COMMENTARY — Saturday’s loss to Gonzaga changed everything for BYU. Or did it?
With a win, the Cougars would have tied Gonzaga for second place in the West Coast Conference. They would have had the tiebreaker on the Zags, so the No. 2 seed would also have been theirs. And they would have had a lesser opponent in Saturday’s WCC quarterfinal round.
But BYU lost to Gonzaga. That means third place, a No. 3 seed and a battle against a tougher opponent Saturday.
A closer look tells us that losing that game may actually benefit the Cougars.
With the loss, BYU drops to the 3 vs. 6 game, rather than the 2 vs. 7 game. That means the Cougars will be playing Santa Clara, rather than Portland. BYU beat Santa Clara twice this season by scores of 97-61 (in Provo) and 96-62 (at SCU). There’s no reason to believe the Cougars won’t blow out the Broncos for a third time Saturday in Las Vegas (Game time is set for 2 p.m. MT and the game will be on BYUtv).
Had the Cougars beaten Gonzaga, they’d be facing the Portland Pilots. This season, Portland and BYU split a pair of games, with the Pilots winning 84-81 in Oregon and BYU winning 99-81 in Provo. Anyone watching those two games knows that Portland just flat out matches up well with BYU.
The Pilots legitimately won that game at home. It was no fluke. They were in it all along. Meanwhile, the game in Provo was a blowout early on. But Portland never quit and cut a 25-point edge down to 15 in the second half. On a neutral floor, it’s no stretch to think the Pilots would give BYU all it could handle. Portland certainly would be a tougher foe for the Cougars than Santa Clara.
As for the semifinals, as a second seed or a third seed, BYU was still going to play Gonzaga, assuming the two teams defeat their lower-seeded foes in the quarters.
Having just lost to the Zags, BYU should have the extra motivation to get back at Gonzaga — a chance at redemption.
There’s no question that Gonzaga has been the banner-carrier for the West Coast Conference since long before BYU joined the league. For 15 years, the Bulldogs have finished at the top of the WCC and they are a fixture in the NCAA Tournament.
Right now, the “bracketologists” have Gonzaga returning to the Big Dance once again … unless they lose in the WCC Tournament in the quarters or semis. The WCC should be proud to have had Gonzaga do what they’ve done for so long. And I believe if they make it to the WCC title game, the Zags will be back in the NCAAs.
But maybe, just maybe, it’s time for someone else to take the bull by the horns. BYU has a chance to do just that. If the Cougars can knock Gonzaga out of the WCC Tourney in the semifinals, the NCAA committee will have to take a long, hard look at who it wants to invite. After all, how could they invite a Gonzaga team that would have lost two of three from BYU and didn’t even make its conference championship.
The Cougars (22-9) probably still have to win the conference tourney to get in, but they can knock Gonzaga out with a win on Monday in the semifinals. I don’t believe that just getting to the conference final will get BYU in the Big Dance.
To me, that’s a sad fact. Sure, I’d love to see the Cougars in the NCAA Tournament because I am a fan. But beyond that, I think it would be sad to see Kyle Collinsworth, the all-time record-holder in triple-doubles and one of the most unique players college basketball has ever seen, miss out on a chance to do his thing on a national stage.
Collinsworth rebounds like a center, passes like a point guard and slashes to the basket like a small forward. Not since Magic Johnson was a college player at Michigan State has there been someone so prolific at scoring, rebounding and assisting. Johnson, who averaged 17.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game at MSU, only played two years of college basketball, so who knows how many trip-dubs he would have had.
But Collinsworth, who was recently named as the West Coast Conference player of the year, has averaged very similar numbers to Magic. This year, Collinsworth racked up 15.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. He has 11 career triple doubles.
There are other reasons, of course, to root for an NCAA Tournament bid. The experience would be invaluable to young guys like Nick Emery, Zac Seljaas and Corbin Kaufusi. It would also be a fitting end of career for Chase Fischer and Nate Austin (along with Collinsworth).
Sure, inconsistency has been the biggest problem for the Cougars this year. One game, they’d hit 15 3-pointers and shoot 50 percent from deep. The next, they’d hit six treys and shoot 22 percent.
But that’s what you get with BYU. More than any other team in America, the Cougars have the ability to beat any team on any given night.
If, somehow, BYU does get into March Madness, I don’t think there’s a team in the country that would want to play the Cougars.
Blue Blood is a sports column written by Andy Griffin. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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