The BYU men’s basketball team was just two points away from being undefeated in November. Instead the Cougars are 4-1 and look to enter December strong. The team has eight games in December, including notable clashes with rivals Utah and Utah State, a trip to Colorado to take on the Buffaloes, the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii and the beginning of West Coast Conference play.
December begins with a bang as the Cougars travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes on Dec. 2. The Utes are 5-1, with their only loss coming to Miami in Puerto Rico on Nov. 20. They are currently ranked No. 94 in the country in points per game with 79.7 and they’re No. 185 in total defense, allowing 73.3 points per game.
The Utes are led by NBA-caliber big man Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is widely regarded as one of the best forwards in the nation and averages 20.5 points, 10 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.
The Utes also have three more players that average double-digit points. Senior Jordan Loveridge averages 16 points per game and sophomores Kyle Kuzma and Lorenzo Bonam are each averaging 10 points per game.
Weber State Wildcats
On Dec. 5 the Cougars will travel to Salt Lake City once again. This time for a “home” contest in the Vivint Smart Home Arena to play Weber State. As of the beginning of December the Wildcats are 4-2, but the team is set to host Pacific University before it takes on the Cougars.
The Wildcats are led offensively by junior guard Jeremy Senglin and senior forward Joel Bolomboy. Senglin is averaging 23 points per game on 60 percent shooting and Bolomboy is averaging a double-double with 16.2 points and 12 rebounds per game. The two have combined to score 56 percent of Weber State’s points and have attempted half of the team’s shots this season.
Utah State Aggies
On Dec. 9 the Cougars will return to the Marriott Center to host the Utah State Aggies.
The Aggies squeaked past Weber State 73-70 to begin their season and won their next three games before being blown out by Duke to fall to 4-1. USU was forced to rethink its entire gameplan just before the season began when sophomore forward David Collette abruptly left the team.
Collette averaged 12.8 points per game last season as a freshman for the Aggies, but announced his intentions to transfer just two days before the season started. Utah State has denied his release, and there will be an official appeal later this month.
On the court, the Aggies are averaging 77.5 points per game and allowing just 62.5 points per game. Most of their scoring comes from senior Chris Smith and juniors Jalen Moore and Lew Evans. Smith is averaging nearly 17 points per game on 61 percent shooting and Moore and Evans combine to average 24.6 points per contest. The trio also combined for 50 percent of the Aggies’ rebounds.
The Buffaloes have two games before they host the Cougars on Dec. 12, but it certainly looks like they will be 7-1 by tip-off. The only loss the Buffaloes have now is a six-point loss to No. 4 Iowa State.
Colorado averages 81.2 points per game and nearly 43 rebounds per game. Most of those efforts are spearheaded by George King, Josh Scott and Josh Fortune. The three have combined to average 45.8 points per game and 21 rebounds per game.
The Buffaloes are a good shooting team. They’re currently shooting 46 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range. They have the ability to play inside-out basketball by going through Scott, who is one of the best big men in the country.
Central Michigan Chippewas
The Cougars will host Central Michigan on Dec. 18. The Chippewas currently sit at 2-3 and have four games to play before traveling to Provo.
Central Michigan struggles defensively. They are currently No. 276 in the country in points per game allowed, giving up 79.5 per contest. Offensively things don’t get much better for the Chippewas. They are shooting just 39 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range.
Rayshawn Simmons and Braylon Rayson are CMU’s two most dangerous players. The two guards have combined to average 31.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and nine assists per game. Simmons opened the season with a 30-point game against Jacksonville State but has hit just 20 of his last 54 shots.
Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic
The Cougars will play their first game of the Diamond Head Classic against Harvard on Dec. 22.
The Crimson are just 2-4 on the season with losses to Providence, Boston College, UMass and Holy Cross. Harvard will play three games before squaring off with BYU in Hawaii, including a matchup with No. 5 Kansas.
Harvard struggles offensively, averaging 64 points per contest, and plays in a half-court oriented offense. Junior center Zena Edosomwan leads the team in both points and rebounds per game with 14.2 and 10.2, respectively. Freshman guard Tommy McCarthy is the team’s second-leading scorer with 11.2 points per game, but has shot just 25 percent from the field.
On Dec. 23, the Cougars will take on either Auburn or New Mexico. Both teams currently only have one loss and lead their respective conferences. If “chalk” holds up it’s projected that BYU will face Auburn.
On Dec. 25, the Cougars opponent has yet to be determined. But again, if the favorites win out, the Cougars will likely face Oklahoma in the championship game. The University of Northern Iowa is also a viable opponent for BYU. UNI currently holds a victory over then-No.1 North Carolina and will play No. 4 Iowa State before beginning the Diamond Head Classic.
Saint Mary’s Gaels
On Dec. 31, the Cougars will return to Provo to open up WCC play against St. Mary’s. The Gaels have eight more games before coming to the Marriott Center and currently sit at 4-0. They are playing well on both sides of the ball early on, with an average 82.3 points per game and allow 62 points per game.
Their offensive production is predicated on ball movement. The Gaels are one of the best teams in the nation when it comes to assists per game, averaging nearly 20.
Sophomore guard Emmett Naar and junior guard Joe Rahon are the two key pieces of the Gaels’ offense. The two combined to average 30 points and 13 assists per game. No other St. Mary’s player is averaging more than one assist per contest.
BYU head coach Dave Rose recognized the difficulty of the Cougars’ upcoming stretch after defeating Belmont.
“It gets a lot tougher from here,” Rose said after the Belmont game. “We play eight of our next 10 games out of the Marriott Center. That will be quite a run there to see what our team is truly going to be like.”
The Cougars struggled through much of November to find offensive cohesion. The team committed 24 turnovers against Long Beach State and struggled to put away lowly Mississippi Valley State University. But after defeating Belmont the team hopes the struggles are behind them.
“We’re starting to play,” senior guard Chase Fischer said. “We’ve had a couple more games, guys are getting used to each other and the chemistry is starting to go. Chemistry is everything in basketball.”
It certainly looked like the Cougars were gelling against Belmont. The team shot 46 percent from the field and 48 percent from three-point range in the game. The Cougars made 33 baskets on 20 assists and gathered in 16 offensive rebounds.
Fischer hit five three-pointers and broke out of a horrendous slump. Freshman Nick Emery dropped 27 points — marking his third-straight game with 18 or more points — and Kyle Collinsworth collected his first triple-double of the season. The offense was firing on all cylinders.
Collinsworth said that the key to the Cougars’ success was and will continue to be the team’s defensive consistency.
“We just focused on getting stops instead of trading baskets,” Collinsworth said. “That was the difference. Just consistency. It’s all about consistency.”
Rose didn’t mince words when asked his thoughts on the Cougars’ rigorous December.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Rose said.