As their first season in the West Coast Conference came to a screeching halt on Saturday night at the hands of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, the BYU Cougars hoops squad find themselves sitting squarely on bubble for a NCAA tournament invite.
It was no secret the Cougars weren't going to be able to replace last year's Naismith Award winner Jimmer Fredette with anyone on the 2011-2012 squad. It's hard at any level to replace 28 ppg, and the Cougars knew this was going to be a challenge heading into the season.
Anyone looking in from the outside would see a 25-win team and think they had a great season. Don't me wrong, 25 wins is not an easy feat at the Division-I level, but the Cougars just plain lost games they should have won this year.
It started with a loss to a Utah State team that finished their regular season 17-14. Granted, the game was in Logan, but the Cougars were trying to figure out who the point guard was going to be, and all-around sloppy play led to a 20-turnover game and a 69-62 loss.
That loss will hurt the Cougars as the selection committee is making their date reservations for the big dance.
The Cougars had their chances to make an impression in the non-conference schedule with games against ranked Wisconsin and Baylor teams. The Cougars were in the Wisconsin game until about midway through the second half, and then they forgot how to defend the perimeter, giving up 13 three-point shots in the game.
If you can ever consider a loss a good loss, the Baylor game would be that. The Bears from Baylor came in ranked in the top 10, and the Cougars played them very well most of the game. The game was close all night, but the Cougars came up just short with Brandon Davies' game-tying three-point attempt being blocked as the last play of the game.
One of the things that hurt BYU the most this season was the wild inconsistency on the offensive side of the floor, particularly their three-point shooting. The Cougars were one of the top three-point shooting teams in the nation until the Loyola Marymount game in Provo in January. The Cougars shot 2-of-25 from behind the arc in that game, and the wheels fell off for the next five games.
Including the Loyola game and the following five games, the Cougars were 14-of-101, or a 14 percent clip, from behind the arc. It's hard to draw back in recent memory such a poor shooting streak.
If you add to the wildly inconsistent shooting to the injuries the Cougars have endured, it is a darn near miracle they won 25 games. The Cougars have been without the services of Chris Collinsworth, a 6'9" sophomore, basically the entire season. The Cougars could have used his strength and size on the lower block this year.
In addition to the loss of Collinsworth, junior Stephen Rogers tore his meniscus in December and was basically lost for the season. He has played in a few games lately, but after starting the season extremely well, has basically been ineffective since his recent return. Rogers is a 6'8" swingman whom the Cougars could have desperately used an another weapon in the offense.
Then there is Matt Carlino. The guy is only a freshman and has show signs of amazing talent during his rookie year. His first game college game ever against No. 6 Baylor where he dropped 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting probably gave the Cougar fan base too much expectation too soon. There were many games where Carlino struggled in his shooting and decision making. But again, the guy is a freshman and has shown flashes of brilliance. As Carlino continues to develop, the Cougars will be set at point guard for at least the next two years.
The one guy who has seemed to be Mr. Consistent all year is senior Noah Hartsock. It almost seemed routine to look at the box score and see 17 points and 10 boards every night. He assumed the role of leadership that the Cougars desperately needed post-Jimmer. Plain and simple, the guy is just a rock. Hopefully his knee holds up for whatever postseason tournament the Cougars find themselves in.
All in all, the Cougars have had a pretty good season. Again, 25 wins and a 12-4 conference record is nothing to sneeze at. But there will always be the what-ifs you find from fan bases. What if they beat Baylor, what if the injury bug wouldn't have bitten so hard, what if they could have beaten St. Mary's at home and so on and so on.
Unfortunately for BYU, after Saturday's beatdown from Gonzaga the Cougars are going to have to leave their fate to a bunch of box score readers at a conference table in New York and hope for the best.
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