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Burning Questions That Need Answers During BYU Basketball Practices

BYU guard Alex Barcello drives to the basket against San Diego State on Saturday, November 9th, 2019. (BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

PROVO, UtahΒ – Year two of the Mark Pope era in the BYU basketball program began on Wednesday with a 6 a.m. practice. Pope began that tradition last year to mark the start of training camp with two-a-days.

Many questions surround Pope’s second team, mainly because there are 10 newcomers on this year’s squad. Those newcomers plus a handful of returners from last year will look to exceed the output from last year’s team that was 24-8 and finished with a No. 18 ranking in the final AP Top 25 poll before COVID-19 ended the season prematurely.

Here are some burning questions surrounding the 2020-21 BYU basketball team before the season tips off on November 25th.

How good will Matt Haarms be for BYU Basketball?

BYU basketball doesn’t get elite bigs very often. Haarms has the potential to be one of the best big men in college basketball this season. At 7-foot-3, his presence alone alters what opponents will do when they get into the paint.

But at Purdue, his role was split with other players, which was one reason he ended up transferring during this graduate year. Pope and BYU assistant Chris Burgess have already given glowing reviews of the type of person and leader Haarms has become since his arrival on campus.

Haarms was impressed with the analytical approach that BYU’s staff had to offer; it will be fascinating to see what Pope and his staff can do with elevating Haarms’ play. If Haarms succeeds in his one year at BYU, Pope’s program could be a trendy landing spot for future grad transfers and star big men in the high school circuit.

What leaps does Alex Barcello make in his game?

Alex Barcello getting a waiver to play last season, was a big reason BYU was able to surprise many people and win 24 games a season ago. Now Barcello takes on a bigger role on the offensive end with TJ Haws, Jake Toolson, and Yoeli Childs all graduated.

Defensively, Barcello was one of the top players on BYU’s roster, and offensively he shot a scorching hot 48 percent from three. Now plays on the offensive end will actually run through him, and it should result in an uptick in production to where he could be an All-Conference performer this season.

Who will BYU Basketball play on the Non-Conference schedule?

Due to COVID-19, nearly half of BYU’s non-conference schedule was wiped out. Now it’s coming back together. The Cougars have added a new Multi-Team Event in the Legends Classic that features UConn (Big East), USC (Pac-12), and Vanderbilt (SEC). Both UConn and USC are viewed as pre-season picks to make it to the Big Dance next March.

Now the challenge becomes adding the Pac-12 that was originally on the schedule before the league decided to shut down sports till January. Utah, Arizona State, and Oregon were the three teams from the Pac-12 on the schedule. ASU is a trendy pre-season Top 25 team with the young talent they’ve accumulated. Oregon is the defending Pac-12 champs. Utah is a rival that holds the upper hand on the Cougars after pulling off the upset in the Huntsman Center last year.

Games against San Diego State, Utah State, UVU, and Weber State are believed to remain.

Who steps in the roles of Jake Toolson and TJ Haws?

You don’t simply replace Jake Toolson and TJ Haws. Haws is already competing in his pro career out in Poland, and Toolson is working to possibly hear his name called in this year’s NBA Draft. Big voids left behind from those departed seniors. Who steps in to replace them?

Keep an eye out for UVU transfer Brandon Averette and Connor Harding. Averette will likely be the starting point guard in a backcourt with Barcello. The former Oklahoma State and UVU guard is explosive and Pope loves his “cat-like” reflexes. For Harding, he has the ability to step into a role similar to Toolson, especially with how much he improved shooting the ball from three a season ago.

At 6-foot-6, Harding is a potential matchup nightmare for opponents because he can play the two, the three, or even the one if called upon. He practiced a lot last year as a backup point guard when Haws was recovering from surgery.

If BYU gets answers during practice on who can step in the voids left by Haws and Toolson, they could be in a position to do some big things once again this season.

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

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