Southern Utah Basketball Looks to Build on Early Momentum Against BYU-Provo

SUU vs BYU

Southern Utah Men’s Basketball will make the trip up I-15 to face Brigham Young University-Provo on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m.

This is the first meeting between the T-Birds and the Cougars since 2007. BYU has won all 11 of the matchups. The game is the first of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational Mainland Series.

The game will be broadcast on BYUTV and byutv.org.

SUU is coming off their first-ever win against a Big Ten opponent, a 79-78 double overtime victory over Nebraska. Winning on the road against a Power 5 opponent is a huge accomplishment, especially considering it’s just the second Big Sky win over a Big Ten, but Nebraska is a broken program.

The Cornhuskers, who also lost their opening game of the season against UC Riverside, are implementing a new coach and only had two players returning from last season’s squad. It was a quality win, but BYU is at another level.

There is legitimate tournament buzz around BYU. The writers over at Mid-Major Madness have BYU as the No. 14 ranked ranked non-Power 5 team in the nation. Three of their five writers have them pencilled in as an at-large NCAA tournament team.

Senior TJ Haws has started four years at BYU and led the team in assists last season. He also finished second on the team in scoring. He’s a creative ball handler and a hard nosed defender.

Transfers Jake Toolson (UVU) and Alex Barcello (Arizona) are the other key offensive players in first-year head coach Mark Pope’s lineup. Barcello is averaging 14 PPG and is shooting 68.8% from the field through two games.

While there is plenty of talent in Provo, SUU is catching BYU at the perfect time.

San Diego State beat BYU, 76-71, in the Marriott Center on Saturday, Nov. 9. The Aztecs outrebounded the Cougs 43-27 and hauled in 15 offensive rebounds.

BYU has five players listed over 6’ 8”, but only one will be available Wednesday night.

Star forward Yoeli Childs will be unavailable after a self-reported paperwork slip up upon his return from testing the NBA Draft waters. Gavin Baxter is done for the season with a shoulder injury. Wyatt Lowell and Richard Harward are sitting out after transferring from Utah Valley.

That leaves 6’9” Kolby Lee and the duo of 6’7” forwards Dalton Nixon and Zac Seljaas to man the core of the defense. If the loss against San Diego State is any indication, then the T-Birds could dominate inside.

Andre Adams (6’9”), Dwayne Morgan (6’8”), David N’Diaye (7’0”) and Harrison Butler (leads the team in rebounds) will crash the offensive boards. BYU’s offense will score often, so any second chance bucket the T-Birds can get will prove invaluable.

Another encouraging sign for SUU is how poorly they shot the ball in the win over Nebraska. The T-Birds didn’t make a three pointer until the 3:44 mark of the first half, and shot just 17% for the game. The shots weren’t falling and they still got the win. If the Marriott Center’s rims are more friendly, SUU will be in good shape.

Key Matchups:

Guarding TJ Haws

Haws is not very long, but he’s plenty quick. His slender frame allows him to slip between defenders and slither to the rim. He’s also a great three pointer shooter with impressive range.

SUU head coach Todd Simon will have a lot to consider when guarding Haws. Will he allow Haws to score and try and close down the other scorers? Will they trap him to try and get the ball out of his hands? Who can Simon trust to guard him 1-on-1?

Dre Marin can guard Barcello, who is only 6’2”. Dwayne Morgan will likely match-up with Lee. Where will Simon put John Knight III, who struggled defensively against Nebraska?

Pope will likely attack Knight if he guards Haws, Toolson or Barcello, so he’ll be challenged defensively.

Perhaps the best threat of slowing Haws down is Cameron Oluyitan. Oluyitan has a slight height advantage on Haws, and may be able to match his quickness. Somebody has to guard him. Simon could also use a 2-3 zone, as he did against Nebraska.

Guarding Dwayne Morgan

BYU doesn’t have a player who can match Morgan’s mix of height and athleticism, but Dalton Nixon might be able to slow Morgan down using his strength and footwork. Morgan is a tough matchup for anyone, and behind enemy lines he may be Simon’s most composed option.

The T-Birds might get over-energized and commit turnovers early on. They might try to run in transition too much and force tough shots. If they do, BYU will pull away early. Morgan can slow things down and provide a good scoring option in the halfcourt.

When the shot clock runs low, the T-Birds will turn to Morgan. Whether he’s in the post, attacking closeouts or in isolation, Morgan needs to have a huge game if the T-Birds want to get the win.

A really interesting wrinkle might be running Morgan in the pick and roll with Adams. This pairing could lead to offensive rebounds and getting BYU’s “bigs” in foul trouble, thus opening up the lane for Knight, Oluyitan and Butler.

Bench vs. Bench

SUU’s bench scored 29 against Nebraska. BYU’s bench scored 17 against SDSU. Depending on who Simon starts, Jakolby Long, Harrison Butler, Maizen Fausett and David N’Diaye will have a role to play against BYU.

Even if that role is coming in to keep running BYU’s starters into the ground, the bench’s role could swing this game. SUU needs all the contributions they can find in the margins to pull of a road upset like this. Fausett came up huge versus Nebraska with 13 points in 24 minutes.

Pope, on the other hand, does not have as many options, and even Lee, who technically started the game, only played 16 minutes. Seljaas and Nixon fouled out against SDSU, so any early foul puts BYU’s frontcourt on edge.

Connor Harding is a reliable backup guard and Seljaas can shoot the three, but BYU’s roster thins out quickly after those two. Foul trouble could really swing the momentum in SUU’s favor.

Final Thoughts:

While the stars have aligned for SUU in the lead up to this game, BYU is still a high quality opponent with a plethora of scoring options. If SUU can’t slow Haws, Barcello and Toolson down, then their size advantage won’t matter.

This would be one of the most prestigious wins in SUU’s history. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but the T-Birds will need to play close to their best to win this one.

Story by: Connor Sanders
sports@suunews.net
Photo Courtesy of SUU Athletics

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