No Time to Mourn Loss to Utes

September 20, 2012 by · Comments Off 

Sometimes, the other guys win.  That’s what happened in Salt Lake City.  First of all, congratulations to the Utes’ coaches and players on a hard-fought game.  For the most part, the Utes who were actually involved in the game showed the class that was lacking last year.  Unfortunately, their fans and timekeeper have become even worse.

The timekeeper cheated not once, but twice.  With eight seconds remaining and the clock stopped, he illegally started the clock to give his team an advantage on the field.  Coach Mendenhall got a referee’s attention and got the time put back on the clock.  Then, at the end of the play, the timekeeper cheated again when he let the clock run out instead of stopping it when the play ended. 

Then, the Utes’ fans ran out onto the field as though their team had just won the BCS Championship.  And in a way, I guess they had a right to feel that way.  When it comes down to brass tacks, the BYU game IS the Utes’ “BCS Championship Game.”  But I digress. 

So, to summarize, the timekeeper cheated, made it look like the game was over, causing the Utes fans to run out onto the field.  When the time was put back on the clock, and the people didn’t want to move, it should have been a 15-yard penalty.  Inexplicably, the refs didn’t call a penalty, and the Cougars had to try and kick a field goal from 51 yards. 

The field goal was blocked, and fans ran out onto the field before the game was over yet a second time.  This time, the refs got it right, calling a penalty and moving the ball closer for another try.  Riley Stephenson then missed by the smallest of margins, hitting the goalpost.  Then, of course, a Utes fan who was at least fifty years old, which is supposedly old enough to know better, started taunting Coach Mendenhall as he was being led off of the field. 

So, what can we take from this game?  First of all, the Utes players and coaches conducted themselves in a sportsmanlike manner for most of the game.  There were occasional personal fouls on both sides, but this was really a classic, hard-fought rivalry game in which both defenses made the opposing offenses sputter for large amounts of the game. 

Most of all, though, the Utes fans charged the field three times for a non-conference win over the 25th ranked Cougars.  Sorry, Utes, but one of the best ways to show people that you are good is to act like it isn’t the first time you ever won a game after games like this one. 

Their timekeeper cheated twice: pure and simple.  Is there anyone who thinks for a second that a timekeeper for a school with an honor code, such as BYU or one of the service academies, would allow a timekeeper who cheated even once to keep his job? 

As for the game, the Cougars defeated themselves with too many false starts and personal fouls.  The offense never got going until the last few minutes of the game.  The bright side is that the Cougars were really, really good for those last few minutes.  They just weren’t quite good enough.

For the three stars, the first star goes to Kyle Van Noy.  There are a lot of people who share the blame in last Saturday’s loss, but Van Noy certainly isn’t one of them.  He had 8 total tackles, 5 solo tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 pass breakup.  For his efforts, Van Noy was named College Football Performance Awards National Linebacker of the Week.

The second star goes to Cody Hoffman, with 8 catches for 120 yards and one touchdown.  Brandon Ogletree gets the third star with 12 total tackles, and 7 solo tackles.  While we were impressed with Riley Nelson’s comeback attempt, he needed to close this game out and didn’t.

The most important thing now for the Cougars is, as coaches and announcers are fond of saying this year, to not let the Utes “beat them twice.”  This game is over, and a lot of energy was expended, but Boise State is a formidable opponent, and is waiting for the Cougars on Thursday night. 

The Cougars have the daunting task of playing two rivalry games on the road in successive weeks, five days apart.  While the Cougars were playing against players, coaches, timekeepers, and fans on Saturday, the Broncos were at home playing Miami of Ohio.  They won, 39-12. 

So, the 2-1 Cougars are playing the 1-1 Boise State Broncos.  On paper, Boise State looks to be every bit as beatable this year as predicted in the opponent previews.  They lost 17 starters from last year, including all-everything QB Kellen Moore.  Nine of those losses were from the defense. 

We came across a great stat: 21 BSU players got their first ever live college game experience in the first two games, including the 5 true freshmen who were pushed into early service.  BSU is young and inexperienced at almost every position. 

BSU stayed in the game against 7th ranked Michigan State, but MSU proved that they were probably over-ranked with a terrible loss to Notre Dame, that was a lot worse than the scoreboard showed at the end of the game.  BSU would lose 17-13, which appeared to be a moral victory until last week’s MSU/ND game exposed MSU as extremely beatable.  BSU beat Miami of Ohio, but Miami of Ohio really isn’t much of a yardstick. 

So, in BYU’s favor: they are probably a better team, and are probably extremely angry about last week’s loss, and can once again play the “no respect” card as they have fallen from the rankings.  In BSU’s favor, they are extremely tough to beat on their blue turf, and are ranked 24th in the AP poll, and would be ranked 27th in the coaches’ poll if it went past 25 teams. 

The bottom line, though, is that we don’t really know enough about either team to say for certain who will win.  This one is a toss-up, but we think the older, more-experienced Cougars will find a way to close this game out in the fourth quarter.

sports football  No Time to Mourn Loss to Utes

As Expected, Cougars Tame Wildcats. Bring it on, Utes

September 14, 2012 by · Comments Off 

Weber State wasn’t expected to be much more than a quaint collection of used blocking sleds and tackling dummies.  They didn’t exceed anyone’s expectations on Saturday.  Riley Nelson needed all of one half to pass for 244 yards and one TD, and the Cougars won, 45-13. 

Weber State may be an instate team, but they really aren’t an instate rival.  Consequently, the Cougars were sure to say all of the right things after the game, complementing Weber State for playing so hard.  Honestly, though, this game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might indicate.  Even the fact that the Cougars were looking ahead to bitter rival Utah couldn’t stop this game from being a blowout.    

The numbers pretty much say it all.  The Cougars outgained the Wildcats in total yardage, 532-254.  The Cougars passed for 307, while the Wildcats passed for 139.  The Cougars gained 225 on the ground, while the Wildcats gained 115.  The Cougars turned the ball over twice, while the Wildcats turned it over three times.  Weber State couldn’t even beat the Cougars in punting with a 50.7 average, because Riley Stephenson punted five times for a 53.2 yard average. 

The first star of the game for the Cougars was Riley Nelson for putting the game away by halftime and not having to risk injury playing through back spasms in the second half.  The second star is Riley Stephenson, who added 6 PAT’s and a field goal to his five punts.  The third star goes to LB Spencer Hadley, with two sacks.  After all, we can’t name Kyle Van Noy the defensive star every week. 

Probably the biggest story of the weekend is that James Lark got semi-meaningful playing time and looked like a competent QB, completing 7 of 10 for 45 yards and 1 TD.  Taysom Hill was 1-3 in limited action, but did run for two touchdowns. 

 Just the fact that we have had to type “Riley Nelson” and “back spasms” in the same sentence is enough cause for concern at QB.  Thankfully, Lark has proven that the Cougars won’t be totally lost if Nelson is hurt for any period of time.  If it did happen, we may end up seeing both QB’s playing a lot.  Hopefully, though, Riley Nelson is allowed to have an uninterrupted senior year.

We apologize if the Weber State post is a bit dismissive or offhand this week, but we are thinking about the exact same thing that every Cougar fan is thinking about: the crass, vile, and overrated Utah Utes.   

We haven’t forgotten how the Utes ran up the score after the game was out of hand, and we haven’t forgotten how much the Utes and their fans celebrated at the Cougars’ expense last year.  It’s said that a little class goes a long way, but the Utes couldn’t even display that much.

You can bet that the Cougars, from coaches to players to maintenance employees, haven’t forgotten it either.  Utes call it “The Beatdown.”  We call it “The Nightmare.”   We remember 7 turnovers, 11 net yards rushing, and numerous uncalled late hits and excessive celebration by the Utes.  We remember the incessant trash-talking.  Oh, and we still remember Derrick Shelby trying to plant the Utes flag in the “Y” of “BYU.”  Funny how players who don’t have to come back the next year do and say some of the stupidest things to rivals after a victory. 

There’s a way to win with class.  You play hard, but in an atmosphere of mutual respect for your opponent, no matter how bitter a rival.  Then, there is what Utah did last year.  Did the Utes play a great game last year?  Yes.  But did they show even a thimbleful of class to go with their ocean of celebration?  Absolutely not.

Fast forward to 2012: the Cougars are 2-0, with a victory over a Pac-12 team that might yet do some damage this year, and a blowout of hopelessly overmatched Weber State.  Meanwhile, the Utes have a blowout over hopelessly overmatched Northern Colorado, and in inexplicable loss to Utah State. 

The Utes had a great time at the Cougars’ expense last year, and went 4-0 in their conference games.  After the BYU game, the Utes were 2-1 with a fairly close loss to USC, and probably thought that they were as good as the media have been telling them they were for years.  The Utes, though, proved that they just aren’t that great of a football team week in and week out, and finished with a 4-5 record in the Pac 12. 

