Some believe that by exiting the Mountain West and joining the West Coast Conference, the BYU basketball team took a step down.
ESPN’s Sean Farnham begs to differ. And he covered the MWC when he worked for CBS College Sports.
“When BYU made the move to the WCC, it not only helped them and increased their exposure, but it helped the West Coast Conference,” he said.
Yes, the MWC has New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State. But the WCC has Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU.
And Santa Clara, winless in WCC play, beat MWC leader UNM back in November.
“What the Cougar fans have found out is that this conference has good basketball in it,” he said. “And it’s not just Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, but there are other programs that are pretty solid.”
He pointed to San Francisco, which he sees as a team on the rise. And Loyola Marymount, which beat BYU in Provo earlier this season.
“I would say that it’s definitely not a step down,” Farnham said. “And the home loss to LMU might have been an eye-opener for fans to say, ‘Wait a minute — what did we get ourselves into here?’ ”
Farnham will do the play-by-play for ESPN2’s telecast of the BYU-Gonzaga game on Thursday at 9 p.m. And the game analyst? None other than Brent Musburger.
“When you’re talking about a guy who calls the biggest games ESPN has, that’s pretty significant,” Farnham said. “It’s an indication of the quality of this conference and the respect this conference has.
“I expect a very physical game and I think it’s going to be an unbelievable environment.”
Farnham was full of praise for the Marriott Center crowd, calling it “one of the most elite home-court environments in the country.”
“But what the Cougars are going to find out is that the Zags are also right there with them. The Kennel can get as loud as any venue I’ve been in.”
And, while Saint Mary’s (12-2 in WCC play) has a one-game lead over BYU (11-3) and Gonzaga (11-3) with two games to play, Farnham isn’t convinced that the winner of the Cougars-Bulldogs game is out of the conference title race.
“Who knows?” he said. “Saint Mary’s is banged up right now and they still have to go to San Francisco. They could easily drop that game. And now, all of a sudden, Thursday night becomes that much more significant for both BYU and Gonzaga.”
Farnham said he’s convinced the WCC will get three teams into the NCAA Tournament, and it looks like those teams will be BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.
“And it’s going to be interesting to see what happens once we get to [the WCC tournament in] Vegas with Loyola Marymount, because I think they are a very dangerous team,” he said.
Farnham warned that Cougar fans should expect a tough fight every season in the West Coast Conference. And he sees the addition of BYU, along with Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga, as pulling up the rest of the league.
“It’s a deeper conference than many people, even in Provo, know about. Look at LMU winning on the road,” Farnham said. “I think what you’ll see in a short period of time is this conference will have better depth than any other conference outside of the six power conferences, certainly on the West Coast.”
And, armed with a new television contract, the league can expect good exposure, too.
“ESPN looks at this as one of its strong conferences that is going to consistently produce big games,” he said.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce; read his blog at sltrib.com/blogs/tv.