SALT LAKE CITY — The BYU basketball team’s win over Saint Mary's last week provided a respite from a disappointing season, but by now it’s pretty clear: Unless things change dramatically, it’s business as usual this season.
Or at least business as the Cougars have known it since joining the West Coast Conference, the league to which they were banished so the football team could take a stab at independence. It hasn’t been good for either team.
This is Year Eight of the strange alliance between BYU and the WCC. No one seems too restless about it — maybe because it’s not football — but this is a league the Cougars should own; far from it, they have never won a championship and seem to be in decline.
During the five years before they joined the WCC, the Cougars qualified for the NCAA Tournament annually. They qualified again their first year in the WCC, but in the six years since then they have qualified only twice, and one of those was in the First Four play-in round (a loss). That was in 2015, and they haven’t been back.
Here are how the Cougars have stacked up in the widely respected Pomeroy rankings since joining the WCC, starting with the current year and going back: 99th, 73rd, 80th, 52nd, 28th, 49th, 57th, 50th.
Here are the Cougars’ Pomeroy rankings in the years before they joined the WCC, starting in 2011 and going back: 12th, 10th, 21st, 35th, 46th, 91st, 157th, 35th, 24th, 63rd.
In WCC play, the Cougars have finished third in the WCC standings five times and second twice; they are currently tied for second, with records of 13-9 overall and 5-2 in WCC play. They play No. 4-ranked Gonzaga Thursday in Provo.
It’s not as if they face tough competition. This is a typical season for the WCC, and only two teams rank in the top 90 of the Pomeroy rankings — Gonzaga (4) and Saint Mary’s (40). San Diego and BYU check in at 89th and 99th, respectively.
The Simple Rating System posted by Sports-Reference.com ranks the current team as the worst of the 14 teams Dave Rose has coached at BYU despite playing the easiest schedule. The Cougars have lost to Nevada by 16, Houston by 14, Illinois State and UNLV in overtime, Weber State by 10, San Diego State by nine, Mississippi State by 22, San Francisco by 19 and Saint Mary’s by 22.
There’s still time to right the ship, but this season looks a lot like all the others in the WCC, despite the win over a solid Saint Mary’s team last week.
It’s tempting to wonder what might have been — and many have done so recently. This was the year a collection of prized high school recruits was going to come of age as juniors and seniors and make BYU a national powerhouse. If all had gone according to plan, this year’s team would include five players who were named to ESPN’s Top 100 recruits list from 2013 to 2016.
At the top of the list was the Lone Peak Trio who led their team to the 2013 high school national championship — Nick Emery, TJ Haws and Eric Mika — plus Yoeli Childs from South Jordan and Payton Dastrup from Mesa, Arizona. They would’ve joined up with Elijah Bryant, who led the Cougars in scoring last season.
But that dream team didn’t happen. Emery, trying to rebound from personal problems and NCAA sanctions, is a shadow of the player he was in high school and his first two years at BYU; Mika left school for the NBA draft and wound up in the European leagues; Dastrup, unappreciated and underused, transferred to Oregon State; Bryant left school for the draft, and, like Mika, went undrafted; Childs and Haws are the only players among the group who are living up to their promise.46 comments on this story
They are easily the team’s top two players, with Childs averaging 22.3 points and 9.7 rebounds and Haws 17.6 points and 5.2 assists.
And next year? Childs, a junior, could follow Mika and Bryant and declare for the draft, leaving only Haws and Emery, who’s averaging five points per game, from among that once-golden group. Every year there is a new hope — now in the form of freshman returned missionary Gavin Baxter and Gonzaga transfer Jesse Wade. BYU fans can only hope the Cougars' fortunes turn despite playing in the WCC.