The bottom line is that the Utes are not nearly as great as they and their fans think they are.  They don’t have the front line talent or the depth to compete with elite Pac 12 teams.  They are still a decent team, but their first year in the Pac 12 has to have burst the bubble of all but the most delusional Utes fans. 

And now, to make it worse, starting QB Jordan Wynn was injured last week, and has decided to retire from playing football.  Senior backup Jon Hays went 12-26 for 154 yards against USU after Wynn was hurt.  At this point, it’s a battle between Hays and freshman Travis Wilson to see who gets the nod.  Kyle Willingham probably won’t announce it until game time.  

Either way, it doesn’t look good for the Utes.  They will be playing a supremely motivated BYU team starting a senior QB, while the Utes will be struggling to find an identity, no matter who gets the nod at QB. 

We don’t expect a blowout, but we do expect the Cougars to play harder than even they think it is possible to play.  This game should be a grind, and we expect the Cougars to win by somewhere between 10 and 14 points. 

Most of all, when the Cougars win, there won’t be any trash-talking, excessive celebration, or attempts to vandalize the home field of the Utes.

It’s called “class.”

sports football  As Expected, Cougars Tame Wildcats.  Bring it on, Utes

Cougars Make “The Pirate” Walk the Plank: Cougars Feast on WSU 30-6

September 6, 2012 by · Comments Off 

All day, the media talked about the return of “The Pirate,” Mike Leach, to Provo as if it were the only relevant fact of the entire game.  Even though he never did anything with the football program except watch the games, and hasn’t really ever said much about his time in Provo, the story was treated as though it was a triumphant homecoming.  ESPN, who televise BYU games and are being sued by Leach, were the worst offenders. 

We know that everyone in the BYU locker room has too much class to say anything about it, but it had to irritate the Cougars that they were an afterthought.  As often happens, the “afterthought” found a way to spoil the party, and they made Leach look quite ineffective while doing it. 

The numbers from this “Cougars vs Cougars” game are brutal.  Leach’s offense only managed to get past the 50-yard line six times, and got past the 20 once.  For only the third time in ten years, a Mike Leach team failed to score a touchdown.  WSU gained a total of 224 yards for the whole game, which was 202 less than BYU. 

WSU was 30-45 passing, for 2 interceptions and 229 yards.  If that seems like it’s more than their total offense, it’s because it is more than their total offense.  BYU held WSU to a minus 5 yards in 16 rushes.  But that’s enough about WSU’s version of the Cougars. 

BYU had 426 yards of total offense: 41 rushes for 123 yards and an average of 3 YPC, and went 26 of 37 passing for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. 

Individually, Riley Nelson was 25 of 36 for 285 yards and two touchdowns, while Taysom Hill, who appears to have the inside track on “quarterback of the future” for the Cougars, threw for an 18-yard touchdown on his first and only pass.  

Kaneakua Friel caught 6 passes for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns, bringing welcome production at tight end.  Cody Hoffman was off to a good start with 3 catches for 46 yards, but left in the first quarter with a quad contusion.  Skyler Ridley helped pick up the slack with 6 receptions for 54 yards and 1 touchdown.  Michael Alisa led the rushing attack with 13 carries for 54 yards, while seven players got carries, including both quarterbacks. 

On defense, Sophomore CB Jordan Johnson returned an interception 64 yards in his first start.  Less flashy but more important, though, was an interception by Uona Kaveniga to spoil WSU’s first drive.  After that, WSU never got into the red zone again. 

Kyle Van Noy picked up where he left off from last year.  He “only” had four total tackles, but he had two tackles for loss (TFL) for a total of 13 yards, and was his usual disruptive presence.  Brandon Ogletree had 8 total tackles, 4 solo and 1 TFL for 1 yard.  Kaveinga had 5 total tackles with 3 solos, and Spencer Hadley, Jordan Johnson, and Joe Sampson all had 4 tackles. 

Some of the play was sloppy, but the officiating was far worse.  If it wasn’t for penalties at crucial times, this game could have been over after the first half.  WSU’s first field goal happened because of two consecutive personal foul penalties, one on Jordan Johnson and one on Joe Sampson, put WSU in field goal position.  As often happens, the penalties seemed to even themselves out after BYU got far enough ahead that it was obvious WSU wasn’t going to make a comeback, but BYU still had 10 penalties for 112 yards, while WSU had 8 for 73 yards. 

