With No Time To Breathe, Challenging Games Continue On BYU Schedule

Dec 9, 2019, 8:23 PM | Updated: 8:29 pm
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope calls a play during the first half of an NCAA basketball...
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope calls a play during the first half of an NCAA basketball game at Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. (Colter Peterson, Deseret News)
(Colter Peterson, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – Whenever talking about tough schedules at BYU, the first team brought up is usually the football program. Independence has allowed BYU football to create difficult and challenging schedules.

Being in the West Coast Conference hasn’t allowed BYU basketball to have that same luxury. Until this year.

This season’s non-conference schedule has been as challenging of an out of conference slate that BYU hoops have seen in quite some time.

Through 11 games, BYU is 7-4 on the season. A solid record when you consider that nine of those games were without their star player in Yoeli Childs. Then you dig deeper and you’ll see that the games they’ve played so far have formed one of the toughest schedules in the country.

According to the Sagarin ratings, BYU’s schedule through 11 games has been the 17th toughest schedule in all of college basketball. 26th according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings and 36th in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index strength of schedule ranking.

The challenging games aren’t slowing down either as Nevada comes to the Marriott Center on Tuesday night and then the Cougars head back to Salt Lake City to face 9-1 Utah State in the Beehive Classic.

Mark Pope inherited most of this schedule from BYU legend Dave Rose who retired last March. Rose assembled this schedule with the intent of giving BYU a larger margin for error in hopes of landing an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. BYU hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2015. A year that saw BYU play a difficult and challenging non-conference schedule as well.

The NCAA selection committee is evaluating teams based on their NET rankings and the number of Quad 1 & 2 games they’ve played and won. BYU moves forward assembling what they hope is a resume that puts them in the at-large conversation come March.

When Pope curates the non-conference schedule in future years with his staff, will he have them be as challenging as this one? The short answer would be yes, but with a few tweaks.

“I love these games. I probably would have put in a breath somewhere, maybe two. And what I mean by that is just a time where one, we can get a couple of days of practice in and two, maybe two or three games where I could get Blaze Nield into the rotation to see if he can actually help us. Right? Trevin Knell is going to help us but to get him some more minutes where I can see him on the floor more. I think that’s been the most painful part of this schedule. When have I had a chance to give those guys a look and see if they can do anything?” said Pope.

Right now BYU has a solid eight-man rotation that Pope believes allows their first and second units to “blur together.” But they are always looking for more depth. Players like Nield, a preferred walk-on from Utah State Eastern University and returned missionary Trevin Knell are players Pope believes could add depth to this year’s team as they strive to put out their best product when March rolls around for the conference tournament.

But players who have seen significant minutes have enjoyed the tough schedule.

“I think it’s been really good. It’s been a challenge every game. When there’s a challenge you get to see what you’re made of, senior Dalton Nixon said on the nonconference schedule.

“We’ve had some tough games. Some games that we haven’t been able to come out on top but there’s been some challenges – especially Maui Invitational comes to mind – where we were able to put it together and win. I even think this UNLV game, with the circumstances of coming off a loss and facing another good, physical team was a good challenge for us. But it (non-conference schedule) helps us to improve game by game.”

With a difficult schedule, it could be easy for a team to lay down and come up exhausted one night. Happens all the time in the NBA and sometimes in college hoops as well. But Pope has yet to see that from his team.

“Our guys have been so tough and together … for most teams with this type of schedule that’s [exhaustion] gonna happen and these guys just have been so fantastic.”

BYU’s remaining Non-Conference schedule

December 10th – NEVADA

December 14th – vs Utah State (Vivint Smart Home Arena)

December 21st – WEBER STATE

December 28th – ORAL ROBERTS

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for 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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