BYU's West Coast Conference schedule kicks off tonight against Loyola Marymount University (7 p.m. MST, BYUtv), and hopes are high for the Cougars this year. With depth in their frontcourt and guards who are playmakers, they have the potential to make it deep in the WCC tourney.
The Cougars dropped close out-of-conference games to Notre Dame and Baylor this year, but they could redeem themselves with quality wins against WCC foes.
There are definitely tough challenges ahead and plenty of unknowns for BYU, but here are five bold predictions for their in-conference season.
Although BYU could get surprised, I can't see San Diego, San Fransisco or Portland knocking off the Cougars.
With a combined 21-23 record so far between the three schools, including losses to teams like Pacific, Stephen F. Austin and Texas Pan-American, I doubt BYU will fall short of blowout wins against the aforementioned schools.
The Cougs travel to San Fransisco on Saturday, so we will get our first taste of these games then.
Santa Clara has easily been the surprise team of the conference thus far, as they nearly upset Duke in Durham and blew out WAC-leader San Jose State. Although SCU fell to the Cougars by double digits in both meetings last year, the Broncos are a much improved team.
On the other hand, Loyola Marymount could also provide a scare for BYU.
The Lions upset the Cougs at home last year, and boast WCC scoring leader Anthony Ireland. The matchup between Ireland and Tyler Haws will be a fun one to watch.
In both of BYU's games against Saint Mary's last year, the Cougars lost by an average of 15 points.
They are definitely trying to change that this time around.
The Gaels are the favorite for second in the conference, behind Gonzaga, so BYU will have to knock them off to be a contender. The Gaels bring back point guard Matthew Dellavedova and forward Brad Waldow.
The Cougars will have a hard time beating them.
Gonzaga is currently ranked No. 10 in the nation, boasting a 13-1 record and an unstoppable offense led by point guard Kevin Pangos and forward Kelly Olynyk.
No one has found an answer for them yet (besides Illinois and Oklahoma State).
Unless Tyler Haws has another 40-point game and Brandon Davies finishes with 20 and 20, I can't see BYU beating the Bulldogs when the two teams clash later on in the season.
Besides, GU's depth is incredible, and the Cougars don't have the bench to stop them.
This is a tough prediction to make, but I think that BYU will sneak past Saint Mary's and Santa Clara and take the second spot in the conference. Gonzaga will likely win the WCC tourney, but if the Cougs can get a bye in the first round, I can see them making it to the finals.
BYU needs to keep Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies healthy and find more scoring options behind that duo. If they can, they may slip into a top-12 seed in the NCAA tournament.