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Trap game? No. 14 BYU welcomes 7-1 Evansville to Provo ahead of Saturday’s showdown with rival Utah

Purple Aces have the talent, depth and coaching to test the 7-0 Cougars at the Marriott Center this week

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BYU guard Richie Saunders (15) knocks the ball out to a teammate during a game against Fresno State at the Delta Center.

BYU guard Richie Saunders (15) knocks the ball out to a teammate during a game against Fresno State at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023. No. 14 BYU returns to the comfy confines of the Marriott Center on Tuesday night, where it will face 7-1 Evansville.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

These are heady days for Mark Pope’s BYU basketball team.

It’s early, but the 7-0 Cougars are quickly becoming one of the darlings of the 2023-24 basketball season.

“This team is super deep. We have so many different options, offensively and defensively. We have a lot of different schemes that we can throw. This group is well-connected so I think that’s what really makes a big difference from last year’s team, and we’re seeing that on the court.” — BYU senior Jaxson Robinson

Not only are they one of only 14 remaining unbeaten teams in NCAA Division I men’s basketball, they soared to No. 14 in The Associated Press Top 25 on Monday after drubbing Fresno State 85-56 at the Delta Center last Friday.

What’s more, and this is probably the biggest surprise of the season, BYU came in at No. 2 in the first NET rankings, which were also released Monday. Only fellow Big 12 newcomer Houston ranks higher.

BYU hasn’t been this high in the NET since Pope’s first season, when it got to No. 9. Of course, that was the season that was cut short due to the pandemic.

Pope talked twice last week about not getting ahead of themselves — before and after the matchup with struggling Fresno State — and for good reason.

If there were ever such a thing as a true “trap game” for the Cougars, it comes Tuesday when they host a solid Evansville team at the Marriott Center. The Purple Aces are 7-1 overall, 1-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference, and are coming off Saturday’s 91-89 overtime win over Northern Iowa.

The alma mater of former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has lost only to Missouri State, a 90-78 setback in Springfield, Missouri, last Wednesday.

Evansville coach David Ragland knows all about the Cougars, too, having spent three seasons (2018-21) as an assistant up the road at Utah State. The Aces have some star power — 6-foot-9 senior Ben Humrichous is averaging 18.3 points per game and is making 50% of his 3-point tries, tied for eighth-best in the country.

Five other players average 8.8 points or better, most notably Chuck Bailey III (10.4), who is a 43% 3-point shooter.

At the Big 12 basketball media days in October in Kansas City, Pope said Evansville is one of those quality teams that will challenge the Cougars as much as Power Five teams on the schedule such as Arizona State, North Carolina State and Utah.

Evansville is No. 92 in the NET rankings; Utah (5-2) which hosts Southern Utah on Tuesday night and BYU at 5 p.m. on Saturday night, is No. 39 in the NET.

After the Cougars handled the Bulldogs at the home of the Utah Jazz, Pope said the Cougars have improved their ball security — they committed only seven turnovers vs. FSU — and their defense.

“I don’t know if we are ever where we want to be (on defense), but coach (Kahil) Fennell is helping the defensive side do something we haven’t done in our four years here, and that’s to throw a bunch of changing defenses in there.

“I thought he did a masterful job tonight and that our guys did a masterful job of responding to the changes,” Pope continued. “We threw three different full-court presses out there tonight and a zone out there for a few possessions and it was really effective. Our team could not have responded to changes in real time last year.”

BYU/Evansville TV

Cougars on the air


Evansville (7-1)
at BYU (7-0)
Tuesday, 7 p.m. MST
Marriott Center
Provo, Utah
TV: ESPN+
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM


The Cougars have a blossoming star themselves in senior guard/forward Jaxson Robinson, who had a career-high 24 points against Fresno State. A transfer from Arkansas, Robinson is averaging 16.6 points per game. His 21 3-pointers leads BYU.

“This team is super deep,” Robinson said. “We have so many different options, offensively and defensively. We have a lot of different schemes that we can throw. This group is well-connected so I think that’s what really makes a big difference from last year’s team, and we’re seeing that on the court.”

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BYU Cougars coach Mark Pope motions a play to his players as BYU and Fresno State play at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023. BYU won, 85-56, and face Evansville on Tuesday in the Marriott Center in Provo.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News