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'BYU checks every box': Fans less bullish on Cougars than national media

By Sean Walker, KSL.com | Posted - Feb. 24, 2020 at 1:44 p.m.



PROVO — Shortly after an interview on a local Salt Lake radio station last week, just a few days before BYU's 91-78 home win over then-No. 2 Gonzaga, CBS Sports national college basketball reporter Gary Parrish finished his drive home in Memphis, spent some time with his wife and children, and then opened Twitter, like most in his profession do with regularity.

What he saw blew his mind: fans fighting about something he said about BYU in his mentions.

Not Gonzaga fans.

Not Utah fans.

Not Utah State fans.

These were BYU fans — and they were incredulous at his seemingly bold statement, calling the Cougars with a healthy Yoeli Childs a "Final Four darkhorse."

"If you’re looking for teams a little bit off the radar that can possibly get (to the Final Four), BYU checks every box," Parrish said on his Eye on College Basketball podcast. "They’re great when they have their best lineup available to them. Their computer numbers are strong. They really, really shoot it. What’s the problem?"

Parrish called BYU fans "the twins to the Maryland fan base," in their ability to laud cynicism when others compliment the Cougars (23-7, 12-3 WCC) and what they have already done under first-year head coach Mark Pope.

"Fan bases are always arguing that they think you are slighting their teams — except Maryland fans," Parrish explained. "BYU fans, same way.

"BYU fans were calling me crazy because I said that BYU was a darkhorse Final Four team. They said there’s no way, that 'I'm sure we’ll lose in the first round.' They don’t believe in their team as much as I believe in their team."

His colleague and podcast co-host Matt Norlander came around after watching the Cougars hand then-No. 2 Gonzaga its first loss in 40 West Coast Conference games. That's a remarkable streak — and BYU snapped it like a twig.

"That was a fantastic win, a great, great win," Norlander said, "and BYU is going to be — if they keep winning — well, it's no longer a sleeper team."

With the super shooter Jake Toolson and standout senior TJ Haws alongside him, Childs has proven to be one of the top power forwards in America, Parrish said.

"Yoeli Childs was awesome," he said. "And BYU’s record is misleading because he wasn't there for a lot of their losses. They are not just 15-2 with him in the lineup. They’re probably one of the 10 best teams in the country when he’s in the lineup, and they looked that way Saturday night."

Across the country, fans, voters and college basketball analysts reacted to a stunning weekend of college basketball losses. From No. Baylor’s loss to No. 3 Kansas to previously unbeaten San Diego State's stunning home loss to Mountain West rival UNLV, a lot of teams were raising eyebrows.

Creighton. Maryland. Dayton.

BYU was right there among them — off-brand programs with the potential bust brackets in March, the greatest month on the calendar for college hoops beatniks.

"I've been high on the Cougars all season," tweeted national columnist Seth Davis of The Athletic. "That was their best defensive game of the season. A legit Final Four candidate.

"Pope was a Rhodes Scholar candidate at Kentucky and went to Columbia medical school before deciding to pursue a career in coaching. Great story and right at home at BYU."

That Davis is an unabashed believed in Pope and BYU isn't a shock; he wrote this story on the first-year Cougars head coach back in May, and has been not-so-silently trumpeting the return of Childs for a while.

BYU ranks 16th in KenPom, 14th in the NCAA-preferred NET, and the Cougars are a top-10 scoring offense with the fourth-best mark of 10.6 3-pointers per game.

And with the win over the Zags, the Cougars are locked into their first NCAA Tournament berth in four years — and a surefire single-digit seed, wrote ESPN’s John Gasaway.

" ... This is one dangerous team that's set to move higher in the bracket than the No. 7 seed that was projected for it before its win against the Bulldogs," Gasaway wrote in his weekly Bubble Watch column for ESPN.com.

New rankings

For now, all the Cougars can do is move on to the next game. A win Saturday afternoon at Pepperdine in the regular-season finale will guarantee the No. 2 seed in the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas, and with it an automatic berth in the tournament semifinals. The Cougars are already guaranteed to stay on the opposite side of the bracket as the Zags, with a top-three finish in the conference secured.

To paraphrase Pope, his seniors, and every other player on the team in a way that is cliche and boring — but also true — they can only control what they can control.

Even if it casts side-eyed glances from a leery fan base.

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