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BYU Hoops Enters ‘Bubbleville’ Ready For Challenge Against USC

Nov 30, 2020, 4:40 PM
BYU Basketball - Matt Haarms...
BYU's Matt Haarms celebrates with his teammates. (BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)
(BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

BYU basketball gears up for its first game away from Provo of the wild and crazy 2020-21 season on Tuesday, December 1st, when facing the USC Trojans. The game is part of the multi-team event Legends Classic at the Mohegan Sun Arena in “Bubbleville,” a.k.a. Uncasville, Connecticut.

The schedule thus far for BYU has been an elevator approach. They started at the bottom with a Division II team in Westminster, climbed to New Orleans, then an in-state matchup with Utah Valley. Now the toughest test awaits as USC poses an opportunity for BYU to potentially get a win over a team that could be a Quadrant One victory by season’s end.

With scheduling being “wilder than a goat rodeo” this year (thanks, Jon Rothstein), securing an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament will be as tough as ever for a team outside the power conferences. It seems premature to discuss anything related to a tournament resumé, but these non-conference games matter. Games against USC pose huge opportunities for BYU to shape that potential at-large case.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us to really see how we stack up against a team of that caliber. We did it this week. We had some dogfights. But I think USC will easily be the most talented team we’ve played so far,” said BYU forward Matt Haarms.

BYU made the 2,310 mile trip to Connecticut on Sunday and passed all of its COVID-19 protocols. Clearing the way for BYU and USC to square off for the first time since 2016 and the 11th meeting all-time.

What you need to know about USC

USC comes into Tuesday’s game with a 2-0 record after a pair of wins over Cal Baptist (overtime) and Montana. The Trojans were 22-9 last season and were poised to make the NCAA Tournament before COVID-19 hit and canceled it.

USC is a trendy pick to receive an at-large bid this season. The Trojans are led by a pair of brothers in sophomore Isaiah Mobley and five-star freshman Evan Mobley, a seven-footer who, through the first two games, is averaging 16 points, eight rebounds.

Andy Enfield is in his eighth year in Troy, and he has what might be his best roster to date since leaving “dunk city” Florida Gulf Coast. Six different USC players are averaging double figures in points.

The Trojans have only shot 33 percent from beyond the arc in their first two contests of the season, and they’ve turned the ball over 16.5 times per game in the early goings of the season.

What’s at stake for BYU/USC

This has the makings of being a “Quad 1” game for both teams to add to their resume. Both are considered “bubblicious” pre-season NCAA Tournament squads, and they could each benefit from a quality victory in the early portion of the non-conference schedules.

BYU Basketball notes heading into USC matchup

Will Matt Haarms get his first career start at BYU?

The 7-foot-3 Haarms made his BYU debut last Saturday against Utah Valley after missing the first two games due to an ankle injury he suffered two weeks ago. Haarms will primarily play the power forward spot in BYU’s system this season.

BYU guard/forward Trevin Knell gave high praise to Haarms, saying he’s the best shot-blocker in the country and that he can’t wait to play this week with him at 100 percent.

Haarms’ debut as a Cougar featured a minutes restriction of 10 minutes; he ended up playing 12. Mark Pope joked after the win over UVU that Haarms would be on a 40-minute restriction against the Trojans.

Alex Barcello

Barcello has emerged as BYU’s go-to player in the clutch. A role that was handled by TJ Haws a season ago. BYU and USC is a game that has the makings to be a tightly contested ball game into the final minutes. The senior Barcello is shooting a blistering 73 percent from three-point range and is leading BYU in scoring at 21.3 points per game.

Rotation

Will this be the game where Pope and BYU trim down the rotation? At some point, the rotation will likely zero in on eight or nine guys. BYU is a “rep it out” type of team. Establishing that core of players, especially now with Haarms back in the lineup, will likely be critical for BYU going forward. We might see the first noticeable signs of that rotation trim down taking place in “Bubbleville.”

BYU vs. USC

Date: December 1st, 2020

Location: Mohegan Sun Arena (Uncasville, Connecticut)

Tip: 12:30 p.m. (MT)

TV: ESPN2

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

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: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.

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