Two seasons ago, in BYU's inaugural West Coast Conference season, many around the program thought the enormous Marriott Center would be a fortress for the Cougars. Max Good's Lions went to Provo and handed the Cougars their first home WCC loss.
So, the Lions aren't exactly scared of the Cougars. That was evident today as they had absolutely no problem taking down BYU in Los Angeles. They only won by 11 points, but they led by at least that many for nearly the entire game.
The Cougars are now on a three game losing streak with an 8-6 record. This BYU team was picked to finish second in the WCC and even received a first place vote. We're not even a day into conference play but BYU may have just played its way out of the NCAA Tournament, for the second straight season.
Last year there were 37 at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament. This year, due to the formation of the American Athletic Conference, there are 36. It has never been easy for mid-major teams to earn at-large berths, but now it's even harder.
In Joe Lunardi's most recent "Bracketology", published on December 16th, three WCC teams were among the projected field. Since then, two of those three teams have suffered three game losing streaks.
Depth and parity are the words of the year for the West Coast Conference. Every team entered conference play with a record above .500. However, victories over quality teams are few and far between. Even among the three teams in Lunardi's projected field.
Let's take a look at BYU and LMU.
BYU ranks fourth nationally in strength of schedule and 19th in RPI. The Cougars have been more than willing to go into hostile environments and take on very good teams. They've played four games against RPI top-10 teams. The NCAA Tournament selection committee loves to see schedules like that.
- Neutral court (in Massachusetts) against RPI #2 UMass.
- Home against RPI #5 Iowa State.
- Neutral (in Kansas City) against RPI #6 Wichita State.
- Away against RPI #9 Oregon.
However, the selection committee also likes to see teams win, and all of those games were BYU losses. Their best wins are neutral court against RPI #25 Texas and at RPI #51 Stanford.
BYU has two more chances, maybe four, to pick up another good win. The problem is, defeating Gonzaga or Saint Mary's will damage those two teams' chances of an at-large bid.
The Zags are ranked #22 in the RPI but they're 0-1 against the RPI top-50 and 3-1 against the RPI top-100. Saint Mary's is 2-0 against the RPI top-50 but has lost only to teams outside the RPI top-50.
Until today, LMU's best win was at RPI #147 Long Beach State. The Lions have no awful losses, but no real great wins either. Unless they are able to take down the Zags, Gaels and Cougars in Provo, they're auto bid team.
With three bubble teams, a fourth team taking the auto bid will make a lot of people out west sweat on Selection Sunday. Until then, though, it will make for a wild and exciting season.
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