The first Monday in March has traditionally found the BYU Cougars preparing for a trip to Las Vegas and the start of their conference tournament. Instead, the Cougars are already home from Vegas, their tourney run done, with a lot of time on their hands before Selection Sunday.
It is time that will be filled with individual skill development sessions, a few team practices, and probably a fair share of hand wringing, while pondering the question: "did we do we do enough to make the NCAA Tournament?"
The West Coast Conference Tournament starts today in Las Vegas, on 2012's "extra" day--which is appropriate, since the WCC has actually added a couple of extra days to its annual tourney, to facilitate the league's inclusion of BYU.
Since adopting its double-bye format in 2003, the tournament has been a four-day affair, stretching from Friday through Monday, with games every night. With BYU making the WCC a nine-team league, and with the Cougars not playing on Sundays, the tournament has added a play-in game, and incorporated a Sunday "rest day," extending the tournament to six days: today through next Monday.
The tournament bracket shows what used the be the First Round now called the Second Round, in which the winner of tonight's First Round game will play on Thursday. #8 seed Portland and #9 seed Santa Clara will play for the right to join San Francisco (#5 seed), San Diego (#6 seed) and Pepperdine (#7 seed), with the two survivors of that four-team group advancing to the Friday night quarterfinals, where #3 seed BYU and #4 seed Loyola Marymount await. The top-seeded St. Mary's Gaels and second-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs are off until Saturday night's semifinals. After an off-day Sunday, the tourney will conclude March 5th.
PROVO — The West Coast Conference announced its postseason awards today. St. Mary's junior guard Matthew Dellavedova was named the 2011-2012 WCC Player of the Year.
Dellavedova led the Gaels to their first regular season conference title since 1989. Dellavedova was 3rd in the WCC in scoring with 16.4 points a game and 6th in assists with 6.6 per contest.
Two Gonzaga basketball players walked away with postseason hardware. Senior Rob Sacre earned WCC Defensive Player of the Year honors while freshman point guard Kevin Pangos was awarded the WCC Newcomer of the Year.
The West Coast Conference coaches have voted for all-conference honors, and their choices will be released on Tuesday. Unlike in the Mountain West Conference, media members do not get a vote in the all-league selections, but here's how I would have voted (note: all stats considered/referenced are for conference games only; only those stats are considered in the balloting)--
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary's: I tend to lean toward the best player on the best team, and the Aussie point guard was the engine that drove the Gaels to the school's first outright conference championship in 23 years. Dellavedova was third in WCC scoring (16.4 ppg), led the league in assists (6.6 apg), finished second in assist-to-turnover ratio, 5th in 3PFGM/gm and 7th in FT%, while leading the conference in minutes played. Not the flashiest player with with the best across-the-board numbers, but St. Mary's could not have ended Gonzaga's run atop the WCC without him.
Here are some quick hitters on the day of BYU's latest "game of the year"--a first-ever visit to Gonzaga for a crucial West Coast Conference clash--
: while Gonzaga has dominated the WCC for more than a decade, the Zags in recent years have been challenged by St. Mary's, and now, by BYU. Last season, Gonzaga shared the regular season conference crown with the Gaels, and this season, the Bulldogs are locked in a second place tie with BYU, one game behind St. Mary's. Gonzaga is on a nation's-best 11-year regular season league championship streak, but the Zags' reign as the kings of the conference is in jeopardy. Tonight's game may amount to a "last stand" of sorts for the WCC's long-standing flag-bearer.
: this will be the third meeting between these two teams in less than a year, but the first in Spokane, and from a Gonzaga perspective, it's about time. The Zags have a 102-7 record at The Kennel (McCarthey Athletic Center, officially), with only two of those losses coming to conference foes (Santa Clara in 2007 and St. Mary's in 2011). In games last year at the NCAA Tournament, and earlier this month at the Marriott Center, Gonzaga has lost to BYU by double-digits.
