BYU basketball rises to 18th place in the AP Top 25 after starting 4-0

BYU striker Gavin Baxter (51) celebrates after a dunk against Central Methodist during an NCAA game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, November 20, 2021. (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)

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PROVO – On the surface, BYU basketball’s 97-61 win over NAIA team Central Methodist wasn’t a big deal. Sure, the Eagles were 7-0 on their first opening list, but a non-NCAA lower division team shouldn’t be competing with a top division I team.

But it meant everything after the Cougars’ equally spectacular 81-49 win over Oregon in Portland.

The Cougars are 4-0 for the first time under head coach Mark Pope, the first time since the 2016-17 season, with wins over three teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament a year ago, including Horizon League favorites Cleveland State and Mountain West make San Diego State home.

And on Monday, BYU found itself in the Associated Press top 25 for the first time this season, checking in at number 18 a week after receiving just a handful of votes.

West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga (4-0) remains number 1 with all but six first-placed finishers, followed by UCLA (4-0) and Purdue (5-0). Kansas (3-0) and Duke (5-0) round out the top 5.

It’s early days in college basketball and the Cougars still have a long way to go, but the first small wins based on a schedule that includes four of the first five games of the season against the NCAA tournament qualifiers followed A trip to rival Utah are going as well as you can expect – even from most blue-eyed fans.

“It just shows how hard we worked and how we played together as a team. It’s cool to see,” said Caleb Lohner, who had a season high of 19 points to lead BYU against Central Methodist. “We did some really cool things that some teams didn’t do. I think it’s important for the guys to see this steady rise. The reward of starting the season 4-0 is something for us at.”

“I think it’s just a kind of memory like, hey, if we keep doing what we’re doing we’ll keep playing like a team, we’ll keep doing the things we’re supposed to do, we’ll be a really good team.”

The Cougars will enjoy this moment – for about an hour – until they report to the Marriott Center Annex for training on Monday afternoon. You have to prepare for Wednesday’s game against Texas Southern (7pm MT, BYUtv) – another tournament qualifier from a year ago. The last four games mean only as much as the next four – or in the case of BYU, the next two around the Thanksgiving holiday, after which they embark on a state hike that includes street games in Utah Valley and Weber State. as well as a home game against Utah State.

BYU security guard Alex Barcello (13) dribbles past Central Methodists' Jonathan Brown during an NCAA game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, November 20, 2021.BYU security guard Alex Barcello (13) dribbles past Central Methodists’ Jonathan Brown during an NCAA game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, November 20, 2021. (Photo: Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)

Basketball is strong in Beehive state, with Utah and Weber State both rising 5-0 to start their season – it’s the Wildcats’ best start to a year since 1985-86 – and Utah State after a 4-1 win over Oklahoma to win the Myrtle Beach Invitational. Even Utah Valley is 3-1 in the SoCal Challenge with a game against Idaho on Monday night.

“Four of our first five games are against NCAA tournament teams who basically have their roster back. It’s great,” said Pope. “We’re challenged in every way and of course going to Utah is always an adventure. These rivalries are the best thing that can happen without a conference. We’re playing everyone in the state this year, and basketball in this state is on fire.” .

“Two of our next four should be quad-one games. The schedule is tough, but we want it. We like to test ourselves and we want to find out where we’re falling short and where we need to improve, and that’s what a schedule like this does. “

But this 4-0 start? It is not everything, and it certainly means nothing if BYU does not continue to build on it. You want to play your best basketball in March, not November, and Pope drilled that into his team, which includes Alex Barcello, who has seven straight double-digit games; Te’Jon Lucas, the Milwaukee transfer who hit a season high of seven assists on Saturday; and Gavin Baxter, the Timpview product that continues its return to full fitness after missing most of the past two seasons with shoulder and knee injuries.

That is not everything. But 4-0 is still important.

“It’s a testament to how hard we work in the gym and how much the team is a team,” said Baxter, who scored 13 points in the 6-of-8 shooting with five rebounds and two blocks in 14 minutes on Saturday night Game since 02/02/2019 against LMU. “How ready other guys are to play for each other, it’s really special and right now we just have to keep the momentum going.”

It will also help prepare the Cougars for a West Coast Conference that opened the burning season. Five of the league’s teams are unbeaten, led by 5-0 San Francisco and No. 1 placed Gonzaga, while the 10-team league together is 36-11 earlier in the year.

“The league is good,” said Pope. “San Francisco is now 5-0 and they’re in the top 40. Saint Mary’s is undefeated and right in the top 40 in KenPom, and Santa Clara has some really good wins.”

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