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Rivalry game preview: BYU Cougars visit Utah Utes

These two programs will be meeting for the 257th time. They're just 45 miles apart on Interstate 15. This season they both run an up-tempo, high scoring and high percentage shooting style of play. There's more than just bragging rights on the line.

BYU's Corbin Kaufusi will have his hands full against Utah's Jakob Poeltl.
BYU's Corbin Kaufusi will have his hands full against Utah's Jakob Poeltl.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

BYU Cougars (4-1) at Utah Utes (5-1)

When: 8 p.m. Mountain
Where: Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City
TV: Pac-12 Network
All-time Series: BYU leads 129-127
Last meeting: Utah won 65-61 on Dec. 10, 2014

The Cougars and Utes have been squaring off on the hardwood since 1905. They're longtime rivals. In football it's called the Holy War; church vs. state with colleges as combatants. This year though, in a strictly basketball sense, there are more important things than in-state bragging rights on the line.

Utah, coming off a 26 win season that saw the Utes run to the Sweet 16, had high hopes once again this year. In the first two AP polls of the year the Utes were ranked 16th before a loss to Miami sent them plummeting all the way out of the top 25.

BYU's hopes might not have been as high, but there was plenty of reason for the Cougars to expect an improvement over last year's 25-10 record and NCAA First Four flame-out.

A loss to Utah wouldn't do much to hamper the Cougars' chances, but a big road win like this would go a long ways come selection Sunday considering the Cougars' recent history of racking up bad losses in WCC play.

Scouting the Utes

Jakob Poeltl, a legit seven-footer, leads the Utes in scoring this season averaging 20.5 points per game on 66.7% shooting. The Sophomore has developed the dominant post game that he showed flashes of as a freshman. During his freshman year's game against BYU he managed just six points despite playing 27 minutes and recorded an offensive rating of just 56 (his offensive rating so far this season is 130.7, for comparison).

It's early, but Poeltl is playing like an All-American right now and is fourth in Ken Pomeroy's entirely advanced metric based player of the year rankings.

This isn't the same offensive team without Delon Wright, who himself finished last season ranked fourth in KenPom's POY rankings, but they've still found a way to pour in the points. Granted it came against a dismal Idaho State squad, but the Utes hit triple digits in their last game, and have been over 80 two other times this season.

Aside from senior forward Jordan Loveridge (20-45 3pt FG), the Utes have been doing their scoring inside the three point arc. If they can't get hot from deep against a BYU team that lights it up from long range and is playing uncharacteristically strong interior defense, this might not be as close of a game as it should be.

Scouting the Cougars

While Utah is getting their scoring inside and from bigs, BYU boasts a talented trio of guards who can reasonably all go off in the same game.

Senior point guard Kyle Collinsworth just set the NCAA career triple-doubles record with seven. But it took a stat change after the game to make that official. His 26 points on Saturday night against Belmont weren't enough to give him the game high, that honor belonged to freshman Nick Emery who had 27. Then there was Chase Fischer, a three point sharp-shooter who finished with 17 points but scored all of them in the second half.

While the Cougars strength is on the perimeter, they'll need a big game from their bigs to pull the upset.

Fortunately, Corbin Kaufusi and Utah State transfer Kyle Davis have transformed what was a hapless, occasionally non-existent, front line into a stout defensive unit. The Cougars' defense holds opponents to 39.5% inside the arc which is good for the 12th best mark in the nation.


As far as the polls and rankings are concerned BYU is the underdog. And considering this is a road rivalry game against a good team that's a fair. But the Cougars can actually match up favorably against the Utes if, and only if, Kaufusi and Davis don't get into foul trouble trying to contain Poeltl.

BYU, with their arsenal of shooters, has more than a puncher's chance to pull the upset in which both teams coast past 80 points.