As the snow drifted down onto the quiet Provo streets late Thursday night, the BYU men's basketball team headed home having taken care of business with its 89-76 win over visiting Santa Clara.
No doubt Tyler Haws and Company knew that San Francisco won at San Diego, meaning Saturday’s showdown in Provo will have an extra dose of importance.
The winner will be all alone in second place in the West Coast Conference.
BYU supporters would much prefer to see their Cougars atop the standings or at least right on the heels of league-leader Gonzaga, but after the way conference play started it could be a lot worse for BYU.
Being at the Marriott Center should give the Cougars an edge over the Dons, although this isn’t a game BYU can take lightly. It needs to be ready to go.
Still, I predict that the Cougars get the job done again and end the weekend three games behind the Zags.
But will it end up being good enough to get a tournament bid?
That's the question fans consider, "bracketologists" predict and the one I'm evaluating right now.
Here is the Cougar résumé as of right now:
BYU is 16-9 overall, 8-4 in league play. According to ESPN.com’s team of bracketologists led by Joe Lunardi, the Cougars are No. 41 in the RPI and have the No. 12 strength of schedule in the country.
Here’s a look at the applicable RPI of the teams BYU has beaten and the ones it has lost to:
Wins: Texas (24), Stanford (37), St. Mary's (62), San Francisco (89), Pacific (97), Utah State (120)
Losses: Wichita State (6), Iowa State (7), Massachusetts (12), Gonzaga (22), Oregon (44), Utah (110), Pepperdine (129), Loyola Marymount (137), Portland (154)
The two things that jump out at me immediately are the fact that Texas’s success in the Big 12 has finally resulted in the Cougars tallying a win against an RPI Top 25 team, something they narrowly missed in other contests earlier in the year.
The other is the impact the wild, triple-overtime loss at Portland might end up having on BYU’s postseason hopes. That’s the one really glaringly bad loss on the Cougar record.
So BYU’s résumé isn’t sparkling but it isn’t terrible either. I don’t think it does enough to force the Cougars to win the WCC tournament, but nor does it do enough to warrant an at-large bid.
It all comes down to how BYU closes out the season.
There are six games remaining, including the home games against San Francisco and Gonzaga, plus road games at St. Mary’s and a sneaky-dangerous contest at San Diego.
Then there is the WCC tourney itself, where being the No. 2 seed means a bye to the semifinals. That means less likelihood of being upset by a team with a poor RPI but also less momentum from a tournament run.
I’m going to pass on talking about BYU winning the conference tournament title because that would obviously give it an NCAA tournament berth.
So here are three other scenarios that I think could happen:
BYU sweeps the final six games, then loses to Gonzaga in the WCC championship.
If that happens, I think the Cougars have an excellent shot at getting an at-large bid, depending on the strength of the “bubble.”
BYU wins all of the games but the one at St. Mary’s, then loses in the title game.
This one is the most dicey, since the Gaels are decent but not impressive but would still give the Cougars a win over Gonzaga. My instincts say this combined with the disappointing earlier losses would keep BYU out but it would be really close.
BYU wins all of its regular season games but loses to St. Mary’s in the WCC semifinals.
I think this would probably be the scenario least likely to get an at-large bid, since it would mean a disappointing loss to end the season and that would be what the committee would have fresh in its mind.
I think if the Cougars lose two or more of their final six games, they have to hoist the tournament crown to be dancing in March. They just don’t have enough room for error.
I know some people think the West Coast Conference will be a one-bid league no matter what and they might be right.
But name recognition still means something when it comes to selection and both Gonzaga and BYU are established enough that they still have some clout in that department.
I was ready to write the Cougars off as an NIT team after the ugly four-game losing streak in December. I was ready to do it again after the wild contest the ended up in the loss at Portland.
This season, however, has a lot of teams in similar positions as BYU. That means the window is still open, in my opinion, even if it isn’t open very wide.
It just comes down to who goes out and takes it.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.