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Bold Predictions For Year Three Of BYU Basketball Under Mark Pope

Nov 8, 2021, 7:01 PM
BYU Basketball - Mark Pope - Te'Jon Lucas - Alex Barcello - Caleb Lohner...
BYU’s Caleb Lohner, left, Alex Barcello, Te’Jon Lucas and Coach Mark Pope talk during practice at the Marriott Center in Provo on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)
(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball is back for the 2021-22 season. It’s year three for the Cougars under head coach Mark Pope.

Pope has reshaped the program through the first two seasons, making them an annual contender for single-digit NCAA Tournament seeds and AP Top 25 finishes.

This year’s group looks to be in a great place to reach that high bar set by the previous two seasons and maybe exceed it with the versatility on the roster.

Here are my bold predictions for the 2021-22 campaign to get you ready for the season.

BYU Basketball produces third consecutive AP Top 25 finish

For a program that’s been around since 1902, it’s hard to imagine there are still opportunities for “firsts.” Mark Pope and his program have the chance to pull off a special first that has never been done in BYU’s storied history.

The Cougars have the chance to pull off the first three-year stretch with AP Top 25 finishes. BYU has finished ranked in the AP Top 25 the past two seasons. So I’ll call for them to get it done again this year, giving them that elusive three-year stretch.

You think about some of the great runs in BYU basketball history with Danny Ainge in the early 1980s, Dave Rose with Jimmer Fredette in the 2010s; there has never been a time where BYU has had three years in the final Top 25. Mark Pope gets it done in only his third year as head coach.

BYU wins one NCAA Tournament game

Remember when all of Cougar Nation was celebrating the upset of UCLA over Michigan State in the First Four? Considering what UCLA accomplished last year, it seems strange to think of now, but BYU was the odds on favorite against the Bruins. UCLA came into the Big Dance struggling with a list of injuries and Johnny Juzang was banged up.

Well, everyone knows how it played out. BYU was worked from start to finish against the Bruins, who were probably underseeded. But the fact remains, BYU got to an NCAA Tournament stage for the first time since 2015 and did what BYU tends to do in March, coming up short.

Regardless of the outcome, it was a valuable experience for Mark Pope, his staff, and the returning players. If BYU beats UCLA, Alex Barcello probably doesn’t return this season. The bitter taste left on the Hinkle Fieldhouse floor was a massive motivator for Barcello to return for his super senior season.

With Barcello back and having him teamed up with Te’Jon Lucas, who might be one of the best passing guards BYU has had since Matt Montague, the Cougars have the backcourt to make some noise in March Madness.

Noise for BYU isn’t a Final Four run. That’s the ultimate goal of Pope’s program as they are shooting for the stars, but they need at least one win in the Big Dance to show the program continues to progress as they inch closer to life in the Big 12 Conference. I’m going bold and saying BYU will get their first Round of 64 since Jimmer’s senior year in 2011.

Top ten nationally in three-point field goal percentage

Mark Pope’s BYU teams have been great at shooting the three through his first two seasons. Look for that to continue this season. Trevin Knell is the purest shooter on the roster with textbook shooting form. Knell shot 50% from three during WCC play last season.

Barcello shot 47% from deep last season, which was a dip from his first year at BYU, where he knocked down 48.6% of his three-point attempts.

Caleb Lohner shot 56% from three during WCC play after starting his freshman season, wondering if he would ever knock down a three again.

BYU’s staff is analytically driven with advanced data from ShotTracker and Noah’s ARC, as they try to find ways to find where players are at their best from beyond the three-point line. To have success at a national level these days in college basketball, you have to be able to knock down the three-point shot.

I’m predicting BYU will finish in the Top 10 nationally in three-point field goal percentage this season, up from the 32nd spot a year ago.

BYU Basketball will get one win against Gonzaga

BYU gets the chance at least two times a year to face one of the nation’s best team on an annual basis in the Gonzaga Bulldogs. BYU pulled off a memorable victory two years ago, knocking off the No. 2 Zags on Senior Night in the Marriott Center.

Last year, BYU’s two regular-season games against Gonzaga moved up earlier than expected due to on-the-fly scheduling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately for the Cougars, both resulted in blowout losses. But the third meeting in Las Vegas during the WCC Conference Tournament saw BYU gave a loaded, undefeated Zags squad a legit scare as the Cougars held a 12-point lead at the break.

The firepower from Jalen Suggs, now with the Orlando Magic, was too much for BYU to hold off for a full 40 minutes as BYU’s upset bid fell short.

This year, Gonzaga is loaded again as the preseason No. 1 team. They have a roster that features the National Player of the Year favorite in Drew Timme and an odds-on favorite to be the next No. 1 overall NBA draft pick in Chet Holmgren. Makes for a tall order for BYU. But if there’s a program in the WCC that can knock off the Zags at least once, it’s BYU.

I’m sure BYU would like that win to come in Vegas to secure a WCC Tournament Title, something BYU hasn’t won since 2001. But I’ll say they knock off the Zags at the Marriott Center.

A perfect record at the Marriott Center

The 50th anniversary of the Marriott Center is this year. During the five decades, BYU basketball has called the Marriott Center home, the Cougars have produced 10 perfect records in the cozy confines of the Marriott Center.

What’s unusual is that the last perfect homestand in a season last came in 14 years ago during the 2007-08 season.

Since Mark Pope took over in 2019, BYU has produced a record of 25-3 at home, with the three setbacks coming against San Diego State (2020), Boise State (2021), and Gonzaga (2021).

With a weaker non-conference home schedule this year, I’ll say BYU finds a way to put together an undefeated record at the Marriott Center this season. Games against Cleveland State, San Diego State, Utah State, Saint Mary’s, San Francisco, and Gonzaga are the toughest challenges.

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 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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