BYU Cougars (8-4) at #13 Oregon Ducks (10-0)
Saturday, December 21st
TIME 7:30 PST
TV Pac-12 Network
RADIO BYU – KSL 102.7 FM / 1160 AM, BYU Radio – Sirius XM 143
OREGON – 95.3 FM KUJZ, Sirius XM 85
LEADERS BYU – Tyler Haws 22.3 ppg 5.2 rpg / Matt Carlino 16.2 ppg 5.1 apg
OREGON – Joseph Young 19.3 ppg 55.5 % FG / Mike Moser 14.9 ppg 7.4 rpg
It’s been a week since the debacle in Salt Lake City that saw rival Utah dominate the Cougars from tip to horn. Nothing was clicking for BYU, and the Utes took full advantage of the opportunity. After that 17-point loss, one can only wonder how BYU will look on Saturday. Will their defense continue to range from abysmal to below average? Will their shots fall? Can they make free throws at a decent clip? Will they pass the ball to each other? Recent losses to UMass and Utah have raised these questions. Oregon will be another quality opponent ready to feast upon the Cougars’ weaknesses. If BYU can come together and provide a complete effort, a win in Eugene would be a huge boost. BYU needs confidence heading into conference play, and they need another quality win.
Oregon isn’t without solid non-conference wins already. They’ve got wins over Ole Miss, Illinois and Georgetown. Add in a win over BYU and a solid conference record, and the Ducks may be looking at a 4 or 5 seed in March. The Ducks’ 10-0 record is even more impressive considering the absence of Dominic Artis and Ben Carter for the first 9 games. Oregon will hope to keep their momentum going and to seamlessly fold in Artis and Carter to an already successful line-up.
MUST-WIN SITUATION FOR THE COUGARS
Surely, some BYU fans thought the sky was falling after last Saturday’s loss to Utah. It’s never fun to lose to your rival, especially in such dominant fashion. I’ll be honest, I had to do some serious searching inside my fan-soul after that loss.
The good news is that all four of BYU’s losses have come against teams with a combined total of one, count ‘em one, loss. Also, some of the Cougars’ wins have turned around to beat quality competition. Texas beat North Carolina. Stanford beat UCONN. This means that BYU is getting some serious RPI and BPI love for a strong schedule. They currently sit at 15 and 43, respectively – not too shabby.
So then, why is it a must-win game for BYU?
A tough schedule winds up meaning little when you can’t get some wins. It reminds me of Steph Curry’s Davidson days. At the time, the Wildcats were running roughshod through the SoCon, but they just couldn’t notch a marquee win in the non-conference schedule. Davidson challenged teams like Duke, UCLA and UNC, but fell short. Once conference play started, the Wildcats had no margin for error. Even Davidson’s ’07-’08 elite 8 run could have been completely erased had they suffered just one loss in the SoCon.
Now, I recognize that the WCC of today is stronger than the SoCon of yesteryear. BYU will be helped out by a stronger conference. But, overall, the principle remains the same. Can BYU afford to lay an egg at home against San Diego, Portland or LMU? If the Cougars drop one at War Memorial Gym, how tight will the bubble get? Every passing loss squeezes a little bit of tournament life out of BYU. Sure, losses against undefeated top 25 teams aren’t going to be too much of a condemnation of BYU’s resume, but those losses tighten the Cougars’ belt enough to magnify any future losses to mid-level WCC teams with 100+ RPIs.
So what happens if BYU drops a couple games and ends up with a respectable 23-8 record? With a strong top half, the WCC is probably respectable enough to keep the Cougars’ tournament hopes afloat. But to what end? Will BYU roll into the NCAA’s with another double digit seed? At the end of the day, with the exception of Jimmermania, seeding has never been kind to the Cougars. Why hasn’t it been kind? Because they can’t post enough marquee wins for a human committee to seed them higher. This season is shaping up to be no different. Sure, wins over Stanford and Texas will help out. But, sooner or later, BYU needs to grab some more key W’s along the way to buoy their resume.
Fortunately, BYU has five more opportunities for statement wins. They’ll get to play Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s twice, and they’ve got Oregon. But if they can’t grab some W’s, especially at home, Cougar fans may be in for another 12 or 13 seed type of year.