The BYU Cougars gave Gonzaga a bit of a scare during the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game. Although they couldn’t pull off the upset, the Cougars looked good on the floor and will be in the NCAA Tournament field.
Head coach Mark Pope was hired in 2019 and led the Cougars to a 24-8 record in his first season. This was the most wins for a first-year coach in program history, and because of that success, Matt Norlander from CBS Sports named him the best hire of the 2019-20. season.
BYU ranks 35th nationally in scoring offense with 78.7 points per game. Three players are averaging double digits with senior guard Alex Barcello leading with 15.9 points per game. Brandon Averette and Matt Haarms follow with 11.5 and 11.3 points respectively.
Haarms, a 7’3 forward/center, has also been impressive on the other side of the ball. He was named the West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year and finished the 2020-21 regular season with the second-best active record of blocked shots in the NCAA with a total of 253.
Barcello said this year’s team is different from last year’s, with one of the major differences being physicality.
“We crash the glass really hard,” he said. “I think we’re a lot more physical.”
After the West Coast Conference Championship, Gonzaga head coach Mark Few couldn’t say enough about the Cougars, saying they played like a Top 25 team.
“They have rim protection in Haarms. They have shooters on the perimeter that are really starting to shoot the ball well and play better,” Few said. “They got excellent ball screen readers and decision makers in Barcello and Averette.”
Although they didn’t win their conference tournament, the Cougars had a good enough resume to make the experts think they can be a single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament.
ESPN has them as a potential No. 7 seed, while NCAA.com and CBS Sports have them as a No. 8 seed.
BYU, 19 in the latest NET ranking, went 10-3 in the WCC and is 20-6 overall. Gonzaga obviously took the spotlight in the conference, and the nation, but BYU has some good things going on too.
The Cougars defeated the then-No. 18 San Diego State Aztecs on Dec. 18 at Viejas Arena. That win is still a huge resume enhancer since the Aztecs are currently in the AP Top 25 Poll.