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 Cougars current profile has most bracketologists and analysts concluding that BYU is indeed an NCAA Tournament team. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has a projection that is generally representative of the current thinking relative to BYU, while the Cougars' RPI and stat ranking portfolio puts them in good company, compared to the WCC's two ranked teams:
Top Three Teams in the WCC (national college basketball ratings/rankings, 2/13/12)
|Team||AP Top 25||Coaches' Top 25||Palm RPI||Sagarin||Pomeroy|
Four games remain in BYU's regular season, three of which are consecutive road games, starting Thursday at San Francisco, continuing at Santa Clara Saturday, then concluding at Gonzaga on Feb. 23. Wins at USF and SCU would appear to be integral to the Cougars' at-large hopes, with the Gonzaga game clearly identified as a game that could either solidify BYU's at-large status or force the Cougars to win a potential rubber game with the Zags in Las Vegas.
Assuming wins in all other games against teams lower than BYU in the league standings (regular season or in Las Vegas), I believe that two wins over Gonzaga will be enough to get the Cougars into the Dance, whether both wins come in the regular season, or as a combination of regular season and conference tourney play.
Were BYU to record the regular season sweep of Gonzaga, it would also likely secure the number two seed in the conference tournament and a double-bye to the semifinals. If BYU wins its remaining four league games (including at Gonzaga), the Cougars would enter the tourney semifinals at 25-6, with two wins over an RPI Top 50 (and nationally-ranked) team--a team already ticketed for the NCAA Tournament. Even if a projected final four rematch with Gonzaga were to result in a BYU loss, I think winning two of three over the Zags would be just what BYU needs to polish off the postseason portfolio. Not to say there wouldn't be some nervous BYU players, coaches and fans on Selection Sunday, but I believe BYU's body of work would contain enough tourney-worthy production.*
If BYU loses in Spokane, but wins its remaining three regular seasons games, the Cougars would be 24-7, and playing in the conference tourney quarterfinals against a team it would be favored to beat before ostensibly meeting Gonzaga in a semifinal. In that case, a second win over the Zags is again the linchpin. Considering the relative lack of marquee non-conference wins** and the 0-2 record against St. Mary's, BYU is in a way depending on its games against Gonzaga to state its NCAA Tournament case. Two wins against the Zags, and a 2-3 combined record against GU and SMC should be enough, considering that a second win over GU (in Vegas) would put BYU in the tourney title game. Going 1-4 against the top two teams in the WCC and falling short of the title tilt would leave a little too much doubt.
Of course, there is never any doubt if you just go ahead and win the conference tournament, and the Cougars are certainly capable of doing just that. Short of taking the tourney title, the upcoming game(s) against Gonzaga will amount to the game(s) of the year for the Cougars.
* besides the sheer win total, BYU has a 9-3 record in away/neutral games. Of the 46 teams ahead of BYU in the RPI, only six have recorded more wins away from home. In true away games, BYU is 6-2, with a chance to add two or three more wins to that tally. Home losses can hurt, but road wins can help more, on Selection Sunday.
** wins over Nevada (RPI 58), Oregon (RPI 67), Buffalo (RPI 81), Weber State (RPI 86) and Virginia Tech (RPI 96) give BYU five non-conference victories over teams in the RPI Top 100--perhaps a better non-league profile than many might have assumed
Here are the latest stats of note (top 50 nationally) for the Cougars:
BYU's Ranking in National Statistical Categories, Top 50 (NCAA and Ken Pomeroy stats through 2/12/12; *indicates stats from kenpom.com)
|Scoring Offense||12th||79.4 ppg|
|Scoring Margin||10th||14.1 ppg|
|Rebound Margin||29th||+5.7 reb/gm|
|Steals Per Game||27th||8.5|
|Defensive Efficiency*||20th||90.1 rtg|
|Offensive Rebound %* Defense||9th||25.8%|
|3PFG % Defense*||47th||31.0%|
|Block % (offense)*||47th||7.4%|
And, the weekly PAP (Points Available Percentage) update, with Charles Abouo making the biggest jump among ranked players:
Points Available Percentages for BYU Players (as of 2/13/12)
|Rank||Player||Points||Points Available||PAP (%)||PAP last week (%)||PAP Up or Down from last week (%)||Rank last week||Rank Up or Down from last week|
Note: players must play at least 10 minutes per game to be ranked; not ranked are Josh Sharp (48.5), Nick Martineau (42.4), Damarcus Harrison (33.3) and Chris Collinsworth (0.0)
BYU's current team PAP is 48.9%; 2144 of 4386 possible points, down from 49.0% last week.
Photo courtesy of Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo