UNLV BYU Basketball

BYU guard Alex Barcello (4) passes to a teammate after being blocked on his shot by UNLV guard Amauri Hardy (3) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (Colter Peterson/Deseret News via AP)

In the history of BYU men’s basketball, it’s likely the non-conference schedule has never been announced so near the start of the season.

Just one more thing that the coronavirus has affected.

So as a special bonus, Cougar coach Mark Pope released his team’s 11-game slate to local media during his weekly Zoom conference call on Thursday.

“Buckle up,” he said. “Right here live on this media press conference we are going for the first time to announce our schedule for your eyes and ears only.”

Pope also promised the media – which hasn’t been able to watch any practices — an e-mail with story ideas and details about his roster.

“This is a full service press conference, ladies and gentlemen,” Pope said.

The Cougars open the 2020-21 season at home against Division II Westminster on Nov. 25 and the next day entertains the University of New Orleans. Two days later (Nov. 28) BYU and Utah Valley will face off in the Marriott Center.

On December 1, the Cougars travel to Connecticut for the Legends Classic, taking on USC at Mohegan Sun Arena. BYU will face the winner of the UConn-Vanderbilt game on Dec. 3.

The Cougars travel to Logan on Dec. 5 to play in-state rival Utah State before coming home to face Boise State in the Marriott Center on Dec. 9.

The BYU-Utah game will also be in Provo on Dec. 12. After the players take exams, the Cougars travel to San Diego State on Dec. 18 before returning to play Texas Southern in the Marriott Center. BYU’s final preseason game will be Dec. 23 at Vivint SmartHome Arena against another in-state foe, Weber State.

It is a formidable schedule for a number of reasons.

The Cougars play three games in four days to start things off and the road trip east is followed by another road game at Utah State. Pope said he thinks Boise State could be a Top 25 team by the end of the season. Of the 11 opponents, four are in the top 50 in the preseason Ken Pom rankings.

Pope called the schedule “terrifying.”

“That’s the type of schedule that gets you fired,” Pope said. “So pray for me, pray for us.”

The West Coast Conference  schedule was announced in October, though game times, TV slots and attendance policies are still not finalized.

Pope said the biggest road block to finalizing a schedule was that when the NCAA pushed back the start date to Nov. 24 the MTE’s (multi-team events) had to be reorganized.

“Once you got your MTE done, then you were waiting for everyone on your schedule to get their MTE’s done,” Pope said. “This could be the death of us but there is nothing better than playing great teams in the non-conference, so we’re really excited.”

There is a very real possibility that the Cougars won’t get to play all 11 games due to complications from the coronavirus. Pope said that is one of the reasons he and assistant coach Nick Robinson drew up such a challenging slate.

“Everybody is guessing in a bigger way then we’ve ever had to guess before,” Pope said. “We’re guessing not only what the NCAA committee is going to but we’re also guessing how many games we’re going to miss. We just wanted to make sure our guys had a chance to prove who they were. Even if we lose games to COVID we have an ample opportunity to prove ourselves.”

The players were informed about the completion of the schedule before practice on Thursday.

“Pope told us it was going to be top a 10 schedule in the country,” senior guard Alex Barcello said. “That’s what we all wanted and that’s why we’ve been working so hard. We’re so excited and so motivated to go out there and give it everything we have and win as many games as we can.”

Pope said his roster should be pretty close to full strength in less than two weeks for the opener against Westminster. Sophomore forward Wyatt Lowell, who sat out last season after transferring from Utah Valley, suffered a shoulder injury in July and had to have surgery. Pope said Lowell is “really, really close” and could be available for the first game. Freshman walk-on Townsend Tripple injured his knee recently and won’t be healthy enough to play in the opener.

“I honestly feel like this team could go even farther than last year’s team,” junior center Richard Harward said. “Watching all the guys individually and how they have progressed, I think the sky is the limit for us.”

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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