The Daily Herald’s BYU sports experts Jared Lloyd and Darnell Dickson weigh in on five of the biggest questions facing the Cougars this week:
1. Impact of BYU hoops loss at San Francisco
1. How big of an impact did the BYU men’s basketball loss at San Francisco have on the Cougar hopes of making the NCAA tournament?
DICKSON: Surprisingly, the metrics indicate BYU is even better off after the loss. The Cougars moved up to No. 19 in the KenPom ratings, their highest spot since January 2012. What we’ll find out on Thursday is what kind of emotional and mental impact the loss had on BYU. Will the players doubt themselves or will they attack Pepperdine with renewed energy? If I’m basing it on what I saw in practice on Wednesday, I’d go with the latter. The Cougars (and Coach Pope) are not real happy right now.
LLOYD: Like Darnell pointed out, I don’t think the defeat hurts BYU from a metrics standpoint but I see an underlying issue as being a big concern. This Cougar squad for whatever reason has really had a tough time closing out close games. BYU is just 3-5 in games decided by five points or less, including three overtime losses. I know injuries have had an impact but those moments are the gritty times when teams have to play with who they’ve got available and still find ways to win. Against the Dons, the Cougar free throw shooting wasn’t good enough in the final seconds and that’s a bad sign. My worry isn’t that BYU’s most recent loss will hurt as much as that the Cougars will find themselves in a similar position against a West Coast Conference team that isn’t as good and will let the game slip through their fingers. That’s the type of thing that could keep BYU out of the Big Dance.
2. Biggest challenge for Cougar hoops this week
2. What do you think the biggest challenge is for the Cougar hoops squad in hosting Pepperdine and Saint Mary’s this weekend?
LLOYD: One of the great things about BYU basketball this year is that other than the loss to San Diego State when the game got away from the Cougars at the end, this team has been very good at defending its home court. But this week takes that to a new level as BYU is facing two teams that won’t be intimidated by coming to Provo. Saint Mary’s has had success at the Marriott Center in the past and will be confident it can do so again. I want to see BYU be the aggressor, be the team that comes out ready and puts the opponent on its heels. If the Cougars let either the Gaels or Pepperdine hang around, then the pressure ramps up on BYU.
DICKSON: It’s got to be on the defensive end. Once again the Cougars are facing way different offenses this weekend. Pepperdine has really good athletes who will push tempo and go hard to the basket. Saint Mary’s will execute you to death. For BYU the commitment on the defensive end always has to be to the team concept to get it done. The Cougars were really good defensively against Pacific last week and won. They were bad defensively against San Francisco — for about seven minutes, anyway — and lost.
3. BYU men's volleyball vs. UCSB
3. BYU men’s volleyball faces a pair of big matches against No. 3-ranked UCSB this weekend. How do you think the Cougars will do?
DICKSON: It’s an interesting matchup because BYU is big and powerful, whereas UCSB is a smaller team that relies on quickness. It’s been a few weeks since the Cougars played at home, so I expect a pretty big crowd in the Smith Fieldhouse. This is probably Shawn Olmstead’s most talented team since the 2017 squad that reached the NCAA Finals.The Gauchos are a very good team but I believe the Cougars will take care of business at home.
LLOYD: This is one of the big-time matchups I’ve been waiting for. I liked how BYU went to Irvine, California, and beat the Anteaters in two straight matches — but UCSB presents a different challenge. This Gauchos squad finds ways to score in a variety of ways and it will definitely force the Cougars to be crisp. BYU better not come out flat or UCSB will jump on them in a hurry. That said, I don’t think this is a Cougar team that overlooks anyone. I think BYU will be up for the challenge and will get two wins, although I won’t be surprised if the Gauchos push the Cougars to five sets in one of the matches.
4. BYU track indoor successes
4. The Cougar track team has had a great indoor season with a couple of school records getting broken. What has impressed you the most?
LLOYD: There is something pretty special about going out and breaking a 10-year-old record at home. That’s what Jaslyn Gardner did earlier in January at the BYU Invitational. Gardner set a new school record in the 60m dash with a time of 7.39 seconds, breaking the record previously held by Mindy Neeley McClurkin since 2010. Gardner is now the record-holder in both the indoor 60m and outdoor 100m. I look forward to seeing her continue to have big contributions throughout the rest of the indoor season and the outdoor season as well.
DICKSON: Whittni Orton broke the BYU indoor mile record by nearly five seconds at the Dr. Sander Invitational in New York last weekend. Are you kidding me? This is a sport where records are broken by 10ths or 100ths of a second. That high-altitude training is really paying off for the Cougars, right?
5. BYU football pitch to recruits
5. BYU football will wrap up the 2020 recruiting class on Feb. 5. What do you think is the strongest pitch for the Cougars this year?
DICKSON: It’s anybody’s guess what pegs the needle for 17 and 18-year old athletes these days. Playing time? Uniforms? P5 opponents? Nike swag? Cute girls on campus? Hey, BYU provides a quality education, but I don’t imagine many recruits who held out until the second signing day are thinking about readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic right about now. BYU’s pitch has to be about winning and that there are better days ahead than 7-6. If they can sell that, they’ll get the kids they need.
LLOYD: BYU always has to sell being BYU first and foremost, of course. It’s a unique place and student-athletes have to want that experience. This Cougar football program can certainly talk up having a big-time schedule and playing games both on national TV and all over the country. In my opinion, however, the biggest pitch for BYU is that anyone who earns it will be on the field, regardless of year in school or previous experience. The Cougars have played a ton of freshman in each of the last two years and there is no reason to think that guys in this year’s class will change that trend. If you are a competitive athlete, it’s compelling to know that if you come in, work hard and prove yourself you’re going to earn playing time. With these types of schedules, BYU needs as many players as it can ready to go.