With the West Coast Conference men's basketball season beginning last night (Santa Clara defeated San Francisco at the Leavey Center), I penned a WCC preview for today's Tribune.
I'm catching a little heat in some circles for picking BYU fourth, behind Gonzaga, St. Mary's and Santa Clara. Perhaps it is the fact that the Cougars have won just one true road game this season -- at Weber State -- or that players not named Davies or Haws have been mildly disappointing so far, but I have a tough time seeing the Cougars finish ahead of the Zags or the Gaels.
Certainly, they could finish ahead of Santa Clara or LMU, which visits the Marriott Center tonight. We will see.
After practice last night, BYU coach Dave Rose was asked about the important of getting off to a good start in league play.
"I think everybody thinks the same thing right now," Rose said. "Everybody believes that they have a chance to win the league. They believe the first game is really important. I think what is really important for us is to be able to execute, and do the things that we do, and not try to change things. I think we have been pretty successful in the preseason. I think what is really important for us is that we continue to improve in the things that we have been doing."
Rose said he hasn't watched a lot of WCC teams play this year, with the exception of Gonzaga and St. Mary's when they've been on national television, and with LMU this week while studying film.
Last year, LMU snuck into Provo and toppled the Cougars 82-68, with point guard Anthony Ireland having his way in the Marriott Center. Ireland leads the WCC in scoring at 21.3 ppg. and is just as good as Baylor's Pierre Jackson, who gave the Cougars fits a few weeks ago, Rose said.
"They are both really good scoring point guards. When you take Pierre Jackson, and [Virginia Tech's] Erick Green, and Ireland, we have played against some pretty good ones. And those are some of the elite guys in the country. Hopefully we have learned a little bit playing against those guys, but [Ireland] can score the ball in a lot of different ways. The key for us is to make him earn his shots, don't give him easy ones. In transition, make sure we keep him away from the rim, make him shoot contested shots. Then when we get them in halfcourt, we got to keep him out of the middle of the floor, where he really likes to operate."
It was against LMU last year that BYU's outside shooting woes really start to surface as the team's biggest Achilles' heel. The Cougars went 2-for-25 from beyond the arc.
Brandon Davies, who will play tonight on a sprained ankle, but is not 100 percent, said this LMU team is very, very similar to the team that surprised the Cougars last year.
"For the most part, they are still the same core group of guys. They are all hard-working, physical guys. It is going to be a slugfest out there. It is going to come down to who wants it more and who is playing the hardest," Davies said. "They made a lot of easy shots, and even made contested shots [last year]. A lot of that goes on us defensively to make sure our effort is better this time around, and stopping their point guard. Their point guard, [Anthony] Ireland is one of the best point guards we have seen. It is going to be a tough deal, but it is in our game plan to try and get him stopped."