Stockton, Calif. • Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, which can only mean one thing at Brigham Young University.
The Cougar basketball team is squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
BYU at PacificAt the Alex G. Spanos Center, Stockton, Calif.
Tipoff » 9 p.m. MST
TV » Root Sports
Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records » BYU 17-9 (9-4); Pacific 13-10 (4-8)
Series history » BYU leads 4-3
Last meeting » BYU 88, Pacific 78 (Jan. 30)
About the Tigers » They have won two of their last three games to move into seventh place in the WCC standings. … Freshman guard T.J. Wallace scored a career-high 22 points in their 82-72 win at LMU on Saturday.
About the Cougars » Sophomore guard Kyle Collinsworth averaged 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in their wins over Santa Clara and San Francisco last weekend. … They have never played at the Spanos Center, which is the second-largest venue (6,150) in the league behind the Marriott Center.
OK, there’s obviously more going on in Provo these days. But for the third straight year, coach Dave Rose’s team heads into the home stretch of its West Coast Conference schedule wondering whether it will make the big dance, or not.
The last five WCC games will tell the tale, beginning Thursday night at Pacific in the Alex G. Spanos Center (9 p.m. MST, Root Sports), where BYU has never played. Most bracketologists seem to believe that the Cougars (9-4 WCC, 17-9) have to go at least 4-1 between now and the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas March 6-11 to stay on the bubble, which bracket guru Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com refers to as the "Last Four In."
That’s where BYU sits now in Lunardi’s projections and a good portion of the mock brackets that can be found at bracketmatrix.com.
With an RPI of 41, strength of schedule in the top 40, a 7-5 record against top-100 RPI teams, and nonconference wins over Stanford and Texas slightly making up for those three "bad" road losses in the WCC — Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and Portland — the Cougars are straddling the fence once again.
Since Jimmer Fredette left, BYU has become a poster child for teams on the bubble. The Cougars squeaked in back in 2012, and were sent to one of those inglorious first-round games in Dayton, Ohio. Last year, their bubble was burst in late February with losses in two of their final three regular-season games and a loss to San Diego in their conference tournament opener.
They settled for a No. 3 seed in the NIT, and a run to that tourney’s semifinals in New York City.
Naturally, neither Rose nor any of his players would admit to paying attention to bubble talk after Tuesday’s practice at the Marriott Center.
"I don’t look at that, because people that surround me will tell me all that stuff anyway," said sophomore guard Kyle Collinsworth. "So I don’t look at any of that stuff. I just try to win games. If we win, we are going to be there. So that’s the focus right now."
Rose said the Cougars know what is at stake on this road trip, which concludes Saturday night at third-place Saint Mary’s. He doesn’t ask the players to avoid looking at bracket projections, but cautions them that it is pointless because things change so much.
"If the tournament was on Saturday, that would be nice. But it is not," Rose said. "I think every player, every coach, kind of deals with it their own way. From my point of view … it is just so temporary. Things can change so quickly, no matter which side of the coin you are on."
The Cougars appear to be on the right side, for now. But one thing is for certain: if they falter on Valentine’s Day eve against a team that’s 4-8 in league play, 13-10 overall, they won’t be.
"You can’t worry about too much of that [bracket] stuff right now," guard Tyler Haws said. "Maybe in a month, or a few weeks. We just have to focus on our next game. That’s it."
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