Heading into the 2011 college football season, of all the FBS schools BYU had yet to face in football, New Mexico State was the closest to Provo. With BYU having played the Aggies last season, that left Nebraska as "new neighbor," when it came to gridiron unfamiliarity and geographical proximity.
Well, you can cross the Cornhuskers off that list and head back to the map, because BYU today announced a one-game deal with Nebraska--the game to be played September 5th, 2015.
Here is the text of BYU's official press release:
A mixture of good and bad news greeted BYU head coach Dave Rose on Tuesday, as he assessed the playing status of hobbled starters Noah Hartsock and Matt Carlino--both of whom suffered knee injuries in road wins last week.
The good news was that MRIs of both players' injured knees came back clear of structural damage, and Carlino was able to take part in Tuesday's practice at full speed, without the brace he used during Saturday's game at Santa Clara.
The bad news was Hartsock's inability to practice on a knee that was sleeved and braced, allowing him to do some shooting on the side and take free throws with the team, but otherwise preventing him from doing much of anything else.
This column would be exponentially easier to write after Thursday's West Coast Conference games, but since there is no time like the present for speculation and postulation, let's get into the WCC's tie-breaking and seeding scenarios for the league's title chase and upcoming tournament, then focus on the possibilities for BYU heading into the regular season's final week.
First things first, and that would be the WCC protocol for breaking ties. It reads as follows, and will serve as a handy reference moving forward:
BYU is 5-0 in the games of February 2012, which will come as little surprise to those who have followed Dave Rose-coached teams through the most important regular season month of the college basketball year.
In his seventh season as BYU's head coach, Rose has compiled a 41-6 record in February, for a sizzling win rate of 87.2%, a percentage surpassing his already stellar career record of 182-51 (78.1%). When the games matter most, Rose's Cougars are most often at their best.
Rose's February success and five consecutive NCAA Tournament berths are closely correlated, and if BYU is to qualify for a sixth straight Dance bid, the Cougars' stretch run will again have played a significant part.
BYU's two-game Bay Area road swing resulted in considerable benefit: two wins that extended the Cougars win streak to five games and their road win streak to seven games, keeping BYU in the mix for a West Coast Conference regular season championship.
The victories at San Francisco and Santa Clara also came with a potentially significant cost: knee injuries suffered by leading scorer Noah Hartsock and third-leading scorer Matt Carlino.
The BYU Cougar hoopsters open a key three-game conference road swing with back-to-back Bay Area contests this week, starting Thursday at San Francisco.
Following his team's Tuesday afternoon practice at the Marriott Center, head coach Dave Rose previewed his team's upcoming duel with the Dons, saying that he expects to see a "completely different team" from the one BYU dismantled 81-56 last month in Provo, "as far as their confidence level, their execution offensively; they're really comfortable with how they are playing."
"They remind me a lot of how they were playing last year, at the end of the season," said Rose. "They've won seven of their last nine games...so we'll look forward to quite a test here."
BYU released its long-awaited 2012 football schedule on Monday, with Athletic Director Tom Holmoe calling it "a good schedule...better than it was last year"--the first season of the school's football independence.
Holmoe said there was a relative delay in the release of the schedule (the 2011 schedule was released on Dec. 8, 2010) as BYU explored late changes. "We had the possibility of getting a game that would have changed things, and we would have had to move a couple of things around," said Holmoe in a teleconference with reporters after the schedule announcement.
"We actually did move some dates around with the WAC teams; they were very helpful. It would have been to our benefit to move (the Notre Dame) game into another slot, and Notre Dame was considering it, but it just didn't end up in our best interest, so we agreed upon the original date."
Three weeks from tonight, the West Coast Conference will crown its tournament champion. Among the most-asked questions in these parts is "how many WCC teams will join the champ in the NCAA Tournament?"
Both league leader St. Mary's and second-place Gonzaga are ranked in the Top 25, and have been considered all but locks for Big Dance cards for some time now. So barring a lower seed rising up and stealing the conference tourney crown, the real question is: "What does BYU have to do to dance?"
