Respecting that every member of the Alabama State Hornets basketball team is 1,000,0000 times the basketball player any of us reading/writing this will ever be, the BYU Cougars are the first legitimate test for the 2019-20 edition of UH basketball.
The first sign I saw that last year’s team could be special was when Houston went up to Provo and defeated BYU 76-62 behind 24 points from Corey Davis Jr and 19 from Ced Alley Jr. BYU didn’t appear to be world-beater, but going to a hostile road environment and convincingly winning felt like a positive omen.
Last season was the final one for a familiar name in both Cougar fan bases as BYU head coach (and Phi Slama Jama co-captain) Dave Rose retired after 14 seasons.
Like all BYU coaching searches, the pool of candidates was somewhat limited by the LDS faith requirement. Even with those limitations I think Mark Pope is a good hire. Pope played just under a decade in the NBA (153 career games, mostly for the Milwaukee Bucks) and was nearly a doctor before entering college coaching by joining the staff at the University of Georgia.
Most recently, Pope spent 4 seasons as head coach at Utah Valley University and won 77 games while making the CBI each of the last 3 seasons. The last 2 seasons were the best by KenPom rating since UVU became a full-fledged Division 1 member in 2009.
One obvious benefit of the new head coach was him bringing Jake Toolson from UVU back to BYU as a grad transfer. Toolson played for the Cougars from 2014-16, mainly as a backup, and ended up leading UVU last year with 15.7 points/game.
With the absence of last year’s leading scorer Yoeli Childs (more on this in a bit) Toolson and (token balding guy who looks like he’s 40) TJ Haws, like Toolson a senior, have been asked to fill that major scoring absence. Haws had an impressive 2018-19 in his own right, averaging 17.8 points/game and shooting 46% from the field. Either Haws or Toolson has been the leading scorer each of BYU’s first 3 games.
The aforementioned Yoeli Childs led BYU in scoring last year at 21.2 points/game and will not play tonight in Houston as he’s 3 games into a 9-game NCAA suspension. You would think Childs probably did something pretty heinous for the NCAA to guarantee he’d miss roughly 25% of a season, right? The punishment stemmed from Childs hiring an agent and exploring the NBA draft process last spring (which is now allowed) but doing so before his NCAA paperwork was filed. Cool stuff.
I expect senior Dalton Nixon and junior Arizona transfer Alex Borcello to start alongside Haws and Toolson. The Cougars’ scoring has skewed towards the backcourt, as sophomore Kolby Lee is the leading scoring big man at 5.7 points per game. Their leading rebounder is sophomore Connor Harding, a 6’6” guard.
The frontcourt may be an area where UH can take advantage as the opposing Cougars are getting out rebounded on average 38-31 per game and are 324th nationally in Offensive Rebounding Percentage.
You can only get so much from a 3-game sample size, but BYU has an 18-point win over Cal State-Fullerton (KenPom: 236) and a 5 point win over Southern Utah (KenPom: 188) along with a 5 point loss to San Diego State (KenPom: 73). Tonight will be the first game BYU plays outside of Provo this season.
This is a game where UH will be a rightful favorite and as much as Alabama State was the official start of the 2019-20 season, tonight’s match up feels more like the start of the men’s basketball season.