COMMENTARY — A month ago, college basketball writers around the West were penning BYU’s epitaph, calling the Cougars underachievers and declaring that they’d be lucky just to get into the NIT.
The writing, they declared, was on the wall.
It’s easy to see why many hoops pundits felt that way. In mid-January, BYU lost back-to-back games at Saint Mary’s and at San Diego, the losses coming just a couple of weeks after dropping a game to Pepperdine. The Cougars were sitting at 5-4 and in fourth place in a West Coast Conference that is typically a two-bid NCAA Tournament league.
It looked like BYU’s postseason party was over before it ever even got started.
But since that loss against the Toreros, the Cougars have started to show signs of life. They’ve blown out four foes and have won 5 of 6 games, with an impressive 82-60 win over a pretty good Saint Mary’s team in the Marriott Center, plus a good road win at Loyola Marymount. The only hitch in the streak was a road loss to Pepperdine.
And in putting together the hot streak, BYU has landed itself right back on the NCAA Bubble. Make no mistake, Dave Rose’s team still has to do some heavy lifting to do. But at least the brass ring is there for the Cougars to reach out and grab.
With 20 wins now (BYU is 20-8), the team can start thinking about the NCAA Tournament. But the Cougars can’t cool down. Starting tonight (against USD at the Marriott Center, 8 p.m.), they must win, win and win some more. BYU needs to take 5 of its final six games if it wants to go to the Big Dance. Here’s why:
First of all, the numbers game is huge. Teams outside of the power conferences just don’t get into the NCAA Tournament with 10 losses or more. If BYU wins 5 of 6 to close the season (and that includes the WCC Tournament), they would be 25-9. I know it’s just a number, but doesn’t that sound so much better than 24-10? It does to me and I guarantee it does to the NCAA Tournament committee.
Secondly, if BYU wins five more games, one of them would most likely have to be a victory over Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are having arguably their best season ever and are currently ranked No. 3 in the nation. The Zags only loss this season was an overtime thriller at Arizona. Beating them in the season finale in Spokane or in the WCC Tournament (it’s either/or, BYU doesn’t have to beat them twice) would be a much-needed signature win for the Cougars, who have come so close in losses to San Diego State (in double overtime), Utah and Gonzaga.
The Cougars have USD tonight, at Portland next Thursday and at Gonzaga Feb. 28. Truthfully, a loss in any of those games would mean they’d have to win the WCC Tourney to get in on the March Madness.
It’s not going to be easy. ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan summed up public bubble sentiment about BYU this way: “At this point, the Cougars are in the fringe mix and nothing more.”
I truly believe the tournament committee wants BYU in. The Cougars have two of the most dynamic players in college hoops in high-scoring Tyler Haws and triple-double machine Kyle Collinsworth. BYU also does really well both on TV and in game attendance. When BYU loses, the NCAA loses. So the committee is looking for an excuse to include the Cougars. A win over Gonzaga may be just that.
BYU notes: The Cougars and Zags will likely be on opposite sides of the WCC bracket, so BYU would likely only face Gonzaga a second time if they both make it to the championship game. Here’s the WCC Standings … BYU is first in the WCC in scoring (84.8 ppg), free throw percentage (77.5 percent), assists (17.5 apg) and steals (7.5 spg) … Tyler Haws has scored 2,565 career points and needs 35 more to surpass Jimmer Fredette and become BYU’s all-time leading scorer. It would be an amazing moment tonight if he can get the record at home on Senior Night … Speaking of which, BYU, after graduating no seniors last season, has five playing their last home game tonight. Along with Haws, the other seniors are Nate Austin, Anson Winder, Skyler Halford and Josh Sharp. Austin may get one more year as he has missed more than half the season with a torn hamstring and the Cougars have applied for a medical redshirt for the 6-foot-11 center.
Blue Blood is a weekly column following BYU basketball and is written by STGNews sports editor Andy Griffin. The opinions expressed are his and not necessarily those of St. George News.
Email: [email protected]
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.