Dick Harmon: Cougars have an opportunity to prove themselves against Oregon in NCAA tournament
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
March Madness is fun because it's crazy.
This is a time when experts guess, project, analyze, criticize, and wax on and on as if there is a science to selecting teams for the NCAA tournament. Selection Sunday is a salad bar of such opining, and a lot of it gets disseminated without a sneeze guard.
Take ESPN’s blind resume segment with former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps and former Duke star Jay Williams. ESPN producers put up a graphic featuring data from three college teams (A, B and C) whose names were hidden. A host asked Phelps and Williams which of the three deserved to get in. Both Phelps and Williams looked at the board, and one of the three stood out like a strobe in a dark room. “I’m going with C,” said Phelps. “I’m going with C as well,” said Williams, experts in their realm.
When it was revealed that team A was Pitt, B was Florida State and C was BYU, both Phelps and Williams reversed ground faster than a slipped grip hiker on Mount Everest.
It was hilarious. ESPN owes Phelps and Williams self-inflicted dolt pay.
Having differing opinions is what America is all about.
Some criticized BYU’s selection as a No. 10 seed. Shelby Mast of USA Today said BYU was in but not at 10. Ditto for bracketologist Joe Lunardi. Doug Gottlieb of CBS said the Cougars shouldn’t be in at all, and BYUtv’s Blaine Fowler called him an idiot for saying so. NCAA selection committee chairman Ron Wellman said the Cougars “were comfortably” in even with star Kyle Collinsworth injured.
If you go with Fowler and Wellman’s take, the Cougars were in when they did the heavy lifting in November and December by playing on the road against tough opponents instead of beating weak teams by 20. Then, they finished strong and posted an impressive RPI.
It helped BYU that the WCC was stronger this year with San Francisco joining three others with top 100 RPIs. The Cougars swept the Dons and St Mary’s.
But folks, BYU head coach Dave Rose had his own interesting matrix. That the Cougars got a No. 10 seed is all part of it — whether earned or gifted.
Before Rose gathered his team for his first basketball practice in the fall, he underwent surgery to treat his diagnosed pancreatic cancer. That day he physically stood and led, but who's to say how he really felt, especially on an emotional level?
When he assembled his guys, he had five players who were not around the previous season when he took the Cougars to the Final Four of the NIT in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Those players were Collinsworth, SLCC transfer Skyler Halford, and freshmen Eric Mika, Frank Bartley and Luke Worthington.
Rose scheduled trips to Palto Alto (Calif.), Kansas City (Mo.), Springfield (Mass.), Eugene (Ore.) and the Jon M. Huntsman Center. It has been called the most aggressive nonconference schedule in recent school history. After all that, BYU began WCC play with back-to-back road contests.
Shortly after losing four straight games for the first time in his Division I coaching career, Rose shuffled his starting lineup. He reinvented his team, and it led to better defense, a better half-court offense, the re-wiring of star guard Matt Carlino, and 10 wins in his team's last 12.
Now comes Thursday in Milwaukee.
If the Cougars win, they do so without Collinsworth and Phelps and many more skeptics become noise. If the Cougars lose, they validate the notion that they couldn’t carry the load.
Oregon is a sketchy shooting team. When on, the Ducks are very good. Their strength is outside shooting, which has been BYU’s weakness defensively.
Both teams like to run. In the first game, the Cougars had a seven-point lead with just more than two minutes left before eventually losing on the Ducks' home court.
If the Cougars limit their own turnovers to 10-15 and make eight 3-point shots, they’ll win because they have a better rebounding team and inside game.
But if Oregon gets hot, the Cougars are doomed.
I still say the play of point guards is critical in tournament play. Those who have takeover point men usually win.
In this game, the X-factor will be Carlino. He had 11 rebounds in the first game with Oregon. He also had the ball and the game in his hands with a BYU lead in Eugene that night. Carlino can take on the burden left when Collinsworth got injured. He can pose a huge problem for the Ducks — or he can aid and abet their effort.
How Carlino goes, so goes this game.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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