We’ll start with the good news. The Cougars had four starters in double figures. The fifth, Noah Hartsock, had only nine points this time around, but added three blocks, three assists, and five rebounds while playing only 23 minutes.
Charles Abouo lead the way with 23 points and 12 rebounds, ending what many saw as a slump with a monster game. Brandon Davies had 13 points and seven rebounds, while Matt Carlino and Anson Winder had ten points each.
The bad news is that the shooting isn’t quite “back” yet, with the Cougars going 27-65 for 41.5 percent from the field, and 12-32 for 37.5 percent from behind the three-point line. Luckily, this time they were able to “out-personnel” the Waves and they didn’t really need a high shooting percentage.
Also, the Cougars once again played very, very well on the defensive end of the floor. The best way to combat spotty shooting is to make the other team shoot worse. The Cougars did that, holding the Waves to 21-63 for 33.3 percent from the floor, and 2-16 for an almost-laughable 12.5 percent from three-point range.
All-in-all, the Cougars took care of business, and now have four games left on their WCC schedule before the tournament. San Francisco is a must-win at this point, and so are Santa Clara and Portland. The game they can afford to lose is at Gonzaga, and it could very well happen that way.
Strange things happen in Gonzaga’s gym, and the calls often go to the home team there. Ever since Gonzaga became one of the first smaller-conference teams to get a reputation as a “bracket-buster,” they have been media darlings. Their victory over St Mary’s this week gave them a spot in the top 25, while the Cougars are still unranked.
At this point, Jerry Palm of CBS, who we feel is the most accurate predictor of tournament seeds, has the Cougars as one of the last four in. We don’t know if he follows football, but he has the Cougars playing UCF in the “First Four.” He has Gonzaga as a six seed, and St Mary’s as a four seed, while the Cougars are a 12 at this point.
This brings up a sad reality of college sports: politics. The WCC is a smaller conference, and it is going to be tough to get three teams in. Due to Gonzaga’s place in the media-dictated food chain, they are going to get the benefit of the doubt over the Cougars, especially the post-Jimmer Cougars. St Mary’s deserves a slot, too. So, it will be up to the Cougars to “earn their way in” over the last few games.
If the Cougars can run the table for the regular season, they should have a berth pretty much locked up with one win in the conference tournament. They should even be able to afford a loss to Gonzaga on the road, but might have to win two games to get a berth.
There are two big roadblocks for the Cougars right now. The first is the possibility of two losses in the next four games. If that happens, they will probably have to win the conference tournament to get in. The other main negative here is that if someone besides St Mary’s, Gonzaga, or BYU wins the WCC Tournament, it will knock one of those teams out.
In other words, there is no way the WCC gets four teams into the NCAA Tournament. San Francisco is dangerous, as is Loyola Marymount. Either of those teams could get hot at the right time and win the WCC Tournament. If this happens, one of the three teams that currently deserve a berth will not get one.
So, who do we cheer for? The obvious choice is for the Cougars to run the table, or at least win the WCC Tournament for the automatic berth. Otherwise, cheer for the trio of St Mary’s, Gonzaga, and BYU to not lose to anyone but each other the rest of the way out.
This brings us to an interesting question. What happens if the Cougars sweep Gonzaga but don’t get in? It isn’t likely, but because of NCAA politics, there is a slight chance that the Cougars could beat Gonzaga twice, only to watch the Zags get a tournament berth while the Cougars play in the NIT.
Would it be fair? Of course not. But stranger things have happened when the NCAA Tournament Committee gets together.
So, let’s take a look at San Francisco. The Cougars dispatched them easily last month at the Marriott Center, 81-56. After that game, the Dons were 10-7 overall and 0-4 in the conference. Since then, the Dons have gone 7-3, for a 17-10 overall record and a 7-6 conference record.
The Cougars can’t afford to underrate or look past this team. We’re sure Coach Rose is drilling that into their heads as we speak, and that the upperclassmen on the team won’t allow it to happen, but the Cougars will have to be at their best to avoid what could be a crushing blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes.
Remember that the Dons will be at home, are playing with a lot more confidence, and have revenge on their minds after losing by 25 points in their first meeting. Of all four games, this is now the most important one, because it is one the Cougars could very realistically lose, and one that would be devastating if they did.
If the Cougars can win this one, they should have enough of a cushion to afford a loss at Gonzaga if it happens. If they lose on Thursday, they have to beat Gonzaga or win the WCC Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament.