All in all, though, it was a great evening in Provo.  This year, instead of giving out mythical game balls, we are going to take a page from hockey’s book and name three stars for the game.  The only difference is that we are only going to focus on one team, BYU.

The first star is Riley Nelson.  The quarterback who “doesn’t have a strong arm” managed to go 25-36, and showed the usual great leadership skills that everyone in Provo has come to expect.  His skill set probably doesn’t translate to the NFL, but it’s safe to say that Riley Nelson is going to be a leader, wherever he goes after his playing days are over.

The second star goes to Kaneakua Friel.  Friel, pretty much overlooked in the “race” for playing time at TE, became the TE the Cougars have been looking for.  We hope he can do it every week now, but this week was a great way for him to announce his presence to the world.

The third star goes to the entire defense.  We were tempted to give it to Kyle Van Noy, but this was a great and balanced performance by a bunch of guys who didn’t seem to ever lose contain on anyone the entire night, and basically made life miserable for the vaunted Mike Leach offense. 

In our preview, we predicted that this team would be one that showed maturity, balance, and discipline.  We said that there weren’t going to be a lot of flashy players, but that this year’s model could be a very, very good Cougar team.  That is exactly what we got last Thursday. 

This team looks like it could be one of “those” Cougar teams that we talk about for a long time.  We expected this team to have a lot more trouble with Pac 12 athletes than they did.  The fact that the Cougars physically dominated a Pac 12 team, even one that is probably a bit challenged, is very encouraging. 

Weber State is up next, and should be a great chance to get ready for Utah.  Bronco Mendenhall won’t let the Cougars look ahead, but the reality is that the Cougars are probably hoping to put this one away early and keep everyone healthy for the two games after Weber State. 

That would be fine with us. 

 

sports football  Cougars Make “The Pirate” Walk the Plank: Cougars Feast on WSU 30 6

First Peek at Idaho Vandals Preview

August 9, 2012 by · Comments Off 

After a bye week to recover from playing three tough games in a row, the Cougars return home on October 11th to play the Idaho Vandals.  The Cougars could be undefeated by then, or could have as many as four losses, but the last part of the schedule will provide an opportunity to finish strong. 

Last season, the Vandals went 2-10, including a 42-7 loss to the Cougars.  Idaho fans took solace in their 1-4 record in one-possession games, but the bottom line here is that the Vandals just aren’t going to be very good.  Luckily for them, Fresno State, Hawaii, and Nevada have all left the WAC, and they should have a better record than last year, even if they don’t have a better team.

For the Vandals, there is bad news and good news on offense.  The bad news is that they only scored 29 points three times, and scored 15 or less six times.  Out of 120 FBS teams, Idaho was 88th in passing yards, 102nd in rushing hards, and 107th in points.  The good news is that they “only” return five of the starters who were responsible for last year. 

If it all starts at quarterback, the Vandals are already in trouble.  Last year’s starter is gone, and backup Taylor Davis passed for 234 yards with a 45.2 percent completion rate, a 1 to 4 TD to INT ratio, and a 10.1 percent sack ratio.  The other choices are juco transfer Doiminique Blackman, who started out at Washington and weighs 275 pounds, or incoming freshman Austin DeCloud. 

It doesn’t get any better for 32 year-old, incoming Offensive Coordinator Jason Gesser at other positions, either.  Their top returning RB, Arizona State transfer Ryan Bass, gained 175 yards last season.  WR Mike Scott gained 691 yards last year, but there really isn’t a whole lot to work with here. 

TE Michael LeGrone will help, and return specialist Justin Veltung will get plenty of chances to step up and produce some numbers.  Juco transfer James Baker should get some carries, and may push Bass for playing time.  Even if they find a few good players at the skill positions, though, the line could end up being a detriment. 

It doesn’t look rosy for the Vandals on defense, either.  LB Conrad Schiedt, who had a third-best 93 tackles last year, is possibly their best returning player.  Robert Siavii and Homer Mauga will round out what will probably be the best positional unit on defense for the Vandals. 

Their line will be decent, but probably susceptible to being pushed around by the Cougars OL.  Benson Mayowa is a good penetrator, while QuayShawne Buckley plays well against the run, but there isn’t anyone who could start for the Cougars on the DL.  Besides Schiedt, the only positional players on the team who could crack the first or second team on the Cougars’ depth chart are free safety Gary Walker and CB Aaron Grymes. 

