PROVO — Despite owning a lofty national ranking, a glossy record, and the No. 1 seed in the Mountain West Conference Tournament, No. 3 BYU isn't considered the favorite to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament this week in Las Vegas.
That's because the Cougars are different from what they were for most of the regular season. Last week's suspension of sophomore forward Brandon Davies means BYU (28-3) heads into the postseason without its leading rebounder and third-leading scorer.
People are curious about how the shorthanded Cougars will fare now that March Madness is here.
"I think the nation wants to know how we're going to respond to this adversity," said senior guard Jackson Emery.
BYU, which tied San Diego State for the MWC regular-season championship and received the No. 1 seed by virtue of its season sweep of the Aztecs, faces the winner of Wednesday's MWC Tournament play-in game between TCU and Wyoming Thursday (1 p.m. MT) in the quarterfinals at the Thomas & Mack Center.
In the Cougars' first game after Davies' suspension, they got trounced by New Mexico, 82-64, last Wednesday. BYU bounced back with a 102-78 win over Wyoming on Saturday.
Can the Cougars win the MWC Tournament, and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, without Davies?
"I think so just because guys will step up. In that first game (against New Mexico), we just didn't play well and we got shell-shocked," said guard Jimmer Fredette. "But we came right back and did what good teams do — win a game and win a championship. I think we can still do that. We just have to play hard, play our game, play good defense, and rebound the basketball. We still have a team to be able to make a run."
The Cougars acknowledged that the rest of the MWC, and future foes, probably view BYU as being vulnerable.
"I'm sure teams think that," Fredette said, "but we don't think that."
"You can tell people think we're wounded and they're going to attack us because they smell blood," Emery said, "But we have all the confidence in every guy to step up."
Against Wyoming, Charles Abouo, who scored a career-high 25 points, Kyle Collinsworth, Noah Hartsock and Logan Magnusson were among those that helped fill the void left by Davies. The Cougars will also be counting on reserves like James Anderson and Stephen Rogers.
"It's great to have this win and settle our emotions and get ready for next week because we're going to need everyone," Emery said. "We're going to need ... all those guys who don't play that much to step up and make shots. With these guys, you've got to take them step by step because it's hard. They haven't played a ton throughout the season and now they're called upon to play and give us a lot of minutes. We have all the trust in the world in them. We're going to need them in tournament time."
"We have a lot of guys who can step up and make shots," Fredette said. "We might have to go a little smaller, but we have guys who can really compete and do things on both ends of the floor. I think we'll be fine. We showed that in the second half (against Wyoming). We played really well. We really scored the basketball and that's what we're capable of doing and that's what we're going to do the rest of the season."
The Cougars have no intention of squandering what has been their best regular season in history, even though they enter postseason without Davies.
"We've had such a terrific year. We haven't really had a lot of bumps on our way," Emery said. "We've had some injuries, but now that you hit a big bump, what's going to happen to this team? (Saturday's win over Wyoming) is an example of how hard we're going to fight and how hard we're going to practice. We've just got to take it game-by-game. You can't overlook anything. We know we're going to get every team's best shot. We still have a lot of basketball left to play."
Wyoming (10-20) or TCU (10-21) vs. No. 3 BYU (28-3)
Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
Thursday, 1 p.m.
TV: The Mtn.
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM