NCAA commentary: Tournament will define BYU's season

Published: Sunday, March 13 2011 9:00 p.m. MDT

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Denver is a good destination for traveling BYU fans this week as the Cougar basketball team prepares to test its mettle in Colorado against the rest of the NCAA tournament field, first against Wofford (21-12). The seeding played pretty much to form as bracketology101, Rivals and Sports Illustrated pegged the Cougars as a No. 4, while ESPN predicted they would land a No. 3.

However, starting with Utah State's seed and including a lot of strange selections around the bubble teams, this wasn't the selection committee's best moment. CBS's Jay Bilas may have summed up it best when he said on air: "We have never come in here and said they didnít do a good job. This is not a good job."

That may or may not include BYU getting a little higher seed than deserved, but the Cougars were not complaining. "We were very excited to get a No. 3 seed, in Denver, which is close," said guard Jimmer Fredette. "We should have a good amount of fans there. We've had a great year, and the selection committee saw that and wanted to reward us for that."

After one of or perhaps the best ever regular season in the school's history, this BYU team will be ultimately remembered for what it does in the next week or, it hopes, weeks.

While that may not be fair, it is true. The season Fredette had will not be lost to many BYU fans' memories, but attached to the career that is certain to become part of Cougar lore will be either the memory of penetrating deep into the tournament with the blue-bloods of college basketball or the lament of what could have been if the team falls short of expectations.

Danny Ainge, central to any discussion of BYU basketball history, is most remembered for his full-court drive to defeat Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 and not for all the WAC and NCAA records or other accomplishments he piled up in his four years in Provo.

With a highest-ever bracket positioning for the school, No. 3 seed (just like 1980) BYU carries with it high hopes and high pressure as it faces a Wofford squad that actually admitted it wanted to play the Cougars.

"I think our style of play matches up well with them," Noah Dahlman told the Associated Press Sunday. The 6'6" senior forward, who averages 20 points and five rebounds, will be a handful for the depleted Y. front line. But he wasn't the only Wofford player woofing about the Cougars.

"We're an excited bunch. We think Jamar Diggs is one of the best defenders in the country. Jimmer Fredette is the best player in the country. And for those two to match up will be great," senior guard Cameron Rundles said. The team from the small arts college in South Carolina is thinking Sweet 16.

Does anybody think Fredette and company aren't going to be aware of exactly what the Terriers said?

Besides the recent loss of Brandon Davies to an honor code violation, many forget the season-ending leg injury to Chris Collinsworth hurts the team's inside efforts. Still, BYU must be considered a favorite to win its opener. If the Cougars fall short, it will be considered a monumental disappointment.

Wofford's best wins were against George Mason, a tournament team, and Charleston in the Southern Conference championship. Previously those Cougars (Charleston) defeated the Terriers twice. An out-of-conference loss to Air Force is another indication that the small school will have its hands full, as do losses to Furman and Cornell. Still, the team has won its last eight and is definitely on a roll.

Should they navigate the opening round (and they should), BYU faces the winner of St. John's (21-11) and Gonzaga (23-9). The latter will be a regular opponent when the Bulldogs and BYU square off in the WCC next season.

St. John's hasn't "danced" since 2002, and experience matters in the win-or-go-home format, but the Red Storm are battle-tested in the Big East and should survive to face the Cougars. They have some impressive wins (Notre Dame, Duke, Connecticut, Pittsburgh) but haven't fared nearly so well on the road, losing to Seton Hall, Fordham and UCLA (as did BYU). They also managed to lose to St. Bonaventure.

Beyond those teams, looking further really is looking too far ahead, BYU is likely to see Florida and Pittsburgh. There is a possible matchup with vastly under-seeded Utah State, but if that happens, paint the state of Utah blue and scalp tickets to the Final Four.

What do others think of BYU's chances? It is a little early yet, but the Bleacherreport had three offerings while all the television reports seemed to favor BYU. View them here, here and here.

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