PROVO — March Madness is still weeks away, but BYU is already sitting squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi came out with his updated tournament projections Monday, and the Cougars found themselves on the outside looking in, as one of the "first teams out," along with Texas, Northwestern and Notre Dame.
BYU has a 17-5 record overall and is 6-2 in West Coast Conference play. The Cougars are taking a break from WCC action with a non-conference tilt at Virginia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference on Wednesday (5 p.m., MST, ESPN3).
BYU was set to make the long trip to Blacksburg, Va., this morning, with an evening practice scheduled for that night, said coach Dave Rose. The Cougars will return home immediately following the game.
On Saturday, BYU hosts WCC league-leader Saint Mary's, which is ranked No. 21 in the nation.
The Cougars have played in the NCAA Tournament in each of the last five seasons, and talk will heat up in the coming weeks about BYU's chances of keeping that streak alive.
But Rose wants his players living in the moment.
"That's probably the most important thing with this team right now. We need to realize the importance of each game, we need to realize the importance of each practice and our ability to get better," he said. "I think we have pretty level-headed, mature kids, but everybody gets caught up in what other people are saying about you. Hopefully, we'll be able to focus in on the things that are important to help our team get better."
Certainly, a win over an ACC team would help BYU's tournament resume, as would a victory this week over Saint Mary's.
"What I really hope is that we're getting better," Rose said. "That's what we really would like to concentrate on in the last week of January and the first couple of weeks in February — figuring out ways to get our team better … I think we're still trying to find ourselves, but I like the direction that our team's going in. Hopefully we can get a little more consistency from some of the guys."
INJURY UPDATE: Rose said Monday that he's hopeful that forward Stephen Rogers, who's nursing a knee injury, would be able to play against Virginia Tech.
Rogers missed two games after re-injuring his right knee at San Diego last week.
"He's feeling better. He's been on some (anti-inflammatory medication)," Rose said. "The swelling in the knee is gone for the most part, and that's eliminated a lot of the soreness and pain. Hopefully we can get him out there because we could really use another shooter, especially as we get into February."
Rogers has averaged 8.2 points per game this season.
Meanwhile, the prognosis of forward Chris Collinsworth, who had his knee scoped on Dec. 13, is less clear.
"He's improving. He's still a ways a way, but he's improving," Rose said, adding that Collinsworth has responded well to physical therapy. "Hopefully he'll continue to progress. As far as a timeline of when he'll be back, I don't think anybody really knows that."
JIMMER'S RETURN TO UTAH: Former BYU star Jimmer Fredette, a rookie with the Sacramento Kings, will return to Utah on Saturday when the Kings visit the Utah Jazz. The game tips off at the same time as the BYU-Saint Mary's contest (7 p.m., MST).
Fredette poured in an NBA career-high 20 points in Sacramento's loss last weekend to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Rose said he still keeps in touch with Fredette, mostly through text messages.
"I check his box scores. I've watched him a couple of times," Rose said. "It's kind of hard when you're preparing for your own games. I was really happy for him the other night as far as individually — he was able to make some shots. He seemed to kind of struggle in that area.
"Actually, I find it quite entertaining for me and for people who always comment to me about how he's doing and how he's playing. Cougar fans probably follow the Sacramento Kings as much as any NBA team out there."
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