BYU mbb Dalton Nixon with seniors

BYU's Dalton Nixon (33) stands with fellow seniors Yoeli Childs (23) and Zac Seljaas near the end of an upset victory over No. 2 Gonzaga at the Marriott Center on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2020.

Here’s what’s going on inside Darnell’s Head. I’m feeling a little down as we are well into our second month of COVID-19 restrictions. Maybe some sports talk will cheer me up.

Is the curtain open or closed?

The University of Utah announced this week that the Huntsman Center would be closing the curtains for men’s basketball games next season to cut the number of available seats from 15,000 to 8,500.

I saw a lot of snide remarks from BYU fans about the move — this is what we’re reduced to? Attendance smack? — but it got me thinking.

Average attendance at the Huntsman Center for home games last season was 10,561. Remember, these numbers are tickets sold, not butts in the seats. Utah’s most attended game was against Oregon in early January with 13,014, though the U acknowledged only 8,600 scanned tickets.

That’s a pretty big discrepancy. If the Huntsman is only just over half full for the biggest game of the year, that’s a problem. The announced crowd for the BYU-Utah game in the Huntsman Center on December 4 was just 11,565, so likely less than 9,000 actual fans for a rivalry meeting.

Now let’s look at BYU in the Marriott Center. In 15 home games this season, the MC’s averaged announced attendance was 12,625, about 66 percent of capacity (just under 19,000). The smallest announced crowd was 10,570 for the Cougars’ Dec. 10 meeting with Nevada. The Marriott Center announced a sellout for the Gonzaga game (18,987) on Feb. 22, the first true sellout since the ‘Zags came to Provo in 2018.

Look, the reason you want to play games at home is for that home court advantage. What’s it worth? Every game is different, but playing at home in college basketball is worth six to 10 points per game, according to one study I Googled. It was amazing season for BYU in 2019-20, but the Cougars still managed just a 6-5 record in true road games.

My point is that you have to do everything you can to make sure you take advantage of those home games. I was at this year’s BYU-Utah men’s basketball matchup in Salt Lake City and that was as close to a neutral site game as there could be. Some would say the Cougars fans were louder than the Ute fans at some point.

So I see why Utah has decided to make the arena a little more intimate.

Even with all the excitement over BYU basketball last season, the Cougars still only averaged about 800 more fans per game than the season before.

There is still work to do.

Simply the best

The online college mascot contest sponsored by SirusXM last week was hysterical.

No. 16 seeds BYU and Western Kentucky somehow made it to the finals and the Cougars made a last-second push to win the title 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent. Then there were accusations of voter fraud, whatever that means on the Twitter-verse. Finally, SirusXM declared Cosmo Cougar the champion.

Kudos to BYU fans for showing out and voting, even they might have bought some votes. Everybody as doing it, right?

Besides, Cosmo IS the best mascot, anyway.

Trapped

Man, my Google Maps Timeline has taken a real hit this past six weeks. This time of year I am gone nearly every afternoon or evening covering high school and BYU spring sports or driving to campus for interviews.

There were three days in a row last week where I didn’t leave my house. I didn’t go anywhere.

This has to end. Soon.

The ageless wonder

I’ve been watching a lot of clips of old BYU football games on YouTube, a parade of quarterbacks and receivers making defensive backs look silly. And it seems that every single one has former BYU quarterback Blaine Fowler as the color commentator.

I tell you, that dude never ages.

What might have been

I’ve also watched way too many video game simulations of BYU basketball in the NCAA Tournament over the past few weeks. The Reddit version has the Cougars into the championship game against Seton Hall, which knocked off Gonzaga in the Final Four.

Plenty of 3-pointers, naturally, and some clutch play off the bench by Kolby Lee and Connor Harding.

Some other observations: Zac Seljaas is playing out of his mind and has averaged 25 points per game in the past three contests. TJ Haws has been a tremendous second-half player. BYU doesn’t get the ball to Yoeli Childs inside enough. And graduate assistant Luke Worthington is somehow on the roster. In fact, he played key minutes in the West Virginia win when Childs got into foul trouble.

So maybe the AI needs to be adjusted, but it’s kind of cool to watch.

A quick review of the road to a championship:

First Round: As a No. 5 seed, BYU escapes No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin 78-75 as Haws hits a clutch 3-pointer with 30 seconds to play and the Cougars survive a couple of last-second attempts by the Lumberjacks.

Second Round: BYU handles No. 13 Vermont 85-75, Jake Toolson with 31 points on six 3-pointers.

Sweet Sixteen: The Cougars upset No. 1 seed Kansas 82-73 after leading by double digits most of the second half. Seljaas scored 28 points on 8 of 12 from the field and 9 of 10 from the foul line.

Elite Eight: Childs gets a key offensive rebound and makes some clutch free throws late as BYU holds off No. 3 Kentucky 96-86. Seljaas with 25 points and Haws scores all 23 of his in the second half.

Final Four: BYU tops No. 6 West Virginia 97-90 to reach its first-ever NCAA championships game. Highlight of the tournament is a second-half alley-oop pass from Haws to Dalton Nixon for a one-handed jam. Seljaas scores 24 points on 5 of 7 from the 3-point line.

So there’s the breakdown.

Actually, my favorite simulation was one that BYU lost. I can’t find it right now, but someone took the care to create Seljaas’s avatar with a wild head of hair and his signature mustache.

Really?

Police in Taneytown, Maryland, are reminding residents to wear pants when checking their mailbox.

Wait, we have to wash our hands AND wear pants?

This is getting to be way too much.

That’s it for now. Stay home and stay safe so we can get back to normalcy at some point. I need you. You need it. We all need it.

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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