As Brett pointed out on his instant reaction to BYU's stunning home court loss to Loyola Marymount, the Cougars are going to need to get some quality wins in the next month and a half if they want to dance for the 6th straight season. As Geoff points out, this game was a bit of an outlier. Things returned to relative normalcy with a solid victory against Pepperdine.
After the season's first month, I was extremely bullish on the Cougars chance to win the WCC and then make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. I thought they were deep and talented in both the front- and back-court, and that the offense and defense were good enough to play (at least on a good day) with the nation's elite.
That came crashing down last Thursday in a 12-point loss at home to a team with an RPI outside of the top 100.
Where did the hope come from? A tough home loss to Baylor, an elite team. That game made me a believer. Brandon Davies played toe-to-toe with future lottery picks, and the Cougars were two missed three pointers from sending the game into OT, or even winning it.
Then came St. Mary's. The defense looked lifeless, and wunder-kid Matt Carlino looked completely over-matched by veteran PG Matt Dellevedova.
But a blowout loss to an underrated team that also played Baylor tough is not really that big a deal. Losing to LMU at home? That's a big deal, especially when you beat that same team two weeks before.
So what's wrong with Cougars? Why aren't they fulfilling the promise we saw against Baylor?
First, it turns out they aren't deep. It looked that way at the beginning of the season, but coach Dave Rose is really just playing 7-8 guys at this point (partially due to injuries), and the starters are all getting 30+ minutes , except for Charles Abouo or if someone is in foul trouble. Freshman Demarcus Harrison, who I thought was going to be a major contributor, hasn't played significant non-trash-time minutes since the Baylor game.
Second, the defense has been pretty lousy at times. The Cougars gave up 82 points to a Lions team that hadn't broken 80 points against any DI teams this season. And it wasn't because of freaky 3-point shooting or something like that. The Cougars couldn't make stops and got beat on the boards. Yes, as Geoff pointed out, the Cougars' atrocious 3-point shooting against LMU was an outlier, but the defense was just poor.
Lastly, the Cougars are not good enough on the offensive glass. According to StatSheet, BYU is 152nd in the country in average offensive rebounds, and it looks even worse if you look at offensive rebound percentage. With Davies, Hartsock and Abouo playing against a lot of smaller defenders, that's actually remarkable (in a bad way). The Cougars need to get more second opportunities, especially after missed three-pointers.
The season really boils down to the three remaining games against Gonzaga and St. Mary's, and of course the conference tournament. Expectations were likely overblown after the loss to Baylor -- this really may be what this team is. And a year after losing one of the greatest Cougars ever (Jimmer), and one of the most under appreciated (Jackson Emery), maybe that's OK.
I still feel like this team could be better, and still could make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, they have to get there first.