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. BYU hoops loss at Gonzaga
1. What was your takeaway from BYU men’s basketball’s loss at top-ranked Gonzaga?
DICKSON: I saw a team that didn’t compete well in the second half. Look, I’m not saying it’s easy to make a road trip to Spokane and play the No. 1 team in the country, but I just felt like the Cougars didn’t really have anything left in the tank in the second half. They were within seven or eight points and then — Boom! — the ‘Zags just turned on the jets. It’s what Mark Few’s teams have been doing for about a hundred years against WCC teams. They just have a gear other teams can’t match. I will be very interested to see if BYU can compete against Gonzaga in the Marriott Center, where the ‘Zags have won five straight games.
LLOYD: I saw the same thing that I saw when the Cougars played Kansas. This BYU team was good enough to be competitive for a half but right now simply lacks the depth and consistency to hang with an elite team like the Bulldogs for 40 minutes. I actually don’t think that it’s that bad of a place to be, considering all of the factors. A team with a healthy Yoeli Childs will be that much deeper and more dangerous (if that ever ends up happening) and could conceivably make a push to defeat a top opponent under the right circumstances. But Gonzaga is really good as always and that means the margin for error is very slim.
2. Cougar men's basketball on the road
2. The Cougar hoops squad has a pair of big road games this week at Pacific and at San Francisco. What do you think BYU’s record will be?
LLOYD: I’m going to have to stick with the trend we’ve already seen from the Cougars and say that BYU ends up with a solid win and an overtime loss. Doesn’t that sound familiar? The Cougars have played five road games and lost four of them — three of which game in extra time (Boise State, Utah and Saint Mary’s). I think BYU goes out and plays well at Pacific on Thursday but then struggles against the Dons on Saturday, giving up another late lead as San Francisco ties things up at the end of regulation. Once again, the Cougars make too many mistakes in the extra frame and end up with a loss — although it wouldn’t be a devastating defeat, since San Francisco is ranked No. 99 in the NET rankings.
DICKSON: It’s got to be 2-0. We all know the issues BYU has faced with Yoeli Childs missing games due to the NCAA suspension and then with the finger injury. But it’s time for the Cougars to show what kind of team they really are. A split or two losses on this road trip puts BYU in a very bad situation, regardless of its metrics with the NET ranking, KenPom, etc. For a team from a mid-major conference dominated by Gonzaga, BYU has to find a way to separate itself from the Pacifics and San Franciscos of the league. If not, it could be the NIT for Mark Pope’s first year.
3. BYU women's basketball improvement
3. The BYU women’s basketball team has rallied for some nice wins recently. What has been the key for the Cougars to get things going in the right direction?
DICKSON: The adjustment period for BYU learning to play without Shaylee Gonzalez was a little longer than I expected. But it finally seems as if Brenna Chase Drollinger and Paisley Johnson have figured out their roles in terms of playing and leadership. It’s helpful that someone like Kaylee Smiler can step up and fill in for Johnson against Saint Mary’s in a big road win. The Cougars have one of the most unique players in the conference in Sara Hamson, who had 15 blocks in the two road wins last week. The name of the game is confidence. The more confident players you have, the better you will be.
LLOYD: It’s been great to see BYU have players step up to the challenge during the three-game Cougar winning streak — although it hasn’t always been the same players. Against San Diego, it was all about players clamping down on the Toreros to grind out the win. In overtime at Pacific, BYU got huge games from Paisley Johnson (31 points) and Sara Hamson (8 blocked shots). The 10-point win at Saint Mary’s was highlighted by a brilliant performance from Kaylee Smiler (19 points, six rebounds), a player who had only tallied 12 points total in the rest of the season combined. It’s taken a while for the Cougars to get players to understand exactly how to be most effective this season but I think BYU is beginning to have that fall into place.
4. BYU football scheduling
4. Should BYU football fans view scheduling games against big-time opponents more positively or more negatively?
LLOYD: Darnell broke down some of the numbers with regards to what the Cougars have historically done against Top 25 competition in his “Inside Darnell’s Head” column this week. Yet one thing that stood out to me was how many more opportunities BYU has had in recent years to play teams that ended up in the final polls. During his 29-year coaching career, LaVell Edwards faced 45 such teams (10-34-1) or under two such games per year. In four years as head coach, Kalani Sitake has played 11 such teams (1-10) or nearly three such games per season. I view that has a huge positive because it means the Cougars have opportunities to get big wins. Wins over mediocre opponents just kind of fade into the background, although losses to such teams certainly have their own sting. But I’m not the type of fan who just wants meaningless wins. Give me some hard losses and some big wins instead of just a string of mediocre victories. That way if you do get a great team you get to make some real noise and you are prepared for high-level competition if you ever join a top-level league. One more point I think is worth noting: Do you know what Edwards’ record against Top 20 opponents was in his first four seasons? 0-4. Sitake already has one more win than Edwards did at the same point in their careers.
DICKSON: The problem with independence is that some things work really well. The financial aspect of the ESPN contract is great and getting teams such as USC and Washington to LaVell Edwards Stadium is really cool. Everything is set up for success. Yet BYU simply can’t win enough games with a P5 loaded schedule to make a dent in the polls. The Cougars still don’t have the resources to compete regularly with P5 teams in terms of recruiting and depth. It’s very plain to see that injuries devastated what could have been a 10 or even 11-win season for BYU last season. Every year it seems to be the same story. I’m sure Cougar fans love to see games against P5 competition in Provo or travel to places such as Tennessee, Michigan State and (once upon a time) Notre Dame. But in the long run, I really believe that Tom Holmoe is over-scheduling and we’re going to see the same disappointing finish every season because of it.
5. BYU ties to the Super Bowl
5. Which Super Bowl participant with BYU ties are you rooting for most: San Francisco linebacker Fred Warner, Kansas City safety Daniel Sorensen or Kansas City head coach Andy Reid?
DICKSON: I’m rooting for Reid to win so he can retire from the NFL and one day take over the BYU program, and I’m rooting for Sorensen and Warner to become free agents so they can go play for my team (the Dallas Cowboys) and take them to the Super Bowl.
As much as I appreciate Warner as a person and a very good NFL player, I could never root for the 49ers. I’d have to forfeit my Cowboy fandom if I did. I have always hated, hated, hated the 49ers and probably always will. I’ve never been much of a Chiefs fan but I will be for the Super Bowl.
LLOYD: It’s hard to go against Andy Reid, who has been such a class act for so long but never gotten to the top of the profession by winning the big one. I’m a huge supporter of Fred Warner. I enjoyed working with him regularly at BYU and have been thrilled to see him be such a big-time performer for the 49ers. But I’ve got to admit that the Kansas City connection is just too much for me to ignore. I don’t know what Daniel Sorensen’s future is with the Chiefs but I think San Francisco is a lot more committed to Warner. That doesn’t mean Sorensen couldn’t have a Kyle Van Noy-type move where he goes to a perennial Super Bowl contender but it’s much more uncertain. I’d love to see a hard-working, blue-collar guy like Sorensen get rewarded with a title — which of course would mean Reid would get one as well. That combination makes me lean just slightly on the side of Kansas City.