Tucson, Ariz. » After winning the Las Vegas Invitational by scoring 198 points in two games, the BYU Cougars are getting a decent amount of respect from computer-based college basketball rating systems.
They are 18th in the Sagarin ratings, their RPI is in the 50s, and one service produced by Ken Pomeroy has them No. 10 in the country.
Will a national ranking follow?
The Cougars will find out today if they have cracked either the Associated Press Top 25 or the USA Today /Coaches Poll (which is more likely), just hours before what is supposed to be their stiffest nonconference test.
The Cougars (12-1) will meet Arizona (6-5) at the McKale Center tonight (7 p.m. MST, FCS-TV), part of the Fiesta Bowl Classic, but claim they aren't poll-watching just yet.
"It's not something we as coaches or the players think about," said coach Dave Rose. "What is important is getting ready to play the next game because every game is important. Our league is good enough. It's a battle each year. The team that wins the league usually gets themselves in the top 25 at some point and end up in the NCAA Tournament."
Arizona is not the national powerhouse it once was, but a win would still garner some attention for BYU. Under new coach Sean Miller, Arizona has already lost to a pair of BYU's Mountain West Conference rivals -- at home to UNLV and at San Diego State.
They Wildcats also have lost at Oklahoma, and in the Maui Invitational to Wisconsin and Vanderbilt.
While the Cougars have pointed to this game for quite some time, Arizona couldn't be blamed for looking ahead. The Wildcats open Pac-10 play at USC on Thursday and then play at UCLA on Saturday.
"Playing a game the same week you have a [4 p.m.] game on Thursday and a 10 a.m. game on Saturday, I don't know how smart it is to play a third game in that week," Miller said. "You'd probably want to come off the holidays and take an extra day off. Right now, we're preparing for our biggest nonconference game at the same time that we're preparing for our league."
BYU plays host to Eastern New Mexico (5-5) on Saturday before opening MWC play on Jan. 6 at home against UNLV.
The Cougars have won seven straight since losing at Utah State, while the Wildcats have some momentum, too. They won their last two games on last-second shots, beating Lipscomb and North Carolina State.
The Cougars are off to their best start since they opened 13-0 in 1987-88.
If they aren't ranked today, they almost surely will be next week if they can beat Arizona in Tucson. Rose isn't ready to say this is the best team he's had at BYU, however.
"Where you really get tested is the week after week grind of conference play," he said. "We haven't been through that with this group. I really like the makeup of this team. We're a little bit deeper. I wish our depth was a little more consistent."
Last week, five teams in the coaches poll were ahead of BYU in the "also receiving votes" category. In the AP poll, 13 unranked teams received more votes. With most ranked teams playing cupcakes in the week leading up to Christmas, the only ranked team in the 20-25 range to lose was No. 20 Butler, which fell to 8-4 after a loss to UAB.
"I do believe the potential of this team is really good, and over the next couple of months we'll see how it works out," Rose said.