LAS VEGAS – Under most every realistic scenario, the BYU basketball team has known its postseason destination for the last several weeks.
In what has become a too familiar situation, the Cougars are again bound for the consolation tournament, otherwise known as the NIT. This is not the goal for a program with the stature of BYU, even though the Cougars are presumably going there for the third consecutive season.
Unlike the two previous trips, however, this one seems a little different. The third time, with a roster devoid of any seniors, BYU has should be able to build off of this.
For sure, BYU is not close to Gonzaga’s level and has not been in the seven years since the two programs got together in the West Coast Conference. The sixth-ranked Bulldogs again proved superior, beating BYU 74-54 to win another WCC championship, their sixth straight, Tuesday at the Orleans Arena.
But, in reality, these two teams are not competing against each other for the same prize. The nationally prominent Bulldogs are aiming for second consecutive trip to the Final Four, a place that BYU has never been and rarely threatens to make a serious run at.
The Cougars, who needed to beat San Diego and Saint Mary’s to make this season’s WCC Championship, are looking for a return to the level the program enjoyed in the years preceding their exit from the Mountain West Conference. Many of those seasons ended with an appearance in the only March Madness that matters.
For now, the rally cry has to be, wait until next year.
In a desperately needed move, coach Dave Rose revamped the program’s philosophy this season. No longer were the Cougars content to play with a fast pace, which often resulted in out-of-control shots and no accountability on defense.
This season, for the most part, BYU ran a real offense, designed for efficiency rather compiling a bunch of miscast shot attempts. The difference was noticeable.
With stalwarts Elijah Bryant and Yoeli Childs returning to play together for another season, foundation pieces are there to break the NIT streak and get back in the real tournament. The task now is to fill in the pieces with better support players.
In Bryant and Childs, BYU has its best two-man combination since Jimmer Fredette and Brandon Davies. Both players should form the most potent nucleus in the WCC next season this side of whatever Gonzaga produces.
Coming off an injury-riddled season as a sophomore, Bryant responded with a sensational junior campaign. The complete nature of his game has made him the best guard to play at BYU since Fredette won national player of the year in the program’s last season in the Mountain West in 2010-11.
With another offseason to hone his game, Bryant should return and immediately become a dominant force. No doubt he has a future earning a living in this game in some league on this planet.
The upside for Childs is has high as any BYU player in recent memory. Only a sophomore, Childs had a breakout performance in the WCC tournament.
In BYU’s thrilling upset over Saint Mary’s in the semifinals, Childs outperformed WCC player of the year and national All-American candidate Jock Landale. The Bingham High product dominated the game with a career-high 33 points and showed an uncanny ability to rebound and play defense despite being an undersized power forward at 6-feet, 6-inches.
To BYU’s excitement, Childs is barely scratching the surface of his ability. In another two years, he will go down as an all-time BYU great.
For BYU to meet expectations, Rose has to find a way to keep his role players in the program. Over the last several years, in what has become an epidemic in college basketball, far too many players have left the program in search of greater glory.
With a little luck and health, BYU basketball can improve its fortunes.