BYU preview: Plenty of work remains for Cougars

2013-01-31T00:20:00Z 2013-11-06T21:45:31Z BYU preview: Plenty of work remains for CougarsJason Franchuk - Daily Herald Daily Herald
January 31, 2013 12:20 am  • 

Brandon Davies was in no mood the other day to reflect about how relatively little college basketball he has remaining on his clock.

BYU's senior center, who will take his team to Pepperdine on Thursday night (8 p.m., Root Sports), will say he feels like there's a "lot of games to play; a lot of things we're still trying to accomplish."

Question is, can the Cougars do something in the next 9-12 outings to do what they want — namely, return to the NCAA Tournament for a seventh consecutive year?

One national basketball pundit proclaimed a few weeks ago that the Cougars (16-6 overall, 6-2 West Coast Conference) have two of the best 50 players in the country, Davies and Tyler Haws, but that hasn't exactly translated to a sure postseason bid.

BYU has reached the midway point of the conference schedule and has nine regular-season games left, most notably one at home against nationally ranked Gonzaga and a road tilt in three weeks with Saint Mary's — which won at the Marriott Center already.

Neither are sure things, considering the No. 7-ranked Zags have been special virtually everywhere, even on the road where they've defeated the likes of Oklahoma State and should have won at Butler if not for a last-second disaster.

BYU is just 4-3 away from the Marriott Center, on true road courts, and has lost to virtually every team that has a shot of being NCAA Tournament caliber.

Davies would let reporters in to his mindset a little by saying it's been a harder haul perhaps than anticipated. BYU has work remaining to avoid a repeat of last year's third-place finish in the West Coast Conference.

"Winning the conference and getting to the tournament, all those things are things that we have as team goals, and at this point things aren’t really going as we wished they would have," Davies said after Tuesday's practice. "But that’s life, that’s basketball, and we have to put forth an even grittier effort to get where we need to get."

Right now, most pundits who predict the 68-team NCAA Tournament have the Cougars out of the mix, along with Saint Mary's, and Gonzaga with the potential to be a No. 2 or No. 1 seed — either would be historic measures for the WCC.

Last year, all three teams advanced.

It leaves BYU absolutely having to win games like the one in Malibu, Calif., and basically every locale along the way, home or road. BYU has won all three meetings with Pepperdine (now 10-10, 2-5), including last year's trip to Firestone Fieldhouse. A slip-up would be disastrous. That's just how it is for the team, with no margin for error.

The extra game on the Cougars' schedule is Feb. 19, the re-do of the December cancellation with Utah State. The Aggies have been throttled by injuries in recent weeks.

"We do take it one game at a time, but at the same time we know we are up against the wall and we've got to win every game we play," Davies said. "That’s our mindset. But at the same time, to take it one game at a time."

Of course, there's always a backup plan: The winner of the postseason conference tournament gets an automatic bid.

That's a big roll of the dice in Las Vegas, considering winning conference tournaments has not been a cornerstone of eighth-year coach Dave Rose's success.

But it's been a tough year to have a down one, considering the national landscape as the season gears toward March.

Defending national champion Kentucky is struggling to ensure an at-large bid, and another blueblood, North Carolina, is having a tough season.

What may say the most about the plight of talented teams around the country is that last year's national championship game loser, Kansas, is currently ranked No. 2 — and most in Jayhawk land wouldn't put that team within 10 points of last year's crew — if they could play.

It may be the year for the teams from schools that aren't affiliated with the six most powerful football conferences. BYU is normally near the top of that mix, but not at this point.

Six of the current Associated Press top 25 teams are: Gonzaga, Butler, Creighton, Wichita State and BYU's former Mountain West Conference mates, San Diego State and New Mexico.

-- Jason Franchuk covers primarily BYU football and basketball for the Daily Herald. You can follow him on Twitter, @HarkTheFranchuk. Email him at
Read more from  Jason Franchuk here.

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