The BYU Cougars sit in 3rd place in the WCC standings. Just one game ahead of them sit St. Mary's. Two games in front are league leaders Gonzaga.
The first and second place teams collide Saturday night at 8:00 PM MST. Cougar fans will be able to watch the 2nd half on ESPN 2 after the BYU vs. San Diego game. The result of the St. Mary's @ Gonzaga game will carry implications for BYU's position for the WCC tournament in Las Vegas.
This is, of course, assuming nothing unusual happens when Gonzaga plays San Diego, or when St. Mary's plays Santa Clara and at San Francisco, or when BYU plays San Diego and Portland. A risky assumption -- especially in relation to the Cougars.
To understand how seeding will work for the WCC tournament, lets take a look at the tiebreakers.
- Head-to-head record
- Better record against a higher seeded team
- Higher RPI
If Gonzaga wins:
St. Mary's would have 4 losses and be tied with BYU in 2nd place. The Gaels and Cougars each won their home games head to head, so neither would have an advantage in the 1st tiebreaker.
St. Mary's would have split their season series with the Zags.
If you recall, and I'm sure you can, BYU defeated Gonzaga in Spokane when Nate Austin blocked Kyle Wiltjer's shot at a game winner earlier this season. It is the 2nd straight year BYU has won at the Kennel.
Should BYU defeat Gonzaga on February 27 in the Marriott Center to go 2-0 over the 1st place Bulldogs, BYU will beat St. Mary's in tiebreaker #2. If that were to happen BYU would be the 2 seed.
If BYU loses at home to Gonzaga. Gonzaga are league champions, St. Mary's runner up, BYU third.
If St. Mary's wins:
St. Mary's and Gonzaga would be tied for 1st with 3 losses each.
Gonzaga's matchup in Provo suddenly carries even higher implications than usual. Not only is Conference Player of the Year potentially up for grabs in that game, Gonzaga could potentially be knocked out as conference champions if BYU were to beat the Zags again.
If BYU wins at home, they would not only dethrone the Bulldogs, but would also send them down to the 3 seed. As BYU and Gonzaga would be tied for 2nd in the standings, but the Cougars winning tiebreaker #1 by sweeping the head-to-head matchup.
As an aside, if the above scenario were to play out that way. Immediately after the game, all BYU fans would morph into Devin Watson and Tim Derksen cheerin', Rex Walter lovin' San Francisco Dons supporters for the 2nd half of St. Mary's @ USF. If USF could pull the upset, BYU would miraculously split the WCC championship. Gonzaga would be a 3 seed having gone 1-3 against SMC and BYU. Both SMC and BYU would have gone 3-1 in the round robin with Gonzaga. Which would lead to RPI deciding the 1 seed. Currently, BYU has the narrowest of edges in RPI. The Cougars rank 67th. The Gaels rank 70th. Should the RPI hold this way, the 1 seed would be BYU's and the 2 seed would be St. Mary's.
If Gonzaga were to win in Provo, the Conference Championship would be split between St. Mary's and Gonzaga. St. Mary's would be the 1 seed having swept the Zags leaving them as the 2 seed. BYU would be the 3 seed.
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So, who do BYU fans cheer for between St. Mary's at Gonzaga on Saturday night?
The only reasonable way a potential co-conference championship happens for BYU is for the Gaels to win. What's wrong with holding out hope on long odds?
The idea for some may be that by fighting their way into a 3-way tie for WCC regular season co-championship, the Cougars may be more attractive as an at large to the NCAA selection committee. However, the Cougars best non-conference wins were at home vs. Belmont, neutral vs. Northern Iowa and New Mexico. Fine. Don't forget that their resume has some truly BAD losses like home to Pacific, neutral to Harvard, and at Portland. It is time to kiss at-large aspirations goodbye even if BYU were to backdoor into a 3-way tie co-conference champion. (But I do appreciate the optimism.)
The bigger part of sneaking into a co-conference title would be finally breaking the WCC glass ceiling in BYU's 5th year in the league AND the potential tournament #1 seeding. The desirable part of being a #1 seed is that the Cougars could avoid St. Mary's and Gonzaga until the championship game. The troubling part of being a #1 seed is that it likely sets up a 2nd round date with the terrifying Stacy Davis, Lamond Murray Jr., and the Pepperdine Waves -- whom BYU has gone 2-4 against in the past 3 seasons.
Regardless of the winner between Gonzaga and St. Mary's, BYU has a chance to be the 2 seed in Las Vegas. All they need to do is defeat Gonzaga on Feb. 27 and it is theirs.
What's the value of the 2 seed over the 3 seed? While this may seem to be a trivial question, the difference between a 2 and 3 is pretty important and valuable for the Cougars. The 2/3 seed will likely face Santa Clara or Portland. BYU has defeated the Broncos by 30+ in each matchup this season. BYU lost to Portland on the road. So, Portland represents a more difficult 1st round matchup for the Y. Currently, the 3 seed will play Santa Clara while the 2 seed would draw Portland.
Additionally, the 3 seed plays at 2 PM MST on a Saturday afternoon. Early Saturday games should terrify every BYU fan at this point. The 2 seed plays at 10 PM MST on Saturday night. The late night game isn't exactly enticing either for Cougar fans. The team has struggled playing late start games too. Between the two scheduling options, I'd rather have the 2 seed's schedule.
A lot can and will happen between now and the end of the regular season, but on Saturday night, Cougar fans should find a way to say, "Go Gaels."