At this point, BYU looks a lot more like a National Invitation Tournament prospect than an NCAA tournament prospect.
There are two ways the Cougars can get to the NCAA tournament: Get an automatic bid by winning the league tourney, or have such an impressive record (usually 20-plus wins) that the NCAA selection committee awards them an at-large berth.A 20-win regular season is out of the question. BYU is 11-10 with eight regular-season games left to play. That includes road games against UTEP and New Mexico, and home-and-home games against Utah.
The NCAA people occasionally award berths to teams with fewer than 20 wins, typically teams with tough schedules. But while BYU has played a difficult schedule, the selection committee likes to see a win over a tough team, not just a lot of close losses. BYU has also lost to several not-so-tough teams (Stetson, Rutgers and La Salle), and that will hurt their challenging-schedule argument. The best team BYU has beaten is probably UTEP, playing without its top player in Provo.
BYU Coach Roger Reid is realistic about his team's chances of making the NCAAs through the at-large route. "The only way I can see that happening is if we went undefeated the rest of the way, or if we finished second in the league," he said.
That leaves the WAC tourney, where BYU has an unimpressive history. The Cougars have a 2-7 record in seven WAC tournaments - several times losing to lesser-seeded teams - and have never reached the championship game. And this year's tourney is in Laramie, Wyo., where the fans would cheer for a team of Klingons against the Cougars.
BYU does seem like a natural for the NIT, however. Besides offering a 22,000-seat arena as a game site, the Cougars have a high-profile media event in 7-foot-6 center Shawn Bradley. But they will have to keep their record above .500 to get an NIT bid.
What all this means is that tonight's 7:30 game against Colorado State in the Marriott Center is a must-win situation for the Cougars' postseason hopes.
Two weeks ago BYU beat the Rams in Fort Collins, 72-55, but since then CSU Coach Boyd Grant made a personnel change that seems to have helped. He replaced starting center Aaron Atkinson, a 6-7 freshman, with sophomore Doug Larson, a bulkier 6-8 banger.
Larson earned the starting job after grabbing 13 rebounds against Eastern Kentucky. Starting against Utah in CSU's next game, Larson scored 16 points. The Rams lost by four to the league-leading Utes, but Utah had to steal an in-bounds pass in the final seconds to secure the victory.
The key for the Rams may be the shooting of the two-guards in their three-guard alignment. In the last game against BYU, Lynn Tryon and Mark Meredith were held to a combined 11 points on four-of-14 from the field. Reid said afterward that BYU's game plan was to stop that pair, and it worked. If it works again, CSU could be in trouble.
The game will be rebroadcast at 10:30 on KBYU-TV (Channel 11).