As Thursday night’s game against Pacific started, some BYU men’s basketball fans on Twitter noticed the smallish crowd at the Marriott Center and didn’t sound very optimistic about it getting any better.
The announced attendance was 14,262 but a lot of the seats at the 20,900-seat arena were filed with nothing but air.
@Y4LYFE said, “Sadly I expect attendance to continue to dwindle,” while @CougarDen1 added, “Why would people pay to watch this fiasco?”
When I responded to @CougarDen1 early in first half of the 88-78 Cougar win over the Tigers that Tyler Haws was worth watching (the junior had nine of his 38 points), he replied, “I'm watching from home and is fun. But it's FREE. And if it gets bad I can change the channel.”
The fact is that both @Y4LYFE and @CougarDen1 are right.
BYU right now is a 14-9 team who set some big expectations earlier in the year with narrow defeats to elite opponents. Since that point, disappointing road losses have piled up and the Cougars now look all-too-similar to last year’s NIT squad.
So is it time to give up on BYU men’s basketball for 2014?
I say no.
And I’m going to back that up with five reasons why I think BYU hoops is still worth watching (in person, when possible):
5. The Marriott Center atmosphere
While watching a game on TV can be more comfortable (plus there is that channel-changing option), one of the best things about basketball is being able to be right there for all the action.
It’s the ROC student section welcoming opponents with the “Hi, Joe” chant during introductions of the starting lineups, then hearing them leap and shout in unison when trying to distract a foul shooter.
It’s the halftime show with Special Olympians having a great time playing in front of a roaring crowd. It’s the Kiss Cam and the contests and yes, even the booing of the officials.
For those of us that went to the games when BYU was a lot worse in the late 1990s, the atmosphere had to be a lot more important than the outcome.
4. Skylar Halford’s and Josh Sharp’s defensive energy
If you are passionate about basketball, then you appreciate that the game isn’t played just on offense.
While Halford (10 points) and Sharp (no points) didn’t provide the offensive fireworks, they provided plenty of effort worth appreciating at the other end.
Those two guys cover a lot of ground on defense and battle for everything. Sharp had five offensive rebounds against Pacific, while Halford’s frenetic pace kept the Tiger offense scrambling.
3. The evolution of Matt Carlino and Kyle Collinsworth
Many observers, myself included, have been vocally critical of Carlino’s inconsistencies. But that’s not the same Carlino we are seeing now.
He’s a guy who has been not just huge coming in off the bench but also a big presence in keeping the team organized.
And then there is Collinsworth, who has developed into a versatile, all-around guy who can drive, distribute, play defense and rebound. Both need to keep getting better but it’s a side of them I’ve been hoping to see since the beginning of the year.
2. A young team building toward the future
I understand that the 2014 team isn’t elite. This isn’t a squad that will wow the nation and be considered for national honors or tournament recognition.
But it also has no seniors. Zero.
That means that while missions might impact the lineup (most notably center Eric Mika, who tied a career high Thursday with 20 points), most of these guys will be back on the floor next year.
So watching them now could be a glimpse of the future for the Cougars, particularly if the guys previously mentioned continue to get better.
1. Tyler Haws as an elite scorer
He will probably always be in the shadow of Jimmer Fredette and his jaw-dropping performances but Tyler Haws is still an amazing player in his own right.
He has a silky-smooth jump shot, the ability to score around the basket and, of course, his stellar free-throw shooting. Now 10th on the BYU all-time scoring list, it’s not implausible to think Haws might some day pass the Jimmer himself.
In a lot of ways, Haws has to work harder to get his points because he doesn’t start with the ball in his hands. Just watching him fight through all of the physical defense he battles every game is pretty impressive by itself.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.