Brigham Young Cougars
Record: 19-8 (10-4 WCC)
BYU and the bubble, Cougar fans are probably getting tired of this. Every season since joining the West Coast Conference five years ago the Cougars have been here. Three times out of four it's worked out in the end, and the one time it didn't the Cougars ran to the NIT Final Four. So, does this year's résumé fit alongside the NCAA years or is it closer to that 2013 NIT trip?
Get to know the Cougars
They play fast and they score a lot of points. The Cougars average of 84.3 points per game ranks seventh in the nation and their average of 76.2 possessions per 40 minutes ranks 11th. They're not a defensively-minded team, so they rely on Mr. Triple-Double, senior point guard Kyle Collinsworth to find open shooters and keep possessions alive on the glass. When that is working, the Cougars are hard to beat. When it isn't, just about anybody can beat BYU.
And since enough just about anybodies have beaten BYU this season, the Cougars find themselves in a precarious position.
In years past being a big-name program has helped the Cougars put together the kind of schedule that other mid-majors can only dream of. Thanks to aggressive scheduling, BYU has been the poster boy for making the tournament despite underwhelming win totals.
That's not the case this year. The Cougars are 2-4 against the RPI top-100 and 0-3 against non-conference RPI top-100 foes.
BYU blew its first chance, during the Tip-Off Marathon, with a loss to Long Beach State. Their next two opportunities came at RPI top-50 Pac-12 teams, Utah and Colorado, and both were squandered. Their final chance at a signature non-conference win would come at the Diamond Head Classic. But, the Cougars fell to Harvard (RPI 235) in the opening round and found themselves in the losers' bracket.
West Coast Conference Play
Since the start of 2016 the Cougars have experienced the best and worst of life in the West Coast Conference.
They went up to Spokane and upset then No. 25 Gonzaga. It was the Cougars' second straight win in that incredibly hostile environment. Two days later they fell at Portland (RPI 245), effectively eliminating whatever good that win at Gonzaga did.
The Cougars have split the season series with Pepperdine, a team currently just outside the RPI top-100 (109) and Saint Mary's (RPI 75). Winning at home and losing on the road in both cases. But, two days after defeating then No. 25 Saint Mary's in Provo the Cougars fell to Pacific (RPI 279) at home.
Since BYU joined the WCC has been a league with a clear top tier (Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU) against which losses are acceptable and wins are appreciated. Each year there's been a challenger, this year it's been Pepperdine, which normally finds a way to take down one or two of the big three.
But unlike the Zags and Gaels, BYU has yet to figure out how to avoid multiple bad losses. This year has been no different.
What's Still to Come
Because of the Cougars' participation in the Diamond Head Classic, coupled with an earlier than ever start to the WCC season, BYU has faced a quirky schedule in conference play. They played at LMU and Pepperdine one week, then hosted the Lions and Waves the next. This week they travel to San Diego Thursday before hosting San Diego Saturday.
The Cougars can not afford to lose again, especially to San Diego. Back-to-back games like that give the worst team in the WCC a chance. It's an unfair reality imposed on the Cougars. That said, they could've won more games and not put themselves in this position.
Next week BYU hosts Portland and Gonzaga. It's one last shot at a bad loss, and one last shot at a huge win, before the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
For their NCAA Tournament dream to come true, though, the Cougars likely need to win in Vegas.