The best news for the Vandals is that both their kicker and punter are on award lists.  Punter Bobby Cowan averaged 46.4 yards per punt and was a Ray Guy semifinalist in 2011.  Kicker Trey Farquhar is on the Lou Groza watch list, and has six FG’s over fifty yards in his career. 

There is no way to sugarcoat it: these “Vandals” are more like “Graffiti Artists.”  If the Cougars come back from Atlanta with a win, this game could be about like last year’s 42-7 game.  However, if the Cougars lose to Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, or both, and come back with a chip on their shoulder, this game could approach 60 points by the end of the third quarter.

Finally: Practice Begins

For many college football fans, the last few months of summer are agony.  After the last bowl games are played, basketball helps a little.  National signing day is a lot of fun, and sometimes the NFL draft provides some entertainment, as long as you “have a dog in the hunt.”  The summer months, though, consist mostly of speculation and recruits playing in 7-on-7 camps. 

This off-season, in particular, has been nothing but bad news about other teams.  The mess at Penn State has dominated football, and the Miami soap opera, though overshadowed by PSU, probably will end up putting everything that is wrong with the current college football landscape on display for all to see.  This year has also seen what seems like more arrests of college athletes than ever before.    

Luckily, that sort of thing just isn’t done in Provo.  The honor code weeds out most of the players who have the potential to get in trouble, and positive role modeling takes care of the rest.  Still, though, the first day of fall practice is always met with a feeling of relief.  When the pads start to crack, all of the summer’s distractions fade away into insignificance.   Finally, it’s time for some football.

There is a bit of negative news concerning the Cougars so far.  WR Cody Hoffman and  S Joe Sampson were given a few days off for “disciplinary reasons;” there is no word on when they will be back.  TE Devin Mahina has a broken bone in his right hand.  Kicker Justin Sorenson is bothered by a sore back, and is having an MRI done.

The players got a bit chippy, especially on defense, on Tuesday morning.  LB Brandon Ogletree and S Daniel Sorenson were the culprits, and were “excused” from practice by head coach Bronco Mendenhall.  Mendenhall decided to end practice and make it what he called a “teachable moment” by setting up a drill that was described as both a “gauntlet” and an “obstacle course.” 

All in all, though, things are going well.  It is a lot easier to coach a defense and a team that comes in too aggressive than it is to coach one that is complacent or lax in any area.  This year’s BYU Cougars look like they are ready to “bring it” right now.  That can only bode well for the season.

football  First Peek at Idaho Vandals Preview

BYU x Utah State TOTALLY BIASED Preview 2012

July 12, 2012 by · Comments Off 

Next on the schedule for the Cougars in our ‘Totally Biased’ / ‘Way Too Early’ Previews for 2012 will be Utah State.  While this is still a “rivalry game” for “The Old Wagon Wheel,” it really hasn’t been much of a rivalry since the 1970′s.  Since 1983, the Aggies have won twice.  To put it another way, in the last 23 games, the Cougars are 21-2 against USU. 

USU led the series from its beginning in 1922 until the Cougars tied it in 1991 at 32-32-3, but it has been all Cougars since then.  Since the Aggies tied it back up at 33-33-3 in 1993, they have beaten the Cougars once, in 2010.  Consequently, the Cougars now lead the series, 44-34-3, and it doesn’t look like the trend is going to change anytime soon. 

So, what are we looking at this year from USU?  We would like to say that they are the “up and coming” team they think they are.  Ultimately, though, they are a team that lost to Ohio University in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.  They had to win their last five teams to finish the regular season 7-5, but they won all of them by a touchdown or less. 

While teams love to point to this as evidence of their “toughness,” statistics indicate that teams who win a lot of close games one year usually have a worse record the next as “luck evens out.”  So, can USU use last season as a springboard to better things, or are they still a team that is not quite ready for prime time?

Continuing their tradition of being accepted for conferences shortly after the Cougars leave, USU will be joining the MWC in 2013.  This year, though, they get to play in what is left of the WAC.  Playing in a weak conference helped the Aggies run for 282.7 yards per game in 2011.  They return QB Chuckie Keeton, and juco transfer Adam Kennedy.  Both have starting experience.  They lose two of their top three rushers, with only Kerwynn Williams returning from their three-pronged rushing attack of 2011. 

