Brigham Young, despite its loss at New Mexico on Wednesday night, is one of only two teams in the nation with 20 victories. Yet no one outside of Provo or the Mountain West Conference seems to be noticing the type of season the Cougars are having.
Brigham Young is ranked 12th in this week’s Associated Press media poll and will likely drop a spot or two after losing by four points (76-72) on the road to the Lobos. The Cougars, though, are doing better in terms of objective analysis. The List has them No. 5 this week and they also are in the top 10 in various computer rankings.
However, coach Dave Rose isn’t sweating his team’s lack of recognition. After all, this is a man who overcame some pretty steep odds to beat pancreatic cancer over the summer. Having his team get fewer votes than it deserves seems pretty trivial after that.
“I don’t really concern myself with the polls,” Rose said. “What I do believe is we have a good team with an emphasis on team.. We’ve had to win games with help from a lot of different people. I think the guys on our roster are playing with a lot of confidence right now and I know our coaching staff has a lot of confidence in the guys on our roster. There are so many challenges each week during the season that we don’t really concern ourselves about what other people think. I think that’s the healthiest way to proceed through a season, just worry yourself and what you need to do to make the team better every day.”
Brigham Young is 11th in the nation with a 116.7 adjusted offensive efficiency rating and its 87.3 adjusted defensive efficiency rating is 16th. The Cougars also lead the nation in foul shooting at 77.6 percent, are seventh in effective field-goal percentage (56.2) and ninth in three-point shooting percentage (41.1).
Junior point guard Jimmer Fredette has stood apart from his teammates and just about every player in the nation this season. He is averaging 20.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 30.5 minutes a game despite contracting mononucleosis earlier this month. Fredette is 43rd nationally in percentage of possessions (30.5), 68th in true shooting percentage (62.9 percent), 73rd in offensive rating (122.2) and 77th in assist rate (31.3).
Rose, though, thinks the most amazing part of Fredette’s season has been his resiliency, especially in light of his illness. Fredette scored a school-record 49 points at Arizona on Dec. 28 before being sidelined and likely played in that game while in the early stages of mono. Yet he sat out just one game, an easy 95-49 victory over Division II Eastern New Mexico on Jan. 2.
“Jimmer is a very special player in so many ways,” Rose said.
Junior guard Jackson Emery has a 12.2/4.3/2.8/27.9 line and freshman forward Tyler Haws is averaging 12.1/4.6/1.5/28.8. Emery is fourth nationally with a 5.5 steal percentage, 24th with a 127.7 offensive rating, 26th with a 65.2 true shooting percentage and 29th with a 62.7 effective field goal percentage while Haws ranks 13th in true shooting percentage (67.1), 25th in offensive rating (127.6) and 41st in effective field goal percentage (61.7).
It was certainly not unexpected that Brigham Young would be good this season. The Cougars returned four starters from a team that won its third consecutive MWC regular-season title last season. However, even Rose has been impressed by the consistency of his team’s performance as Brigham Young’s only other loss came Dec. 2 at Utah State.
“We’ve played really well all year, and some games, at time we have played unbelievable well where we’ve got off to a good start, kept playing well and put teams away very early,” Rose said. “It seems we get ourselves in situations to win games no matter what the situation. Nothing seems to bother our kids and they don’t feel there is any obstacle too big to overcome.”
One thing Brigham Young has not been able to overcome is getting past the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars have gotten knocked out in their first game in their last seven appearances and haven’t won a game in the tourney since beating Southern Methodist in the first round in 1993.
Brigham Young has been to the last three dances but was beaten by Xavier in 2007 and Texas A&M each of the last two seasons.
“I think there are a lot of things you do at the start of the year to adjust your team so if you get in that situation you can be more successful,” Rose said. “I really believe some of the matchups we’ve had have been real physical challenges. We’ve tried to play a little bit bigger because of that at times this season with an eye on playing in March. For the most part, though, you can’t look that far ahead. For teams to get into the tournament from leagues like ours, you have to be consistently good all year long and that’s our challenge. We’ve played well all season but we have to continue to play well.”
Boeheim Sees Crowd of Contenders
The only other 20-win team is Syracuse. The Orange is 20-1 with its lone loss coming to Pittsburgh on Jan. 2.
Syracuse is No. 2 on The List this week behind only Kansas and more and more analysts are starting to believe the Orange has an outstanding chance to win the national championship. However, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim feels there are many who might win it all.
“I don’t think there is a clear No. 1 team right now,” Boeheim said. “There are a bunch of teams that are really good. Right behind them are a bunch of teams that can beat them. So, it’s very difficult to figure out what’s going in college basketball this season.”
Boeheim isn’t so sure that a handful of teams will break from the pack as it gets later in the season.
“I think any of the teams we’re talking about near the top have to feel like they can get to the Final Four,” Boeheim said. “If you feel like you can get to the Final Four then you have to feel you can win. The balance of college basketball is such that whoever is playing in the top 12, 14, 15 at the end of the year will have to feel they have a chance to win it all.”
Kent's Job in Danger?
Oregon coach Ernie Kent’s job seemed in jeopardy last year but he survived an 8-23 finish to return. However, the talk about Kent being on the way out has resurfaced in Eugene as the Ducks are 11-9, snapping a five-game losing streak Thursday night by rallying to beat UCLA 71-66 in overtime. The Ducks are 3-5 in the Pac-10 and in a three-way tie for last place with Oregon State and Washington.
First-year athletic director Mike Bellotti told the Eugene Register-Guard that he will not ready to pull the plug on Kent in the middle of the season. However, the former Ducks football coach said he will ponder Kent’s situation at season’s end.
“This is my first time doing this,” Bellotti said. “What you usually hear people say in my position is, 'We’ll evaluate it at the end of the season,’ and I think that’s wise advice and I should adhere to that.”
However, Bellotti did make it clear that he would like to see Oregon finish the season on a good note.
“As we go forward, I’m looking for a spark,” Bellotti said. “I want to see improvement, I want to see consistency and I want to see competitiveness, and I’ll evaluate all of that as we go through the entire season.”
Peterson Comes Full Circle
One of the more interesting and underreported stories of the season is developing at Appalachian State. The Mountaineers are 12-8 overall and 6-3 in the Southern Conference, where they are tied with Western Carolina for first place in the North Division.
What makes Appalachian State so intriguing is that Buzz Peterson has come full circle, returning to Boone, N.C., to coach the Mountaineers after spending the last two seasons as the player personnel director for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Peterson began his head coaching career at Appalachian State then moved on to Tennessee, where he was fired. After a stint at Coastal Carolina, Peterson was lured to the Bobcats by Michael Jordan, his close friend and teammate on North Carolina’s 1982 national championship team.
“I was in the airport the other day and a guy came up to me and said, ‘hey Buzz, why’d you give up a front office job in the NBA to coach college ball again?’” Peterson said. “He had a look on his face that made it clear he thought I was crazy. I’m sure a lot of people thought I was crazy to do this.”
However, Peterson had his reasons.
“I really enjoyed doing personnel work in the NBA because it was a very challenging job,” Peterson said. “At heart, though, I’ll always be a coach. I love being around the college kids, the student-athletes, watching them develop as players and people. It’s very rewarding. I’ve never done anything else in my life that I’ve enjoyed more than coaching. If it were up to me, we’d practice six days a week and scrimmage on Sunday. That’s how much I love it.”
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.