The BYU Cougars have made an impact on West Coast Conference basketball since joining the league a season and a half ago. The WCC is stronger overall, its RPI is better, and more of its games are on national television.
About the only drawback to having BYU in the league, WCC coaches will tell you, is that the schedule with nine teams in the league is quirkier, and even a bit unfair, in some cases. For instance, San Diego is in the middle of a stretch where it is playing four games in eight days, the third game coming Thursday night when it hosts BYU.
The schedule unbalance will be rectified next year when Pacific joins the conference and schools go back to having travel partners. BYU will be paired with San Diego.
Regarding BYU’s impact, it is also clear that the Cougars are not going to overtake Gonzaga as the league’s premier basketball program anytime soon, if at all.
That point was driven home succinctly nearly two weeks ago when the Cougars made the trip to Spokane and were thoroughly thrashed 83-63 in front of a sellout crowd of 6,000 at the McCarthey Center and a national television audience. BYU was barely competitive.
“Gonzaga is still undefeated [in conference games], so someone is going to have to knock them off, and they are really, really good,” BYU coach Dave Rose said recently. “They’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of skill. There’s a lot of basketball to be played, though, and I am sure everybody in this league has got their eyes on the Zags. Hopefully when they come to our place, we can play a little bit better than we did the last time we faced them.”
To say the league is Gonzaga and the Eight Dwarfs is a stretch, because Saint Mary’s and BYU are borderline NCAA Tournament teams this season. But Gonzaga is simply head and shoulders above everyone else.
Sure, the Zags got a good test last Saturday at San Diego, which got to .500 on the season (12-12) Monday night courtesy of point guard Chris Anderson’s coast-to-coast drive and reverse layup that beat Loyola Marymount at the buzzer.
Against 21-2 Gonzaga, now ranked No. 6 in both polls, the Toreros had a chance to tie or win in the final eight seconds, but couldn’t get off a decent shot.
On a day of court-storming in college basketball, that one might have been epic. Might have been.
And yes, there would have been enough students to do just that — a common occurrence when the Zags are in town. San Diego was averaging 1,543 fans per home game, but that one drew 4,759. Last year, attendance at Jenny Craig Pavilion for the BYU-San Diego game was 3,204, although USD students had not returned from the holiday break. It will be interesting to see Thursday’s crowd count, boosted as usual by the 1,000 or so BYU fans expected to attend.
At Santa Clara on Jan. 12, BYU drew 2,853 to the Leavey Center; Gonzaga drew 4,907 on Jan. 5 the weekend before students returned.
At Portland on Jan. 26, BYU drew 3,078; Gonzaga drew 4,852 at Chiles Center on Jan. 17.
“It is everybody’s Super Bowl [when Gonzaga visits],” Zags coach Mark Few told ESPN’s Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg on a podcast Monday. “It is everybody’s biggest game. … It is pretty much a heckuva atmosphere whenever we are on the road.”
Funny, that’s how BYU felt when it visited most places in the Mountain West Conference.
In the WCC?
That’s Gonzaga’s role.