How important is tonight's game against the Zags? Anytime you play one of the best 30 teams in the country it is important. But because the WCC tournament format gives the No. 1 and No. 2 seed two byes, beating the Zags takes on additional importance. In other words, the top two seeds don't have to play until the semi-finals, and BYU could really use that advantage.
For me, this tournament format has flown under the radar a little. With the injury to Noah Hartsock, not playing until next Saturday would be huge bonus for the Cougars. The healthier Hartsock can be in the WCC tournament, the best chance the Cougs have to actually win the tournament.
Another benefit of course is not having to play St. Mary's until the championship. The Gaels have handled the Cougars easily in two contests, and the Matt Dellavedova/Matt Carlino match-up is not a good one for BYU, as the senior SMU point guard has manhandled the Cougs in two match-ups. Yeah, the Cougs made a late charge late in the second game between the two schools, but the Gaels had slipped into prevent mode; I don't think they'll make that mistake again.
Of course, the Gaels are vulnerable right now. Going into tonight's game against Portland, SMU has lost three of four. Yes, one of those was to Gonzaga on the road, and another was to a very good Murray State team also on the road. But if momentum means anything, the Gaels don't have it right now.
But first things first: the Cougars have to beat the Zags in Spokane (and beat Portland on Saturday) to control their own WCC tournament destiny, and to increase they stock going into the NCAA tournament. As Brett pointed out yesterday, there are things the Cougars can do to win this game. They've proven they can beat Gonzaga; now they just need to go out and do it again.