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Observations from opening night of the college basketball season

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Iowa center Luka Garza, left, drives past North Carolina Central guard Justin Wright (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall, AP

The 2020-21 college basketball season has arrived, and while this isn’t the time to make outlandish claims — those can wait until conference play at least, and also who’s foolish enough to make any sort of predictions in the era of COVID-19? — here are some observations from BYU and Utah State’s first games of the year, along with a little Weber State, Southern Utah and more from around the country.


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Graduate transfer Brandon Averette shoots during BYU’s 108-59 win over Westminster in the 2020-21 season opener, Wednesday, Nov. 25 2020 at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.

BYU Athletics

  • BYU did what it was supposed to do in a season opener against an overmatched opponent. The Cougars dominated and defeated Westminster 108-59. The Cougars showed off their depth — 14 players got onto the court and 11 played at least 10 minutes — and 3-point shooting ability, as BYU tied a program record with 18 made 3s.
  • The Cougars are big. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given the fact that they have seven players listed at 6-foot-8 or taller, but seeing them on the court together reinforced that this year’s team is built quite differently than the 2019-20 one. Graduate transfer Matt Haarms didn’t play Wednesday, but Richard Harward, Wyatt Lowell, Gavin Baxter, Kolby Lee and Caleb Lohner all made their size count.

  • Speaking of Lohner, he and and JUCO transfer Gideon George made an immediate impact upon entering the game, and both made strong a case for more playing time. Lohner played 17 minutes and scored five points, grabbed five rebounds and handed out three assists, while George played 13 minutes, scored six points and grabbed two boards. It was their energy and effort that was most readily apparent, though, as both dove to loose balls early and crashed the boards with abandon.
  • Somewhat sneakily, senior guard Alex Barcello staked his claim as leader of the Cougars. Barcello scored a game-high 25 points on 10 of 14 shooting, grabbed five rebounds and handed out two assists. Graduate transfer Brandon Averette had his moments, too, but his shooting left something to be desired and he struggled with foul trouble.

  • Utah State fell to VCU 85-69 in the opening round of the eight-team Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic, played at Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Aggies led most of the game until VCU reeled off an 18-0 run in a four-minute span midway through the second half.
  • Turnovers were the bane of USU, a byproduct of too much dribbling (the Aggies finished the game with only eight assists) and an aggressive VCU defense. Utah State had 18 turnovers by the end, and no one was blameless. Freshman guard Rollie Wooster and redshirt junior Marco Anthony each had four giveaways, Justin Bean had three and three other Aggies had two apiece. USU just did not take care of the ball.

  • It wasn’t all bad, though. Wooster started in his first collegiate game and played well. He finished with 10 points, third on the team behind Neemias Queta (17 points) and Bean (13 points) and looked like a good fit for USU’s with the starting lineup. Anthony looked less so, but it had been a while since the Virginia transfer had last played in a competitive game, so patience is probably warranted.
  • The Aggies’ bench has some work to do. The bench mob was comprised of primarily three players — Steven Ashworth, Sean Bairstow and Alphonso Anderson, though Max Shulga and Trevin Dorius each saw a little time — and none were great. Ashworth and Bairstow had their moments — Ashworth might be the team’s best 3-point shooter — but not enough of them.

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Weber State senior guard Isiah Brown dribbles the ball during the Wildcats’ 88-60 season-opening win over Adams State on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020 at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah.

Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics

  • Weber State defeated Adams State 88-60 and no one stood out more than senior guard Isiah Brown. Brown was far and away the best player on the floor and finished with 26 points on 7 of 14 shooting. A graduate transfer from Grand Canyon — he played at Northwestern prior to his time with the Lopes — Brown averaged 9.3 points and 1.7 assists per game last season while appearing in all 30 games, starting 18. If his Weber State debut is any indication, he should easily improve on those averages this year.

  • As for SUU, the Thunderbirds fell short against Loyola Marymount by a score of 85-83. LMU’s Jalin Anderson won the game for the Lions on a buzzer-beater. The T-Birds struggled defensively, but senior guard John Knight III (19 points and 10 assists) and junior guard Tevian Jones (17 points) formed an effective duo, with Jones a scorer to watch going forward.
  • UVU did not start its season Wednesday as originally planned, after the Wolverines’ scheduled opener against Stanford was called off (as always, thanks, COVID-19). UVU will start the 2020-21 season Thursday, though, against Adams State at home, before taking on BYU in the Marriott Center on Saturday.

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Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn (21) looks to shoot as he is pressured by North Carolina A&T’s Tyler Jones (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Champaign, Ill.

Holly Hart, AP

  • For a night at least, the voters appeared to get things right. Only one ranked team lost Wednesday — most weren’t playing the most challenging opponents — as No. 22 UCLA fell to unranked San Diego State (the Aztecs won’t be unranked for long).
  • No. 8 Illinois was impressive in a blowout win over North Carolina A&T, but so was No. 5 Iowa in a win over North Carolina Central, No. 4 Virginia in a win over Towson, and then there was No. 14 Texas Tech, which got 20 points from transfer Mac McClung and crushed Northwestern State.

  • No. 3 Villanova had its hands full most of the night with unranked Boston College. The Eagles led by as many as nine points in the second half, and trailed by only one point with four minutes left before the Wildcats were able to pull away.
  • Villanova wasn’t the only ranked team that was threatened. No. 18 ASU narrowly defeated Rhode Island, No. 15 West Virginia held on against South Dakota State and No. 7 Wisconsin staved off Eastern Illinois.