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BYU Clinging to Second Place, NCAA Bubble

10 February 2014 Brett Richins
Eric Mika and Matt Carlino celebrate a winning effort vs. USF. (BYU photo)

Eric Mika and Matt Carlino celebrate a winning effort vs. USF on Saturday. (BYU photo)

Saturday night’s 68-63 victory over San Francisco elevated BYU into sole possession of second place in the West Coast Conference.

The Cougars (17-9, 9-4 WCC) are a half game up on Saint Mary’s (18-7, 8-4 WCC) with a showdown between the two looming this Saturday on the Gaels home court. BYU won the first meeting in the season series a week-and-a-half ago in the Marriott Center by score of 84-71.

Prior to what sets up as a huge game for both team’s NCAA hopes, the Cougars travel to Stockton, Calif. on Thursday for a match up with league newcomer Pacific (13-10, 4-8 WCC).

The Cougars must take care of business against the Tigers in order for Saturday’s game in Moraga to mean much.

As of Monday morning, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has BYU making the field of 68–by the skin of its teeth. The Cougars are listed by Lunardi as the next-to-last team to make the tournament, projected as a No. 11 seed and a “First Four” participant in Dayton, Ohio.

However, there is little room for error they want to stay in the hunt for such an invitation.

The Cougars not only need to sweep this week’s games, but probably also need to defeat both Portland and Gonzaga in Provo the following week in order keep themselves in the tournament conversation. BYU dropped road games to both the Pilots and Bulldogs in late January.

It’s unusual for a team from a so-called mid-major conference with nine losses to still be in consideration for an at-large bid to the tournament at this point in the season, but BYU’s tough non-conference schedule, including wins over Texas and Stanford have helped the cause.

The win over the Longhorns back in November has payed significant dividends as Texas has come on strong in Big 12 play. Despite a loss at Kansas State over the weekend, the Longhorns are currently in second place behind Kansas in their conference and are tabbed as a No. 6 seed in Lunardi’s latest bracket.

Stanford, meanwhile, is projected as a No. 9 seed after winning six of its last eight games in PAC-12 play. One of the two losses during the Cardinal’s current stretch was a close 60-57 decision to then No. 1 Arizona.

The fact that BYU went toe-to-toe in losses to ranked teams like Wichita State, Iowa State, UMass and Oregon seems to have earned some respect from guys like Lunardi as well. It remains to be seen if they will have the same effect on the selection committee come March.

What has been most damaging to the Cougars’ hopes are the road losses they’ve suffered in the WCC. They got off on the wrong foot in conference, losing at Loyola-Marymount and Pepperdine to open at 0-2. Losing at Gonzaga in understandable, but the triple overtime loss at Portland in the latter stages of the season really hurts. The Pilots are vastly improved this year, but that won’t really matter to the committee in the end.

The good news is that BYU has been on a roll the past two weeks, using victories in a four-game home stand to somehow scramble back onto the bubble. That’s something that appeared virtually impossible after consecutive road losses the week previous.

Still, BYU is pretty much in the position of needing to win out over its final five regular season games, and then advance to the finals of the WCC tournament, to have a legitimate claim on an at-large bid.

A loss down the stretch to either of the traditional WCC big dogs, Saint Mary’s or Gonzaga, would likely burst the Cougars’ bubble and force them to have to win the conference tournament in order to return to the Big Dance.

West Coast
W
L
PCT
CONF
HOME
ROAD
STRK
21
4
.840
11-1
13-0
5-2
L1
BYU
17
9
.654
9-4
12-1
3-7
W4
18
7
.720
8-4
13-1
5-4
W2
15
10
.600
8-5
11-5
4-5
L1
14
11
.560
7-6
8-4
5-5
L1
13
11
.542
5-7
8-6
3-5
L1
13
10
.565
4-8
6-3
4-6
W1
13
13
.500
4-9
7-6
4-6
L3
11
15
.423
4-9
6-7
4-7
W1
11
14
.440
3-10
5-4
3-8
L4

 

 

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