Apart from the new travel locales and the smaller-than-we-are-used-to gyms, one difference BYU basketball fans have noticed during the first few games as a member of the West Coast Conference is the style of officiating. The days of physical battles on the inside are seemingly over, replaced by a soft, outside-the-arc flow. I spoke to a few Zag insiders on the Gonzaga campus today about their thoughts on the WCC officiating style. The conclusion? The soft and squeamish officiating style has caused Gonzaga problems once it entered the NCAA Tournament as the Bulldogs have been conditioned by the WCC officiating corp to be timid when it comes to physical play. This has left the Bulldogs wholly unprepared for the physicality they see in Round One and beyond during March Madness.
For BYU, who joined the league this year, the change has taken some getting used to. Gone are the wars on the inside against teams like San Diego State, New Mexico, and UNLV. Say what you want about the Mountain West Conference, but the officiating was never something to chirp about. The stripes let the bigs on the inside battle. As Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock are finding out this season, they simply don't have the kind of leverage they once had. And that isn't about to change.
Why is this the case? Well, look at the makeup of the WCC rosters when compared to those of their MWC compadres. Aside from Gonzaga, West Coast Conference schools use a European-style of offense, spreading the floor with great shooters and using dribble-penetration to attack the defense. Saint Mary's is the best example of this offensive incursion. Even when the Gaels had big-man Omar Samhan, their offense changed very little from what it is today. Compare that to the bruising half-court sets of the San Diego State, New Mexico, and UNLV's of the world. It's no wonder the zebras are afraid of a little contact. BYU has moved from basketball played at a prison to one contested at a Zoolander get-together.
So, what is to be done? Well, aside from hitting outside shots and being cognizant of the officiating style, the Cougars should follow Gonzaga's example. In the previous five seasons, the Zags played Memphis in the middle of the WCC schedule to prepare for the flavor of the Tournament. BYU has Virginia Tech on the non-conference-in-conference docket. Dave Rose would be wise to try to find this type of game during each conference season.
In the end, BYU simply must find a way to survive the style-of-play and prepare for March.
And just for fun: