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Jay Drew
Jay covers BYU athletics for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter @drewjay.

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BYU squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, for now

Opinons vary as to whether the BYU basketball team would make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection if the season ended today.

What is clear is that the Cougars (9-4 WCC, 17-9 overall) are on the bubble. They are as "on the bubble" as any team in the country right now, it appears.

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It is also pretty clear that if the Cougars don’t win both their road games this week — at Pacific on Thursday and at Saint Mary’s on Saturday — they will be off the bubble, and on the outside looking in.

The only margin for error in these last five games for BYU is probably the home game on Feb. 20 against Gonzaga. Seemingly, the Cougars can afford to lose that one if they win the four others.

It’s a big ‘if.’ Pacific showed that it can hang with BYU on Jan. 30 in that 88-78 loss at the Marriott Center, and the Cougars have never won at Saint Mary’s. The Gaels will be favored in that showdown and will be retiring the number of former SMC great Matthew Dellavedova.

Yeah, that soon. They don’t waste time in Moraga.

Checking some of the latest NCAA Tournament projections, the Cougars are among the "Last Four In" in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest installment. He has BYU as a No. 11 seed, playing LSU in Dayton, Ohio in a first-round game. The winner would move on to face UCLA in Milwaukee.

Over at bracketmatrix.com, which is a compilation of mock brackets, BYU is in, but just barely.

BYU’s RPI remains in the 40s right now. The Cougars are No. 43 in Sagarin’s ratings, No. 41 in RealTimeRPI.com, No. 45 in ESPN’s RPI tabulations and No. 52 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.

The Cougars are 7-5 against top-100 RPI teams, but have those three "bad" losses in WCC road games: LMU, Pepperdine and Portland.

Jeff Sagarin says Cougars have played 38th most difficult schedule in the country.

In his popular Tuesday Truths column out this morning, John Gasaway summed up BYU’s situation this way:

"Currently projected as a No. 12 seed, Dave Rose’s Cougars are holding on for dear life in the mock brackets. Here’s hoping BYU gets that job done. This is a highly entertaining group, one that both scores and allows a fair number of points and does so at a relatively high velocity.

Eric Mika and Nate Austin are remorseless offensive rebounding man-weapons, and Tyler Haws is still doing his best Julius Randle impression and drawing three fouls before the opening tip. BYU has to take care of business this week on a NorCal swing against Pacific and Saint Mary’s, and then it’s home for a showdown next week against Gonzaga. The Cougs’ season may ride in the balance in this three-game stretch. It promises to be entertaining to watch.

My follow from BYU’s 68-63 win over San Francisco on Saturday night focused on the contributions of backup point guard Matt Carlino.

Here is how Carlino summed up what he looks to do when he enters games:

"You know, we are always trying to get Ty [Haws] the ball because a lot of guys will collapse on him. This guy [Nate Austin], I mean, there are two guys guarding Ty, somebody is gong to get the rebound. He came up with a lot of them. Eric [Mika] got a lot of them. Kyle [Collinsworth] did too. I mean, everyone rebounded.

Ty is such a big threat — he was still knocking down shots tonight — but if he is not, he still a huge part of our offense, and we go through him, because he creates such tough match ups for the other team.

I mean, they had a 6-9 guy on him tonight. So that lends itself to offensive rebounds. So that was big."

Nate Austin also appeared at the post game news conference.

Here are a few comments from big Nate after the game:

On what he told Kyle Collinsworth after missed free throws:

"I just told him to play the next play. I mean, free throws happen, missed shots happen, bad things happen. I just told him to play the next play and I think Kyle got a rebound after that. I just told him keep playing — we are going to need you. All five guys need to be locked in here and he played well. He had a great game."

On the play where Collinsworth rebounded a miss and got the ball to Matt for an open three:

"It was huge. It changed the momentum of the game. I thought they were starting to come back a little bit. But Kyle got that board and Matt buried the three. As soon as Matt shot it, I knew [it was in]. I was heading back on defense, because I knew it was going in. Matt always comes up clutch. He is a clutch player, and basically a starter coming off the bench. That’s what we need right now, is a key guy coming off the bench and giving us huge points like he has, game in and game out."

Finally, I posted video of the first half of coach Dave Rose’s post game news conference. Here are a few more comments from Rose:

On USF’s halftime scrimmage and whether he’s done that before:

"I thought about doing it a lot of times, but actually have never done it. Rex [Walter] does that a lot. He did it against the team.. when we went over to play them, he did it the week before. He took them out there at halftime.

They pride themselves in how good of a rebounding team they are. And they are a great rebounding team. And our guys tonight out rebounded them pretty good. And that’s what it took. It took for us to rebound and defend the 3-point line.

Derksen really hurt us on the 3-point line. I think he went 3 for 3. But they only got 14 attempts. I think they got 10 attempts the first time we played them, so that helped us."

On what is so tough about USF and the tempo they play at:

"Well, he’s got really good athletes that are tough. You have to play through contact. They challenge every pass, they challenge every shot, and they challenge every dribble. They kinda tend to wear you down a little bit. But Rex does a great job.

One of reasons rebounding numbers were kinda lopsided is he gets four guys back to stop transition. So they ended up with five offensive rebounds even sending four back.

It is hard to get an advantage in transition. And then they are really quick to the ball. You race it down there, and get the ball to the wing, and they are really quick to close out and guard that first pass. And before you know it, it is five on five and you got to run your stuff."

On the big picture and winning this game and sweeping USF:

"Last weekend we thought was really big. The best time about this time of year is when you win, it makes the next game even bigger. This weekend is really important for us. But to come home after a triple overtime loss at Portland and a tough game the second half at Gonzaga, and get four wins, this puts us in a pretty good spot. Now we are back out on the road again, so we will have to get ready. It is going to take the same kind of effort in every game we play from now on. Our guys are going to have to give second, third, fourth efforts to try and get a win in this league."

On tightening the rotation and what was working:

"I think what happens sometimes when you don’t have a real flow offensively, and you keep subbing guys, it kinda hurts that. I thought defensively we were pretty good all night. I thought our effort was pretty good. I just kept hoping we could get a group of guys into an offensive flow, and we did barely just enough to get a big win."



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