The BYU Cougars' recent injury woes have somewhat worsened, as team captain Brock Zylstra missed Thursday's practice with a sprained left ankle. Head coach Dave Rose called Zylstra "questionable" for Saturday's home game with Pepperdine, adding that Zylstra is also not expected to practice on Friday.
Zylstra sprained the ankle on Jan. 27, then played 28 scoreless minutes in the home loss to St. Mary's the following day. Moving to the bench, Zylstra played 25 solid minutes in a Marriott Center win over Gonzaga, then re-injured the ankle early in last Saturday's game at Portland. He stayed in the game, however, played 28 minutes and scored 12 points, adding five rebounds. After the road win over the Pilots, Rose commended Zylstra, saying "what a tough guy...he's as good a competitor as we've ever had."
It's a very, very hard thing to do. Dave Rose and the BYU Cougars just make it look easy.
Saturday in Portland, BYU recorded its 20th win of the season, for a seventh straight season--every season of the Rose era. Never before had BYU had won 20 or more for seven straight years, just as no coach had ever led BYU to seven 20-win campaigns--let alone seven in a row.
Rose's five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 2007 through 2011 were already a school record, and 2012 finds the coach and his Cougars driving hard for a sixth consecutive dance card. At 20-6 on the season, 8-3 in the WCC, and with almost as many road/neutral wins (9) as home victories (11), BYU is pacing to make Selection Sunday another good day for the Cougar hoopsters.
The "Bounce-back Kids" did it again last night.
Welcoming the 24th ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs to Provo for the first time ever, the BYU Cougars rebounded from a weekend home loss to #16/18 St. Mary's with a resurgent 83-73 win over the Zags Thursday at the Marriott Center--a victory that means it has still been more than three years (late January 2009) since BYU last lost consecutive regular season games.
You can hear audio highlights of the win in "Cougar Cuts," left.
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall introduced his latest recruiting class to boosters, the media and Cougar Nation on Wednesday, declaring that the Class of 2012 is the class "most qualified...to do it all," speaking of his vision to lead "the most complete football program in the world"--a program emphasizing Top 25-caliber football, academics, spirituality and service.
In a LaVell Edwards Stadium presentation made to local members of the Cougar Club and members of the press, Mendenhall prefaced his introduction of recruits by listing a series of program accomplishments over the last seven seasons. Among them:
BYU is one of nine programs to be ranked in the final Coaches Top 25 Poll in five of the last six seasons.
Saying that "with every loss comes renewed urgency," BYU Basketball head coach Dave Rose on Tuesday afternoon previewed his team's Thursday night meeting with #24 Gonzaga--a second consecutive conference home game against a ranked team, with the Cougars having lost to #16/18 St. Mary's last Saturday.
You can hear Rose post-practice media session by clicking in "Cougar Cuts," left.
Because it's the start of a new week, and because I've been doing this at the start of the last few weeks, here are BYU Basketball's updated numbers of note:
Heading into their weekend meeting with St. Mary's, the BYU Cougars controlled a great deal of their own destiny, relative to the WCC regular season title chase.
Facing eight league games to finish the campaign, the Cougars knew that winning out would secure no worse than a two seed in the conference tournament, and winning out with St. Mary's losing one additional game (at Gonzaga, ostensibly) would secure a regular season crown and the number one seed in Las Vegas. It was going to be a hard road for the Cougars, but it was rolled out in front of them.
Saturday's 80-66 Marriott Center setback has all but dashed BYU's regular season title hopes, with the Cougars (18-6, 6-3 WCC) now dropping three games back of the front-running Gaels (21-2, 10-0 WCC) in the conference table. With only six games remaining on their fixture list, the Gaels are essentially in a familiar two-team tussle with Gonzaga for the conference championship, with all eyes on their Feb. 9 get-together in Spokane. BYU, meantime, still has a meaningful goal in sight: earn the conference tournament two seed and secure a bye to the tourney semifinals at the Orleans Arena. The easiest way to accomplish that goal: win out.
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