Utah State vs. BYU: Game Preview
Saturday’s Mountain West lineup will feature a battle in the beehive state.
Aggies well rested for in-state duel with BYU at home this weekend.
WHO: Utah State Aggies (1-2, 0-0 in the MW) vs. Brigham Young Cougars (4-1, 0-0 in the WCC)
WHEN: Saturday, December 5th-6:00 PM PST/ 7:00 PM MST/ 8:00 PM EST
WHERE: Dee Glen Smith Spectrum Center-Logan, UT
STREAM: Watch – Mountain West Network
Line: KenPom, Aggies favored by 3
SERIES RECORD: Cougars lead 144-92
In-state matchups are in fashion this winter, as schools have taken advantage of scheduling their neighbors this non-conference season in higher frequency. Utah State hosting Brigham Young is nothing new though, with Saturday’s home opener being the 237th time these foes have taken the court, a record in the beehive state, which now boasts seven D-I programs with transitioning Dixie State.
But the stakes in this weekend’s game are a little high for both sides, as aside from W in the oldest head-to-head match up in the state, both teams are looking to keep their winning momentum alive on Saturday.
The Aggies like most of the Mountain West came into the 2020-2021 season adjusting to the loss of several key players, including second-round NBA draft pick Sam Merrill. And like other Mountain West programs, they have had a little bit of a time, missing out on the scoring, playmaking and distributing elements of Merrill and others on last year’s roster, now find themselves 1-2 through three games and having lost by an average of 20.0 PPG.
Head coach Craig Smith wasn’t going to let that happen a third time in a row, and the victim of the Aggies turnaround performance was Northern Iowa who was picked to win the Missouri Valley, in an 82-71 win.
Second year BYU head coach Mark Pope and his squad are in a similar position, as the cougars are coming off of a 74-68 bounce back win against St. John’s at the Roman Legends Classic in Uncasville, CT. The Cougars spent the last week there as participants in the event, and left with one win and one loss to USC (53-79). So with solid bounce back performances in hand, both teams headed home, to gear up for Saturday’s home opener in Logan, with plenty of bragging rights on the line.
A key detail in this longstanding rivalry is the one-sidedness in the last decade or so. Even with Sam Merrill and company, the Aggies were unable to beat the Cougars the last couple of meet ups. Their last win coming back in 2011 at home, 69-62, before an eight game win streak began by the BYU. But worry not, because even though the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum will look a little different without fans on Saturday, the Aggies are riding a 26-game win streak in home openers.
The boys are ready to play in The Spectrum!
— USU Men's Hoops (@USUBasketball) December 3, 2020
But usual buy-game home openers aside, with a deep and Alex Barcello (18.4 PPG) led team making the two hour drive north, this well rested Utah State squad better be prepared.
Match up of the night: Battle of the BIGS
Haarms plays more of a supportive role on the offensive side of things compared to that of Queta, but at 7-3 with a deep cast of big men around him, Queta might been in for a tough night among the trees on Saturday. But don’t count him out, he practices against two seven footers (Kuba Karwowski, 7-2 & Trevin Dorius, 7-0) and 6-11 freshman Szymon Zapala, he’s got to be used to not being the tallest guy on the court by now.
Haarms isn’t a very stocky big man though, and uses his length and mobility to get shots around the rim. So the battle may be less in the paint than we think between these two tomorrow. And even though he is only 7th in rebounds on the entire roster (3.0 RPG), he is the clear leader in blocked shots (2.3 BPG). Which means he doesn’t have to worry about the boards, mostly just the rejections, and that can be a bit worrisome given his size advantage and 1.0 foul per game average so far this season.
DYNAMIC DUO 😎✌️ pic.twitter.com/CEPJ2JCxJ9
— BYU Basketball (@BYUbasketball) December 4, 2020
Prediction: BYU 82, Utah State 75
The Aggies are favored in this one by three, per KenPom, but the Cougars are a dangerous team this season and were the only team in the WCC to take a point away from powerhouse Gonzaga in this year’s preseason poll.
What make turn the tables the other way in this one could be the depth of the Cougars bench (37.3% of the teams overall minutes come from the bench, compared to just 28.2% for Utah State). This one is going to be close, and emotions will run high. But the backcourt issues experienced by Utah State in their first two games are concerning, as this year’s roster lacks an elite playmaker and is averaging just 11.0 APG.
There is always a shot but at this time BYU just seems like a more complete squad. Though the Aggies advantage comes with a full weeks rest, having last played a game last Friday in South Dakota. Compared to the Cougars who have played three games since, two of which were on the road across the country. So is there was ever a shot to break their current losing streak to BYU, it comes by way of fresh legs for Utah State.
The X-Factor: A solid distributor needs to emerge
As disheveled as the Aggies’ backcourt has looked so far this season, it’s still unclear where the distribution will come from this weekend. This team as a whole is averaging only 11.0 APG to 15.7 turnovers per game.
With their leading assist man, 6-7 swiss army knife Justin Bean (2.3 APG: 1.0 turnovers per game) not the long term solution and missing out on rebounds and second chance opportunities in the post because of it.
There are several freshmen getting big minutes in the backcourt in the Aggie’s first three games. But even as a couple flashy passes find their way to Neemias Queta down low, Steven Ashworth and Rollie Worster still look like freshmen unprepared to run the offense. And more veteran players like Marco Anthony and Brock Miller are in the same boat as they continue to prove to be more spot up shooters or slashers in Anthony’s case.
I know these things don’t solve themselves overnight, but coach Smith has proven himself as a great coach and even with such a young roster should figure this out at one point or another.
So, while several games are either postponed or canceled this weekend, the Aggies are a part of a nice slate of non-conference games located on the west coast this week to keep us entertained from home.
So tune in folks, on whatever stream you decide to watch on since this game isn’t televised. As the Aggies fight for .500 and the Cougars hope to extend their winning streak to nine against their northern neighbors on Saturday night.