The time of year has come where all college basketball games have turned into win or go home games. Tomorrow the BYU Cougars start off their post season with a match up against the Santa Clara Broncos in Las Vegas for the West Coast Conference Tournament. The winner of the tournament earns the WCC bid for the NCAA Tournament, leaving everybody else either out or biting their nails waiting for their name to be called.
BYU will need to win the tournament in order to play in the big dance, and so the next three games are must wins for the Cougars. BYU comes into the WCC portion of the post season as the third seed, falling behind both Gonzaga and Saint Mary's. The likeliest path for the Cougars goes through both of those teams as they would face Gonzaga in the second game and the Gaels in the finals. This is always contingent on how everyone else plays in their games but regardless of how it plays out, the Cougars will have their hands full in their last attempt to reach the NCAA Tournament this year.
BYU vs Santa Clara 3/5 2 pm MST
The Cougars will take on the Broncos with the hope of completing the season sweep by reaching the same result as the previous two meetings this year. The Cougars and Broncos met for the first time in the Marriott Center in January and then traveled to Santa Clara in February. Both games ended up lopsided, to say the least, as BYU ended up winning by 34 and 36 points. On paper the Cougars shouldn't have any trouble knocking off the Broncos, but any team can win on any given night and the Cougars will be in a pressure cooker for the tournament this year.
BYU vs Gonzaga/Portland 3/7 9:30 pm MST
The Cougars will most likely face the Bulldogs in this match-up as the seconded seeded Bulldogs take on the seventh seeded Pilots in the quarterfinals. The Cougars and Bulldogs played a couple of great games this year that couldn't have been closer. Each team won on their opponent's home floor. BYU beat Gonzaga by one while the Bulldogs beat the Cougars by three. Both games came down to the last seconds before the outcome was determined. This could be another thrilling match-up and it will be interesting to see how it plays out on a neutral floor.
However, if the Pilots pull off the upset of the ‘Zags then the Cougars will get to play a team that brought out the best and the worst of the Cougars. At Portland the Cougars laid an egg and were beat by three points after beating Gonzaga. When the Pilots paid a visit to Provo they were manhandled and ended up losing to the Cougars by 18, and giving up 99 points in the process. In this match up the Cougars would have the upper hand, but nothing is a given when it comes to the post season.
BYU vs TBD 3/8 7 pm MST
If the Cougars can make it past their first two game in Vegas, they will be rewarded with a likely match-up against Saint Mary's. Like Gonzaga the teams split the regular season series, however they each won on their home floor. Although the games weren't as exciting, or as close, as the Cougars/Bulldogs matchup, the final tallies were dead even. In Moraga the Cougars lost by 11 as they gave up 85 points. When they played at home the Cougars won by 11 and kept the Gaels to 59 points. Once again it was a tale of two Cougar teams and so it is almost impossible to guess how the game will play out on a neutral floor.
In the unlikely scenario of the Gaels being knocked out of the Championship game it would be one of three other teams that BYU would meet. The most likely of the bunch would be the Pepperdine Wave who BYU beat at home by 11 but lost to on the road by six. Loyola Marymount and San Diego are also slim possibilities but they play each other in the first round tonight. The LMU Lions lost to BYU both times as they lost by 11 at home and then by 25 in Provo. The Dons games were both played in the same week as BYU beat them by two in San Diego and then 58 in Provo. Both teams are a real long shot to beat Saint Mary's and then advance to the Finals, but they are both statistically in it at this point.
Regardless of who the Cougars must play, they need to win the games or the NIT is where the Cougars should find themselves. This team has shown some inconsistencies that hurt them throughout the year and these must be put away in Vegas if they want to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.