Prediction - Golden Hurricane 78, Cougars 75
BYU vs Arizona - Monday, December 28 at Tucson
7 PM Tipoff (MST); TV: Fox College Sports (FCS)
This will be an exciting matchup between two of the better point guards in the West. Wildcats' guard Nic Wise remains from last years' Sweet-16 team (with Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill). Arizona has officially begun the post-Lute Olson era however, and Sean Miller is a terrific coach. You should remember him from when he coached Xavier past the Cougars in the 2007 tourney. The Wildcats have been somewhat of a disappointment thus far, as despite it being a rebuilding year in Tucson they have dropped winnable contests to Wisconsin on the road and UNLV at home. Most recently they were destroyed at home by San Diego State. Could Arizona really lose to three MWC opponents in one season? Yes. Prediction - Cougars 70, Wildcats 64.
BYU vs. Eastern New Mexico - Saturday, January 2
7 PM Tipoff (MST); TV: TBA
ENM is located in Portales and is a small school with about 4,300 students. Interestingly, their men's (Greyhounds) and women's (Zia's) athletic teams have different mascots. The Greyhounds are 4-4 on the season with their marquee win being against the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. This will be a good learning experience for the Greyhounds. Remember that win over Southern? Prediction - Cougars 110, Greyhounds 62
(First conference game scheduled for Wednesday, January 6 vs. UNLV in Provo)
BYU vs. UTEP - Saturday, January 9 at El Paso
6 PM Tipoff (MST); TV: CBS College Sports
The Miners are 5-1 thus far but they haven't really played anyone. Their lone loss was at home to New Mexico State. That had to have been a bummer since they had just beaten the Aggies two weeks earlier by 21 in Las Cruzes. So despite the Cougars going on the road, this should really be the calm before the storm of conference competition. Prediction - Cougars 90, Miners 71
Before the season began I asserted that BYU's depth and somewhat weaker schedule this season could permit them to have a quality record headed into MWC competition:
"The Cougars should have a very good record going into conference play. That's 15 games into the season and I see no reason why BYU can't be 13-2 at that point."
The Cougars currently sit at 8-1 and their remaining six non-conference contests are all highly winnable. In fact you could probably assume that the games against Wagner and the Eastern Washington and New Mexico's are automatic despite that being a bit hubristic on my part. I also expect the Cougars to have a good showing in the Las Vegas Classic.
The last two games against Arizona State and Fresno State are a sign of things to come. Opponents are now familiar enough with Fredette that they are going to seal off the lane and force the Cougars wing-players to make their mid-range to outside jumpers. Luckily for BYU Tyler Haws and/or Jackson Emery have done just that. You can't say enough good things about Haws' play so far. We certainly anticipated him being a big-time player and even a contributor to the team this season. However, I wasn't expecting him to be playing over 30 minutes a game, rebounding like a kangaroo on crack and consistently making clutch plays down the stretch of games.
But the best thing about this is Tavernari. He's been abysmal shooting from, well, everywhere but the FT line. That's obviously not what's great. What's wonderful is that he's not going to get any worse. JT is shooting 10% below his season average from last year and easily 7% worse behind the arc than any season he's spent in Provo. His minutes are down, his rebounding is down, his assists are down - but all that is going to change.
These last few non-conference games will provide Tavernari the opportunity to get his confidence back. The games against Wagner and EWU may be just what the doctor ordered - and returning to Orleans Arena where JT has excelled in the past (and where he is familiar having played high school ball in Vegas) could really break him out of this funk. Just in time for conference play.
Additionally, young players like Haws, Davies and others like Abouo and Hartsock are only going to continue to improve. Hartsock has shown that the past couple of games (13 points against the Sun Devils and 11 boards against the Bulldogs) and is now starting at the four. This team is deep. As deep as any I can remember.
If the Cougars do manage to come into MWC play with only one or two losses they will be positioning themselves for a better tournament seed come March. So while UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State have all been impressive, BYU is the three-time defending champs and their future is looking just as bright as their past.
Updated BYU statistics after the jump...
|Michael Loyd, Jr.||9||13.1||1.7||2.7||62.5||0.8||1.4||53.8||0.2||0.4||50.0||0.0||0.8||0.8||1.1||1.0||0.3||0.0||0.7||4.3|
|Lamont Morgan, Jr.||9||9.7||0.9||1.3||66.7||0.2||0.3||66.7||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.1||0.3||0.4||1.9||0.6||0.3||0.0||0.2||2.0|