Three Observations From BYU’s WCC Tournament Win Over LMU

Mar 4, 2022, 9:14 PM | Updated: 9:30 pm
BYU Basketball - Trevin Knell - WCC Tournament...
BYU basketball guard Trevin Knell scored 15 points against Loyola Marymount in the second round of the WCC Tournament (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)
(Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

LAS VEGAS – Coming into the WCC Tournament, BYU basketball knew it was a do-or-die situation. An early exit would have ended any hopes of an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. But, they don’t have to worry about that, at least for one more day.

BYU defeated LMU 85-60 behind a star senior and a freshman big that has the makings of being an all-time great.

The win advances BYU to the Quarterfinal round of the WCC Tournament against San Francisco for a “win, and you’re in” type of game. Both BYU and San Francisco are in-and-out of various bracketology projections.

But first, my three observations from BYU’s win over the LMU Lions, one of the biggest letdowns in the WCC this season.

#1 Alex Barcello looks poised for a big WCC Tournament

Alex Barcello, a two-time All-WCC First Team performer, doesn’t need to make for himself this postseason. He’s already established himself as a reliable, clutch, efficient player that ranks among BYU basketball greats in some statistical categories.

But he wants nothing more than a run in the NCAA Tournament. So this year, for him to experience the most prominent stage college basketball offers, BYU has to play well in Vegas at the WCC Tournament. If there was any doubt, Barcello made it clear he’s going to do everything in his power to put BYU in a spot to make the Big Dance.

On Friday night in front of a pro-BYU crowd at The Orleans, Barcello finished with 22 points, three rebounds, and three assists in his 90th consecutive start. In the first half, Barcello scored 12 of those points and had a staggering (+20) plus/minus.

Sitting here near floor level at The Orleans, seeing the body language from LMU head coach Stan Johnson when Barcello had space for an open three, you could tell the second-year coach knew what the result was going to be, a bucket.

#2 Trevin Knell is the ultimate ‘X-Factor’ for BYU

Since Trevin Knell was a high-profile recruit at Woods Cross High School, he’s always been able to shoot. And when his shot is falling, he can fill it up in a hurry. He showed his shooting ability on Friday night in the win over LMU.

Maybe it’s just something about The Orleans Arena, as Knell scored 20 points in the WCC Championship Game last year against the Zags. Against LMU, Knell scored 15 points and shot 50% from the field.

When Mark Pope arrived at BYU in 2019, he has always been high on the potential of Knell. Case in point by the fact the 6-foot-5 guard will take advantage of the free COVID year of eligibility from last season, leaving him with two more seasons at BYU.

Not only did Pope praise Knell’s offensive success, he thought the redshirt sophomore was flawless on the defensive end against LMU.

If Knell can consistently find his stroke each time BYU gets the chance to touch the floor in March, BYU could be a problem for many teams. You won’t find a more pure stroke than the one Knell shoots when he’s in rhythm.

#3 Best start at the WCC Tournament for BYU basketball in years

Former BYU head coach Dave Rose (in attendance with his wife Cheryl in Vegas) always pointed out the trickiness of opening games in a tournament. Regardless of the opponent, you have to expect a battle when you get to March. For BYU, they’ve struggled in their opening games at the WCC Tournament.

Under Mark Pope, they lost at the horn to Saint Mary’s in the semifinal round and then were taken to overtime against Pepperdine last season. You have to go back six years to find the last time BYU defeated their first WCC Tournament opponent by double figures.

Friday night was an impressive display from BYU and it allowed Mark Pope to give rest to his key players before Saturday’s late tilt with San Francisco.

It also doesn’t hurt to beat out the score projections predictive metrics such as KenPom had for the game (projected as an 11-point win for BYU).

The win also highlights BYU’s progress since their four-game losing streak in early February. When BYU was in that losing spell, they went to the wire against LMU and were down by 17 points early in the second half before coming back to win in overtime. Granted, everyone’s favorite mullet and LMU’s heart and soul, Keli Leaupepe, played in that game. Unfortunately for the Lions and fans of great hair, he didn’t on Friday due to an ongoing injury. But, BYU handled the Lions like a team at the bottom of the conference rankings. A month ago, no one believed BYU was capable of taking anyone by double-figures.

Mark Pope has been consistent in his message that he believes his team’s best basketball is still in front of them; they made a step towards proving that statement right.

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

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