We predict a much closer game this time, with the Cougars pulling it out, 66-60.
Jake Heaps came to Provo with a lot of promise. He was the number one rated quarterback recruit in the country by both Scout and Rivals. He started out sharing the quarterback job with Riley Nelson, and took over the job when Nelson was injured against Florida State.
He went 6-4 at the helm of the Cougars. The winning percentage might not have been what anyone in Provo wanted, but Heaps did break every major freshman quarterbacking record at BYU. For any freshman quarterback, these stats are impressive: 219 completions in 383 attempts for 2.316 yards, 15 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, a completion percentage of 57.2, and a quarterback rating of 116.2.
If any freshman quarterback on a team that plays in a major media market had those stats, he would have Tim Tebow-esque publicity. He would be THE quarterback going into 2011. While most national media expect Heaps to be very good, he is still under the radar in most of the country.
This could actually work in Heaps’ favor, though. In his media day interview, he looked very poised, confident, and mature. He got married over the summer, which usually accelerates the maturity process. Even though there is “competition” for the job, Heaps is the starter going into camp, and it is a lot different for him than it was last year.
He has had a year to get acclimated to being away from home, to the difference in speed, and isn’t learning an entirely new system this time. When the new coordinator was your position coach and didn’t change any of the terminology of his “new” system, it’s a lot easier to keep the momentum going.
Make no mistake, though; Jake Heaps has a lot of momentum going into 2011. He went 1-3 for his first four games, but 5-1 for his last six. This includes being named the Most Valuable Player in the New Mexico Bowl victory over UTEP.
Last year, even with a lot of spread formations, the Cougars ran the ball a lot, especially early in the season. With Brandon Doman’s return to the roots of the LaVell Edwards version of the West Coast Offense, expect to see more passing. Doman kept a lot of the plays that worked from last year, and kept the terminology, but you can bet the plays he is adding will be mostly passes.
With a return to the principles of the LaVell Edwards WCO, we can expect to see a lot more short passes and bubble screens. These not only open up the middle for the run, but also gives the quarterback an opportunity to put up great stats if he earns them. There is no doubt in my mind that Heaps will continue to demonstrate why he was able to win the starting job as a freshman.
If Jake Heaps stays healthy for four years and Brandon Doman is successful as the offensive coordinator, Heaps will have an opportunity to break every quarterbacking record at BYU. If he does, though, he will have to do it against a tougher schedule.
This year’s slate includes road games at Mississippi, Texas, Oregon State, and TCU, with tough games against Beehive Boot rivals Utah and Utah State, and “trap” games against UCF and Hawaii.
2012 gets even tougher, with Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and Boise State added to the schedule, and a continuation of the Beehive Boot series with Utah and Utah State. Hawaii and Oregon State also stay on the schedule, and three games are yet to be announced.
2013 will bring Texas, Boise State, Georgia Tech, Utah State, and Southern Mississippi so far. By then, Heaps will be a senior. He should have an even better supporting cast by then, too, because increased visibility will help recruiting immensely.
By the time Jake Heaps is finished at BYU, he will probably have been on television more than any quarterback in history. The fact that BYU players are actually student-athletes and abide by the honor code has the potential to make Heaps the most scrutinized player in the country.
For years, BYU players have been underrated by most of the national media. Quarterbacks putting up huge numbers were said to be “system quarterbacks.” The two main reasons cited for this were a weak conference schedule and a lack of national TV opportunities. The Cougars have addressed both of those reasons with their move to independent status and their contract with ESPN.
So, now, Jake Heaps gets to be “the man.” He gets to be the face of the BYU program. He is photogenic and handles himself with poise and intellect on camera. For many quarterbacks, the kind of publicity he will be getting would be a curse. For Heaps and the Cougars, though, it will probably be a blessing.
When it’s all said and done, the BCS Championship game is a beauty contest. Playing in the WAC or MWC, even an undefeated BYU was never going to make it to the BCS title game. Boise State and TCU are great examples of what happens when “outsiders” go undfeated; they don’t get into the title game. As an independent with a great TV schedule, BYU will now be taken seriously. If they win all of their games, they could make it to the BCS Championship Game.
And if they do go undefeated any of the next three years, Jake Heaps is going to be one of the biggest reasons.
So, what should we expect this year? Last year but with more highs and less lows. An SEC road game, a Big 12 road game, and a rivalry game at home against Utah is a tough start for anyone. I look for a slow statistical start the first three games, followed by a very good game against UCF.
After that, it could be “off to the races.”
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