SALT LAKE CITY — From practically a regular in the NCAA Tournament to then dropping down to making the second-tier NIT, the BYU basketball program is now in danger of not playing in either postseason tournaments this season.
In Dave Rose’s first 13 years as head coach, BYU has played in the NCAA Tournament or NIT each year. But one week into West Coast Conference play this year, the Cougars are only 9-8 overall and coming off getting blown out in two of their last three games.
Clearly, these are hard times for a program with a proud tradition.
“The record of this year’s team is really off from what we normally have at this time of year,” Rose said on his weekly television show.
To the program’s credit, instead of piling up easy wins against inferior competition, BYU chose to play a difficult nonconference schedule in an effort to increase chances at earning an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. BYU, which is 1-6 on the road, is coming off playing five consecutive games away from the Marriott Center.
With five of the next seven games at home, the Cougars have a great opportunity to build momentum through the heart of the WCC season. Rose, noting his players are looking at a fresh start after the tough stretch, is hoping the base of several thousand that show up for home games won’t abandon the team.
“There’s really new life from our guys,” Rose said.
But that life most likely will end in unsatisfactory fashion during the WCC Tournament this March in Las Vegas. Fourth-ranked Gonzaga continues to enjoy a stronghold on the conference, meaning it is doubtful BYU will win the tournament championship and the accompanying automatic NCAA bid.
The problem, though, runs deeper than this season. BYU basketball is moving further away from being considered a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament. Rarely able to attract the best recruits for multiple reasons, the program still managed to get into the tournament regularly during Rose’s tenure in the Mountain West Conference.
BYU made the tournament the last five seasons in the MWC and then in the first year as a member of the WCC in 2011-12. In four of the six seasons since then, however, BYU has only two NCAA appearances and four in the NIT, including the last three years.
In the past, BYU has relied primarily on perimeter shooting and offering some sort of resistance on defense. The Cougars are not getting much of either this season.
“It’s a difficult task to get talent there,” former BYU star Michael Smith told The Zone Sports Network. “I’m talking about Duke and Carolina talent. They may never get that kind of talent. But the guys they do get, you would think where they could be great is perfecting (3-point shooting). There’s not a lot of great shooting. That’s perplexing to me.”
BYU is shooting 31 percent from 3-point distance, ranking 283rd in Division I. The defense has allowed at least 85 points in eight games this season.
Smith, who has watched practice this season, attended BYU games this season against Weber State and San Diego State. In both games, which were losses, the defense was virtually nonexistent.
“I wasn’t seeing the same translation or the carryover from practice to the games with the same speed and intensity,” he said. “Yeah, games are a little different and you adjust, but I don’t know. I don’t know what it is that was missing.”
Part of it might be chemistry issues. A revolving door of players coming and going on church missions or transferring has affected cohesion.
Last season, some players appeared intent on showcasing their individual talents rather than focusing on team basketball. So far, it doesn’t seem much better this season.
Reports surfaced this week that point guard Jahshire Hardnett has quit the team. The junior was moved to the bench last week after starting earlier in the season, but BYU is not confirming his departure.
“These players all have a lot of expectations not only from themselves (but) from the coaching staff, from their families.” Rose said. “Right now, Jashire is going through a tough stretch.”