BYU men's basketball Alex Barcello dribbling

BYU senior guard Alex Barcello dribbles up the floor in a men's college basketball game against Pacific at the Marriott Center on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.

Here’s what’s going on inside Darnell’s Head. You know what’s not fair? That the younger generation can say, “OK, Boomer” to tease Baby Boomers like me. What can I say in return? “OK, Millennial?” “OK, Gen Z-er?” It just doesn’t have the same zing to it.

Should they play at all?

Four West Coast Conference men’s basketball programs — Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Loyola Marymount — have had to hit the pause button this week due to COVID-19 protocols. All the postponed games have some coaches — Gonzaga’s Mark Few among them — wondering out loud whether the postseason league tournaments should be played at all. Or maybe give exemptions to teams that are most assuredly in the field.

If you are the 'Zags – or any tournament-worthy team, for that matter – why risk having someone test positive in a league tournament situation and put your NCAA hopes in jeopardy?

BYU isn’t ranked but most bracketology gurus have the Cougars in the tournament in their projections. Should the league protect its two best teams and not require them to play in the WCC Tournament in March?

My feelings about league tournaments in general are mixed at best. I understand why they exist. Conferences want a big money maker and it's good TV exposure since ESPN carries the semifinals and finals. However, I’ve never liked the fact that a team can get hot over a three- or four-game period and earn an NCAA Tournament berth. I prefer to reward teams that have been good over a two-month conference schedule.

I do not suppose you can speed things up?

The BYU women’s volleyball and soccer teams both opened their season impressively last week. The volleyball team swept Portland twice on the road and the soccer team overwhelmed Weber State 7-0 in an exhibition match.

You can imagine both of these teams were champing at the bit to play someone else since their fall season was postponed. Six months is a long time to be practicing and scrimmaging against the same people every day.

While watching the opening volleyball match on the WCC Network I was reminded of how much I hate replay in college volleyball, a sport that has incredible pace until it comes to a screeching halt because of a challenge. I mean, what are they doing over there, recreating the play with Legos?

I know we want the call to be right, but can we get it right a little bit more quickly?

A win is a win

Mark Pope coached his 50th game at BYU on Saturday. It wasn’t pretty and required two overtimes, but the Cougars are 5-2 in West Coast Conference play and 14-4 overall.

That’s pretty, pretty, pretty good.

When BYU fans chat online or talk about the season, they want to remember the road wins at San Diego State and Utah State or the victory over Utah. No one will bring up the double overtime win against Pacific because the Cougars were favored and were very nearly beaten.

But, as I’ve mentioned before, a season is made up of all kinds of wins. The players will remember the victory over the Tigers because they know they didn’t shoot very well, didn’t take care of the basketball and suffered through long scoring droughts. Despite those deficiencies, BYU kept grinding and came up with a win.

In the end, a Pacific victory in January may be more valuable than you think.

Alex is the man

I’m not sure BYU fans appreciate what they have in Alex Barcello.

The former Arizona transfer scored 21 of his 23 points after halftime in Saturday’s double-overtime win over Pacific and also had nine rebounds and seven assists. But more than his stats, he is just an incredible leader. There were 63 baskets scored in the game but my favorite came in the first half. Barcello disregarded any regard for his well-being and went crashing out of bounds to save a loose ball back in to Spencer Johnson, who sank a 3-pointer. It was BYU’s only basket in a seven-minute stretch.

After the game, Pope told a story about Barcello and his leadership ability. Just before taking the court for pregame the team gathered into a huddle. Walk-on freshman Townsend Tripple, who is injured, was standing kind of sheepishly outside of the circle. He hasn’t practiced or played for the Cougars in three months, but Barcello took him by the arm and led him into the huddle. He wanted to make sure everyone was included.

How BYU lucked into getting a guy like Barcello is a miracle.

You’d better not make a mistake

This week, the BYU men’s basketball team has road games at San Diego (254 NET ranking) and Portland (307). Losing one of those games would be devastating to the Cougars’ NCAA Tournament resume. College basketball programs play under that constant pressure to win games they are supposed to win and as coaches often remind us, winning a college basketball game is never easy – unless you’re Gonzaga. Then you just average 95 points a game and win by 20 or 30 points.

Where it all starts

I know the 2021 football season feels like a very long way off, but the Cougars have some serious work to do in spring practice in a month.

There will be a lot of focus on the quarterback battle (my money is on Jaren Hall) but the biggest concern I see is the offensive line. Not only will the Cougars be replacing three starters in Brady Christensen, Tristen Hoge and Chandon Herring but as of today, BYU is still in the process of hiring a new offensive line coach. Maybe they go for another bright young guy like the departed Eric Mateos or perhaps someone with more experience, but whoever gets the job through BYU’s long, drawn-out hiring process will surely be under pressure to get something done in spring ball.

I think there is enough talent at the skill positions for the Cougars to be a good offensive team in 2021. Not on the level of 2020, but still good. However, the offensive line is where it all starts, the “tip of the spear” as former offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes used to say.

That’s all for now, but for this: I have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. I’m also deaf in one ear. You guess which one.

Mask up, have a great week and treat each other with kindness.

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

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