Monson: It's now or never for BYU
Let's say it all straight up and plain here: BYU has to win its first-round game in the NCAA Tournament.
Is required to.
There's no it would be nice to.
No wanting to.
No hoping to.
No aiming to.
No intending to.
Not this time, too.
If BYU doesn't beat a fringe Florida team, a team that probably had no business getting into the tournament, a team that was issued a favor by the selection committee because Billy Donovan finally got a little something for the effort from a few seasons back after being left out the past two seasons, the Cougars will never again win a tournament game.
OK, that last part might be a lie. But only might be.
Based on projections, BYU got messed over a bit with its seven seed, especially if New Mexico is a legitimate three. But it also got an attendant gift by being assigned to play the No. 10-seeded Gators. In a New York Times story Monday, Florida was one of a handful of examples used to show that this year's committee let some real poodles into its prom.
BYU now gets to stare down that dog. A dog that lost earlier this season to 18-16 South Alabama, which is a team that was beat by the Denver Pioneers, 71-48.
If the Cougars can't beat the Gators now, when will they?
The credibility of Dave Rose's program is on the line in a way it never has been before. The coach doesn't want to talk about it, but that makes it no less true. Yeah, it lost to Xavier three postseasons ago, and to Texas A&M the past two postseasons, last year by an embarrassing margin in Philadelphia.
But this year's team is on the edge of winning 30 games. It is being hailed by some as one of the best teams in the school's history.
It has a genuine star in Jimmer Fredette, a finalist for the Wooden Award. It has useful supporting players and features a deep bench. It lost just five games all year. And it was highly ranked for a good portion of the regular season.
Florida, on the other hand, lost 12 games, won only one of its final five to close the season, and wound up just barely over .500 in the SEC and during its last 25 games. The Gators have some talent, but it's limited. They are not deep. And they play a style conducive to what the Cougars like to do.
Asked if his team feels pressure to finally win a first-round game after BYU has gone 0-and-7 in the tournament since 1993, Jackson Emery answered:
"We can't really focus on what happened in past years," he said. "It's different now, we're all different guys with different experience. For the most part, we've done a good job of focusing on what's ahead of us.
"We'll feel fairly loose. All of us have heard for the past couple of years that we can't get past the first round. We haven't in years. We know that can't go on forever. We're just ready to go. We're ready to take it one game at a time. We're going to prepare for Florida, give it our best, and come out, hopefully, with a victory."
That might be the way a psychologist would tell players to look at it, in order to avoid the pressure that might paralyze the effort. Evidence shows the physiological response of athletes changes under pressure, and that accommodations need to be made to deal with and then use that pressure to an advantage.
But ... no.
Not this time around.
There is no give it your best.
There is no hopefully.
There is only victory.
If the Cougars blow it this time, they'll always blow it. If they can't take advantage of a seven-10 matchup, when they're supposedly better than a seven and their opponent is worse than a 10, when will they ever be given the benefit of the doubt again by an already skeptical committee that is taking on a we'll-believe-it-when-we-see-it stance?
Burn them once, shame on you, burn them eight straight times, shame on them. And if the shame is on them, BYU will pay with ever-lower seeds for seasons to come.
The Cougars this time, like Emery said, are playing for themselves, for the present. But they're also playing for BYU teams in the past and in the future. It might not be fair, but it's their burden.
Beating a marginal Florida team isn't an option. It's the checkpoint for not becoming the punchline to a joke. It's a competitive threshold they can't afford not to cross.