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Three Takeaways From BYU Basketball’s Season-Opening Win

Brigham Young Cougars guard Connor Harding (44) puts up a shot over Cal State Fullerton Titans guard Wayne Arnold (11) as BYU and Cal State Fullerton play a college basketball game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO, Utah – Unlike his previous head coach, Mark Pope begins his head coaching tenure at BYU with a win. The last head coach to begin his BYU basketball head coaching career with a victory was Steve Cleveland in 1997.

Tuesday night’s opening night win over Cal State Fullerton to begin the Pope era had BYU fans leaving the Marriott Center liking what they saw. Tougher challenges lie ahead for this group that will be without Yoeli Childs for another eight games. But it was a solid start to an off-season that was as rocky as the program has ever seen.

Here are the three takeaways from BYU’s 18-point victory over the Titans.

#1 Arizona is going to regret not playing Alex Barcello when they had him

The Arizona Wildcats are a program that always gets great talent, but they let a special one go in guard Alex Barcello. Barcello flourished in his BYU debut with 17 points, three steals, two blocks, and two assists.

BYU coaches always refer to the Tempe, Arizona native as a “bulldog.” He was every bit of that on Tuesday night as he got after the Fullerton players when he was on the defensive end.

In a crazy off-season that had more negatives than positives, the NCAA granting Barcello a waiver to play this season is already paying off in a huge way for BYU hoops.

#2 Defense is ahead of the offense right now

After five weeks of training camp and practices, Mark Pope felt confident that his team’s defense was farther ahead than where the offense is at this point. Through one game, that would definitely be the case.

BYU held Fullerton to 24 points, the lowest number of points allowed in the first 20 minutes of a game in two years. Who BYU was playing definitely factored into the Cougars’ success on Tuesday night. But seeing BYU outrebound Fullerton and limiting the Titans to only eight second-chance opportunities was a positive development after game one.

Pope’s offense is still exploring so many different lineups and rotations right now that the flow and rhythm of the offense will take some time. But the early returns on defense are promising as BYU will have to be stout on that end to navigate this difficult nine-game stretch without Childs.

#3 Connor Harding is the wild card for BYU this season

Sophomore Connor Harding is one of the more versatile players on this BYU basketball roster. He can play the point or he can play the four spot in the frontcourt. He’s versatile, athletic, and a potential mismatch for BYU’s opposition on any given night. That was the case against Fullerton as Harding poured in 11 points on 4-6 shooting from the field and he pulled down eight rebounds.

In the postgame, Pope said he was hard on Connor Harding during the Italy trip this past summer and training camp last month because he believes Harding can provide a physical effort that few on BYU’s roster can give. Pope liked how Harding “owned” his shot in his follow-through along with his ability to pull down rebounds.

If Harding can provide a consistent output on a nightly basis, this BYU team could surprise a lot of people this year. Harding could turn a good team into a great one if he becomes a factor physically each night.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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