USU does return four of their top five receivers, though.  Matt Austin, Stanley Morrison, Travis Van Leeuwen, and Eric Moats combined for 95 receptions and 1,310 yards last year, out of 186 and 2,270.  It should also be noted that the returning Kerwynn Williams and the two quarterbacks combined for 1,074 yards rushing last year, out of 3,675. 

They also lose three starters on the OL, but they return 75 total career starts.  They have a new offensive coordinator in Matt Wells, who was last year’s QB coach.  Our guess is that there won’t be much of a transition, and that this year’s USU will look a lot like last year’s USU schematically. 

On defense, they will be in the second year of their change from the 4-3 to the 3-4.  If a team is going to take a “quantum leap” after changing schemes on defense, the second year is often the year it happens.  They lose both inside LB’s from 2012: Bobby Wagner, who averaged 102 tackles his last two seasons, and Kyle Gallagher, who had 72.5 tackles. 

They will be moving a few players around, but they should be improved from last year.  They return CB’s Jumanne Robertson and Nevin Lawson, and SS McKade Bradley.  They made plenty of mistakes last year during the adjustment period, but should improve this year. 

USU will run what coach Gary Andersen calls a “power spread.”  It features a lot of running and high percentage passing.  Both quarterbacks are able to run and pass effectively out of the offense, and they should put up some very nice stats this year.  They did manage to put up a total offense of 5,945 yards last year.  The problem, though, was that they were 7-6. 

We like what USU is doing.  We think that, with continued improvement, they can be a top 50 team someday.  They might even win the WAC this year.  But we don’t see them beating the legitimate teams on their schedule.  They are not going to beat Utah, they are not going to beat Wisconsin, and they are not going to beat the Cougars. 

Colorado State, which has USU’s OC from last year, might end up being a pivotal game for the Aggies.  They could even go 9-3 if things go really, really right for them.  They could also go 6-6 if things go terribly wrong.  We are guessing that 8-4 sounds about right, with a loss to the Cougars. 

The problem with USU is that they just don’t have the horses to get the job done against bigger teams.  The spread offense is a great equalizer, but as more teams are using it, defenses are making better adjustments to it.  Ultimately, it still comes down to being able to dominate the line of scrimmage, and we see the Cougars dominating both sides against the Aggies.

Because of the rivalry, we expect the first half to be close.  USU always plays one of their best games against the Cougars, and we expect this to be no exception.  We don’t believe in “110 percent” here, but the Aggies will definitely get the maximum output from their team in the first half.

Unfortunately for the Aggies, emotion and effort can only take a team so far before fatigue and talent take over.  The Aggies are looking at superior personnel on both sides of the ball, and their scheme isn’t going to fool the Cougars.  We expect USU to get a lot of yards outside of the red zone.  The sticking poing for the Aggies, though, is that the field compresses in the red zone, and often negates much of the advantage of the spread.  When that happens, it all comes back to personnel. 

football  BYU x Utah State TOTALLY BIASED Preview 2012We see this game being close for most of the first half, with the Cougars starting to rip some holes down the middle toward the end of the half, taking advantage of the DL and the inexperienced ILB’s.  We see the Cougars taking control of the game by scoring the last touchdown of the first half and the first touchdown of the second half, before pulling away to win by at least seventeen points.

football  BYU x Utah State TOTALLY BIASED Preview 2012

Cougars Stay on Road to NCAA Tournament

February 15, 2012 by · Comments Off 

basketball  Cougars Stay on Road to NCAA TournamentWith their easy 86-48 win over Pepperdine, the Cougars stayed on track for an NCAA Tournament appearance, but it isn’t over yet by any means. 

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.   

basketball  Cougars Stay on Road to NCAA Tournament

Random Thoughts From A Long Weekend

March 14, 2011 by · Comments Off 

current players basketball  Random Thoughts From A Long WeekendIt’s extremely difficult to beat a good team three times.

Traditionally, it has been very difficult for any team to defeat another three times in one season, especially if the teams are somewhat evenly-matched.  Usually, the team that has lost two to its opponent plays a lot harder and the coaching staff figures out a way to get it done in the third game.  In the MWC Tournament, BYU found themselves on both ends of the equation.

On Friday night, they avoided losing three times to New Mexico when Jimmer Fredette scored 52 points to lead the Cougars to an 87-76 victory over the Lobos.  On Saturday, though, San Diego State returned the favor, avenging their only two losses of the season while beating the Cougars, 72-54.  Fredette was “held” to “only” 30 points in the loss.

