Davis’ Deep Dives: BYU basketball season preview 2021-22

BYU basketball will feature Alex Barcello, Caleb Lohner and a pair of noteworthy transfers in what figures to be another promising season under Mark Pope.

Welcome to Davis’ Deep Dives — a new series from Heat Check CBB that gives an in-depth breakdown of different teams. For the remainder of the preseason, we will be posting a deep dive for every squad that cracked our Top 25.

But before we get into the official countdown, we will observe a few teams who just missed the cut. Next up: the BYU Cougars.

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Heat Check CBB Ranking: 27th, Riley’s Ranking: 24th

After just two seasons with BYU basketball, Mark Pope already looks capable of engineering a top-25 offense year in and year out. Thus far, the head coach has schemed up the nation’s 7th- and 23rd-ranked offenses, respectively (KenPom). But it’s not just his resume in Provo that instills this confidence. During his time at Utah Valley, Pope’s squads put up staggering numbers for a WAC school. In 2019, Utah Valley posted the No. 15 eFG% in the country, buoyed by its 38.5-percent mark from 3. In addition, it got to the charity stripe at the No. 22 rate in the country. Now at a far superior program, Pope has the resources to sustain this pace.

His offenses rely heavily on dribble-handoffs and ball screens. These actions simultaneously take opposing bigs away from the basket and give his guards ample room to operate. Here are two textbook examples:

As seen in the clip above, super-senior Alex Barcello captains this attack. Fresh off an appearance on the WCC’s very inclusive First Team, Barcello decided to run it back one last time. And if Gonzaga didn’t exist, he’d be the favorite to win Player of the Year in the conference. 

Last season, the guard posted off-the-chart efficiency numbers. For instance, in the WCC, he placed fifth in offensive rating, fifth in assist rate, and first in true shooting percentage among players under 6-3. Barcello shines when he gets into the lane, making expert reads with the ball in his hands. Whether he sinks a teardrop over his man or pinpoints a pass to the corner, he leaves opposing defenses scrambling. Plus, his long-range sniping helped BYU convert the second-highest percentage of 3-point attempts in the league.

Milwaukee transfer Te’Jon Lucas joins Barcello in the backcourt. As a pure playmaker out of PnR, the 6-2 guard fits perfectly in Pope’s offense. Despite his average size, Lucas still pesters bigger players on defense and absorbs contact while slashing to the hoop. His presence likely pushes Barcello off-ball, but overall, the two should be able to coexist. (Brandon Averette and Barcello set the blueprint for this last season.)

Moving to the wing, Pope has a versatile four-man rotation with varying skillsets. Junior Trevin Knell functions as a three-point marksman who works tirelessly to get open. Fellow junior Spencer Johnson excels at angering opponents, taking charges, and looking prepared for a fight at any given moment. San Jose State/LSU transfer Seneca Knight provides instant offense off the bench. And lastly, senior Gideon George embraces the challenge of locking up the opponent’s best player.

Of the perimeter unit, George offers the most upside. After immigrating to the US from Nigeria in 2018, the forward started in the JuCo ranks and worked his way up. Eventually, he earned a starting spot on last season’s tournament team. With agile feet and a 7-1 wingspan, George bullies multiple positions on defense and creates chaos using active hands. He made strides on offense a season ago, but he must improve his handle and shooting to sustain his minutes. 

In the frontcourt, BYU basketball will seek to replace the defensive production of Matt Haarms. The Purdue transfer found the ideal landing spot in Provo, securing the Cougars’ interior with his shot-blocking. Most notably, he led BYU in holding opponents to the third-lowest percentage of shots at the rim in the country (Hoop-Math). Nondescript senior Richard Harward has the edge in experience to move into the starting lineup. He’s a space-eater on defense who relishes in seizing rebounds on both ends of the court. But don’t count out the springy Gavin Baxter, a top-100 recruit from 2016 (!), to finally make good on his promise. Perhaps he can stay on the floor after injuries held him to just nine games total the last two seasons. 

But whichever frontcourt player gets the nod will benefit from playing next to sophomore forward Caleb Lohner. A former three-star recruit, Lohner far outplayed his ranking down the stretch of conference play. From February through March, he averaged 10 points and eight boards as the Cougars’ fourth option. This season, I expect him to break out as the No. 2 to Barcello. Lohner touts a unique blend of skills that encompasses both a relentless motor and a high basketball IQ. For instance, he’s a certified savage attacking the glass — top 5 in the WCC in both OR% and DR% — but he also exhibits precision on passes that few bigs possess. See the Twitter thread below for these traits in action.

Not to mention he does all of this while looking like Totally Kyle in streetwear. His presence should again make BYU one of the best rebounding teams in the conference. Additionally, he has the size and defensive chops to be the lone big on the court, should Pope go small. 

BYU basketball will always epitomize the sport’s new cliche of “get old, stay old.” But Pope has infused the program with talent that will boost it to new heights. The Cougars in a great position to be a second-weekend team.

TL/DR:

Projected starters: G – Alex Barcello (Sr.); G – Te’Jon Lucas (Sr.); G/F – Gideon George (Sr.); F – Caleb Lohner (So.); F/C – Richard Harward (Sr.)

Projected bench: G – Trevin Knell (Jr.); F – Seneca Knight (Jr.); G – Spencer Johnson (Jr.); F – Gavin Baxter (Sr.); F – Atiki Ally Atiki (Fr.)

Strengths: Chemistry; ball movement; 3-point shooting; rebounding

Weaknesses: Post depth; lack of athleticism/size

Best player: Barcello

Breakout player: Lohner

Header image courtesy of Alex Barcello’s personal Instagram.



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