Forget the Final Four. Will BYU even win an NCAA tournament game?
In their first game since the dismissal of sophomore center Brandon Davies, the No. 3 Cougars were drilled by New Mexico, 82-64. At home. That not only put serious doubt on the possibility of a No. 1 seed, but could make you wonder if they’ll be able to handle their first-round matchup as well.
That’s the instant reaction to an 18-point loss. But it’s awfully premature.
This was two days after the team learned Davies –the team’s leading rebounder, third-leading scorer and most reliable post presence – would be gone for the rest of the year. Their emotional state must have affected their performance, not to mention the fact that the Lobos have swept BYU the last two seasons.
Combine those two facts and it’s not hard to see why the Cougars (28-3, 13-2) were just 20 of 58 from the field and 5 of 25 from beyond the arc (just days after hitting 14 vs. San Diego State).
Jimmer Fredette, the nation’s leading scorer, had 33 points but his shot was off, missing 17 of 26 shots and eight of his nine 3-point attempts. Supporting scorers Jackson Emery and Charles Abouo had just 20 points. In fact, pretty much every Cougar stunk.
“It was everything,” Fredette said. “We didn’t play well. They shot the ball very well. They played very good.”
But there’s time for them to rebound.
Give the coaching staff a few days. They have major lineup changes and defensive adjustments to make without Davies’ presence. Let the players get back into a rhythm before completely dismissing their chances in the Big Dance. (Adding to that notion was coach Dave Rose saying he thought Davies would play hoops again at BYU. This year is another story.)
“We found a lineup that we were really comfortable playing, a lineup we started the (previous) 20 games,” Rose said. “Now we need to find the next comfortable lineup. Tonight we could not find it.”
After all, BYU has Fredette – he of the phenomenal moments – and a roster filled with guards capable of heating up from outside. They’ll almost certainly drill Wyoming on Saturday and should be able to reach the MWC tournament title game, which would result in a No. 2 or 3 seed in the Big Dance.
A few favorable matchups in the NCAA tournament against teams without much size and you could see the Cougars shoot themselves into the second weekend.
Provided New Mexico’s not around…
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.