Kyle Collinsworth is coming along nicely as a slightly shorter replacement for Brandon Davies, but there is only so much he can be force-fed and expected to process at an elite level.  In the victory over New Mexico, Collinsworth had 11 points and 9 rebounds.  Charles Abouo contributed 2 points and 7 rebounds, while Noah Hartsock had 7 points and 6 rebounds.  That was a total of 20 points and 22 rebounds from the starting forwards and center.

In the loss to SDSU, though, Collinsworth was held to 2 points while still getting a respectable 7 rebounds.  Abouo had 5 points and 5 rebounds, and Hartsock had 4 points and 6 rebounds.  This was a total of 11 points and 20 rebounds.  This was a net loss of 9 points and 2 rebounds from the victory over New Mexico.

This made it even more essential that Fredette score a lot of points if the Cougars were to beat SDSU again.  And this brings me to my next point:

As Jimmer Fredette goes, so go the Cougars.

The numbers may not constitute a big enough sample, but here they are.  BYU was 29-2 with Brandon Davies in the lineup.  They are 3-2 without him.  Watching the current BYU lineup play is like watching Batman without Robin.  Batman usually gets the job done, but it is a lot more of a sure thing with a trusty sidekick to compliment your skills.

Jimmer Fredette broke Danny Ainge’s all time BYU career scoring record this weekend. That is a great accomplishment.  And now, he is being counted on for an even greater accomplishment: carry the Cougars to the Final Four.

Teams with one dominant player who happens to be a guard get mixed results.  Pete Maravich, who averaged 44.2 points for his career at LSU in the era before the 3-pointer, never won a championship, never won a tournament, and never even got to play in the NCAA tournament, which only took 16 teams at the time.  Gail Goodrich, on the other hand, took UCLA to their first NCAA Championship in 1965, scoring 42 points against Michigan in the championship game.  Goodrich, though, had a lot better supporting cast.

It is going to be a difficult road for the Cougars if they don’t get consistent help from the forwards.  There are two ways to defend against a player of Fredette’s caliber.  The first is to try and lock him down.  The second is to let him get “his” points and keep the other players from beating you.

In my opinion, Fredette is going to get his points no matter what, but he is going to have to get them within the flow of the game to be the most effective.  Most of all, Fredette is going to have to make a high percentage of his shots if BYU is going to go on a run.

In the victory over New Mexico, not counting free throws, Fredette scored 51 points while taking 37 shots, for an average of 1.37 points per shot.  In the loss to SDSU, with the free throws taken out, he scored 22 points on 25 shots for an average of 0.88 per shot.

The general “rule of thumb” for basketball is that anything over one point per shot is efficient, and anything under one point per shot is inefficient.  The bottom line is that Jimmer Fredette is going to have to carry the Cougars on his back and find a way to approach the efficiency he displayed in the New Mexico game if BYU is going to make the Final Four and have a chance to win the NCAA Tournament this year.

And he is going to have to do it four times to get to the Final Four, and two more to win it all.

The Cougars got a decent draw this year.

The Cougars may be disappointed with a three seed when they looked like a number one two weeks ago, but they certainly can’t be disappointed with their draw.  Also, they should be really glad that, even though they are in the Southeast Region, they won’t have to play against Florida in Tampa.  A trip to Denver might be a little cold, but they won’t be playing a de facto road game, either.

First up is Wofford: a school that won a small conference tournament, but really won’t be much of a threat to an elite program.  Next is the winner of the St Johns/Gonzaga game.  The Johnnies should be in the “happy to be here” mode, and the Zags aren’t the same Zags that captivated the entire country as the “little program that could” a few years ago.  This should result in another win for BYU.

The Cougars will have to rely on Jimmer Fredette, but at least their first two games won’t be as demanding as they could be, and the Cougars have a wonderful opportunity to get acclimated and get Kyle Collinsworth some valuable tournament experience going into the second weekend.

Hopefully, we will be discussing possible matchups with Florida, Pitt, or Wisconsin next week.
current players basketball  Random Thoughts From A Long Weekend

The Honor Code

March 11, 2011 by · Comments Off 

sports  The Honor Code

Imagine this scenario at UCLA, UNC, Duke, or any other “basketball factory.” The basketball team is ranked third in the country, it is getting toward the end of the season, the NCAA tournament is a week away. The campus is rife with optimism, and a number one seeding in the regional is possible.

Then, the news breaks. The team’s leading rebounder is suspended for a violation of the school’s honor code. Did he cheat on an exam? Did he plagarize a term paper? No. He reportedly got a little too friendly with his girlfriend.

