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 men's basketball losses to good teams
1. The BYU men’s basketball lost four games to Final Four teams (Gonzaga and UCLA) and a fifth to a team that made the Elite Eight (USC). Does that really mean anything?
DICKSON: I’ve often thought that the difference between being a good team (BYU) and an elite team can be razor thin, so perhaps losing to such good teams can provide some incentive to reach for whatever you need to add to get to the top. Yes, BYU did have losses to some really good teams. But every one of those losses was by double digits — the USC game was a 26-point blowout. The Cougars showed up well in the first half of the WCC title game against top-ranked Gonzaga but ended up losing by 10. So I guess my point is BYU still has a ways to go to be able to compete with the top teams in the country.
LLOYD: I think what it shows is that the Cougars are good enough to compete with elite teams but that the 2020-21 team wasn’t good enough to beat those opponents. BYU didn’t have a lot of great wins really, with victories over San Diego State and Utah State being the best of the bunch. The Cougars competed with Gonzaga and weren’t terrible against UCLA, but as Darnell pointed out all of those losses were by double digits. The reality is that the Cougars have to get their game to another level to be elite and that didn’t happen this season.
2. Cougar hoops turnover
2. The Cougar men’s hoops program has already had four players enter the transfer portal. What does that say about how Mark Pope is approaching leading this team?
LLOYD: It really says a lot about the current atmosphere of college basketball. Players are moving like dominoes in a line and it is anyone’s guess about which ones are going to fall next. I admit that I’m a little surprised that Conner Harding, Jesse Wade and Wyatt Lowell decided to see what else was out there. Lowell was hurt this year, while the other two had the potential to step into gaps left by the expected departures of Brandon Averette and Alex Barcello. But Pope has worked with transfers throughout his career, so this is nothing new for him.
DICKSON: What it tells me is players want to play, regardless of what we hear about stuff like team chemistry and great locker rooms. It’s super hard to keep 15 scholarship players happy when it comes to minutes. Pope made a commitment to certain players for his rotation and the players that are in the transfer portal had to take a back seat. Jared is right, that’s the current atmosphere in college basketball and when the one-time transfer rule is approved by the NCAA it’s going to get even crazier.
3. BYU women's basketball's NCAA tournament
3. The BYU women’s basketball team was the last team to make the NCAA Tournament field but got a victory over Rutgers and nearly beat No. 3-seed Arizona, which is now in the Final Four. How big was that run for the Cougar program?
DICKSON: It will provide some great talking points for the coaches during the offseason. This team was up four on Arizona with five minutes to play. They were right there. That should provide a lot of incentive for the players in the offseason. By the way, it was refreshing to hear the comments by Jeff Judkins and his players after the game. They can’t wait to get back to work and go even further in next year’s tournament.
LLOYD: I loved seeing BYU play at the level I felt like they were capable of playing at all year long. The Cougars played with toughness and determination, which gave them a chance in both tournament games. I believe that experience is going to be big for the BYU players who return for next year. Many were underclassmen and others might consider returning after they were granted an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic. Depending on who comes back and with the core of Shaylee Gonzales and Lauren Gustin, this squad could be even better in 2021-22.
4. Lessons from BYU football spring camp
4. What did you learn about BYU football during spring camp?
LLOYD: I think anything that happens in March is often blown out of proportion. All college football teams are trying to get important work done but nothing matters until the fall. I did, however, see a team that seems to believe in the system that is in place. This is a group of Cougar players and coaches that are confident that the success of 2020 is sustainable, even though the schedule will likely be tougher in years to come. I also see BYU developing a lot of players to become contributors, which needs to pay dividends for those goals to become reality.
DICKSON: Practically nothing. Without any open practices, all we know is the names of the players and what position they play. Any information I got — or any information you got from your cousin’s nephew’s son who is on the team — is going to be biased. We really won’t know much about this team until Game 1. I do believe Kalani Sitake has the program where he wants it in terms of culture. That should go a long way in producing a good season in 2021.
5. Potential BYU sports April Fools jokes
5. In honor of Thursday being April Fools’ Day, what fake news could have gotten BYU sports fans excited?
DICKSON: Roy Williams is leaving North Carolina to join Mark Pope’s staff? Pope has signed a 20-year coaching contract? The No. 1 recruit in college football — defensive end Tuimoloau from Washington state — has chosen BYU? The NCAA is allowing Yoeli Childs, Jake Toolson and T.J. Haws to come back for a year?
LLOYD: There is a temptation to go big and start rumors that the Cougars are joining the Big 12 or the Pac-12, but I think those are far-fetched enough that most BYU supporters would immediately be suspicious. I think it would be far more believable to announce that the Cougar men’s basketball senior class of Alex Barcello, Matt Haarms and Brandon Averette had all announced they were returning for another season. There is still a chance, however slim, that such news could become reality. They have the extra year of eligibility and the season didn’t exactly end on a high note, so why not come back to make another run and maybe improve their pro chances? I could definitely see Cougar fans jumping all over that — until it came out that it was just another April Fools’ prank.