As we all know, this didn’t happen at UCLA, Duke, or UNC. It happened here in Provo. The national press are having a field day with this story. Although the decision has quite a few supporters, many are incredulous that a school would suspend a key player this close to the tournament for something that wouldn’t be a violation at almost any other school.

There are a few core issues here, and a few possible ramifications.

1. Brandon Davies knew what he was getting into when he signed his agreement to follow the honor code.

Brandon Davies is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He knows what that means. He knows that the honor code at BYU is not based just on philosophical or legal principles, but that those principles are a very large part of his spirituality.

If BYU was just another school, it would be fine to sweep the violation under the table until after the season, and then slap Davies on the wrist. However, BYU is not just another school. Brandon Davies knows, as much as anyone, that he let down his teammates, his school, his faith, and most of all, himself.

In his heart of hearts, Brandon Davies knows that the decision was the correct one.

2. This will affect the Cougars’ chances to win the NCAA Tournament.

You can’t lose 28.2 minutes, 7.3 rebounds, and 11.3 points without some repercussions. On the surface, you can replace the numbers, but you can’t replace the depth. It is very likely that Davies’ suspension has just turned the #3 Cougars into a team more suited for the mid-teens. That may be enough to turn a #1 seed into a #3 or a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

In the current millennium, or the last 10 tournaments, 8 of them have been won by #1 seeds. The only lower seeds to win the tournament were #3 seed Syracuse with Carmelo Anthony in 2003, and a late-blooming, powerhouse #3 seed Florida in 2006.

Whether this is a result of #1 seeds having a slightly easier path to the Final Four or just an indication that the NCAA tournament committee usually gets their seedings right, the numbers don’t lie.

3. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still possible for BYU to win it all.

If the Cougars can win the MWC Tournament in convincing fashion, they may still get a #1 seed. If the numbers are there, the committee can’t penalize the Cougars for suspending a player for an honor code violation. It would give the NCAA publicity that it neither wants nor needs.

Victories over New Mexico in the semis and SDSU in the finals should be enough to produce a #1 or #2 seed. A loss to either, though, will probably doom the Cougars to a lower seed, thus diminishing their chances to bring an NCAA Championship to Provo.

4. How will this affect recruiting?

The Davies incident probably won’t have a net effect on recruiting, but it may change the dynamic a little bit. As I mentioned earlier, recruits know exactly what they are getting into when they choose to attend BYU. Most students, including athletes, who decide to attend BYU are LDS members.

To fellow LDS members, BYU is a school where students can congregate and enjoy the company of like-minded people who they can trust to adhere to the same spirituality, ethic, and honor code as they do. That trust and spirituality is absent from almost any school in the country. BYU is the best school for LDS members to attend if they want to feel safe in their environment and congregate with those with whom they share the most in common.

On the other hand, BYU isn’t the average experience for a “typical” student expecting to exercise his newfound “freedom” from parental control by indulging him or herself in “typical” college student shenanigans, many of which are contrary to the BYU honor code.

Usually, then, an invisible line is drawn. BYU usually gets the best players from the LDS community without recruiting a lot of kids from “the outside.” Consequently, most BYU athletes are LDS members, and most LDS members would prefer BYU as their first choice if they are offered.

So, the effects on recruiting should be minimal. Any coach recruiting against BYU will be able to negatively recruit by mentioning Brandon Davies, but kids who aren’t looking for discipline and ethical behavior aren’t going to choose BYU anyway.

The national writers have had their fun; some have been supportive and some have laughed. But at the end of the day, BYU is still BYU, and it will always be BYU. If a parent wants to know that his or her child will be in a safe environment where the likelihood of him getting in trouble is reduced, there aren’t really any better choices than BYU.

So, while negative recruiting may convince a few players that BYU is not for them, it’s probably all for the better. Because really, a player who won’t adhere to the honor code is not going to succeed at BYU anyway, and both the school and the player may be happier if that player chose elsewhere.

5. Wrapping it up

BYU has always been a school that is better understood by insiders than by the general public. It was founded on principles that are eternal, and those principles cannot be sacrificed for the sake of a basketball game or a basketball tournament.

The Brandon Davies suspension was unfortunate, but necessary. It is my hope that Davies can learn from the experience and become a better man because of it. If that happens, the suspension will turn out to have been a success by any standards: inside or outside of BYU and the LDS community.

sports  The Honor Code

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