When UConn won the National Championship on Monday night in North Texas over Kentucky, it left an empty feeling for me. Why you ask? UConn was underwhelming to me. Yes, the Jim Calhoun-led Husky teams in past years were terrific, but this Kevin Ollie group with Shabazz Napier leaves you wanting more. This is not the start to a dynasty like the media is trying to push. It’s more of a statement to where College Basketball is today. A seven and an eight-seed battled it out for a national championship. Two marquee programs, but those blue-bloods received those seeds for a reason. They were teams outside of the top 25 heading into March, and an afterthought for National Championship glory.
The emptiness continued to grow when I saw CBS’ iconic One Shining Moment montage after UConn’s victory. The whole time I was thinking, will BYU Basketball ever have a one shining moment? The initial reaction by most reading this is probably, no way! BYU needs better athletes to compete at the highest level. But think about it. Would you honestly be shaking in your boots if this past BYU Basketball team, with a healthy Kyle Collinsworth, took on UConn in the Marriott Center or on a neutral court? I wouldn’t. Is there that big of a gap between BYU and teams that win National Championships nowadays?
Look at how much college basketball has changed over the last five years. Programs like Wichita State and Gonzaga are pulling down #1 seeds in the tournament, and VCU’s and Butlers of the world are reaching the Final Four. Why not BYU Basketball?
The history of BYU Football is well documented and ingrained in the minds of Cougar faithful everywhere. But sometimes I think people forget how great BYU Basketball has been over the years.
BYU Football has promoted “four decades of winning” in recent years. Since 1972, BYU Football is fifth in the country for most wins. An incredible stat when you think about how many great programs there are in college football, and BYU is right there with the who’s who of the sport over the past 40+ years. But look at BYU Basketball too. The Cougar Cagers can say they’ve had six decades of winning, and that’s definitely not including the 90’s.
BYU hoops has known success long before “The Jimmer” was around. Shocking, I know, for many people who became BYU Basketball fans after Jimmermania took off. BYU is 14th all-time in college basketball for wins with 1713, and they have won 60% of their games dating back to 1903. Imagine where the winning percentage would be if you took away the 97 & 98 seasons where BYU won a total of 10 games. That 60% includes those years.
BYU Basketball is a program that has only known winning. But they’ve never won at the biggest stages so people overlook their success. If you don’t make runs in March, no one cares about November thru February in college basketball. It’s the cold hard truth in this sport.
So, the question again, will BYU ever have one shining moment in hoops?
They definitely could. A program with 28 NCAA Tournament appearances on their resume should have a Final Four appearance already in their back pocket. But unfortunately they don’t. They hold the dubious title of being the team with the most NCAA Tournament appearances without a Final Four. Like a 16-seed eventually beating a 1-seed, BYU reaching the Final Four is bound to happen one day, right? It’s going to happen one year. But it’ll take a team with an attitude that is fearless and not afraid of the big stage.
The 2011 team had that with Jimmer Fredette. But we all know what happened with Brandon Davies being suspended, and of course a rematch was looming with Florida.
Aside from the Jimmermania, I loved that 2011 season because they were all fearless. They didn’t fold to the pressure. BYU was a team that year who was considered the best in the land, and they just kept getting better and better until Davies was suspended. Yes, Jimmer Fredette is once in a lifetime player, and having a guy like him makes it easier to be a confident ball club each night. But there’s no reason these teams since the Jimmer years, can’t show that same confidence. People forget there was a time “The Jimmer” was riding the pine behind Ben Murdock as a freshman at point guard. Did I agree with that decision at the time? Not really of course. But once the Cougars got down to the hot-hand of Josh Carter and Texas A&M, 23-2 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament the Jimmer era finally took off, and we were all better for it. I still get reminded of that poor decision on the Murdock Hyundai commercials here in Salt Lake. But I digress.
Had this past years team displayed the confidence and leadership like the 2011 team did, BYU would have won a WCC title, received a higher seed in the big dance, and hey, they probably would have advanced. Instead we saw a ball club who had no fire during games, and it led to questionable losses to the likes of Pepperdine, LMU, Portland, and Pacific.
But lets go back to the emptiness we all felt from UConn winning the National Championship on Monday night. The Huskies had an attitude about them, a chip on their shoulder to prove all of the doubters wrong. When can you honestly say you saw a BYU team play with a chip, or an edge? I’ve been watching BYU hoops for 20 years now, and I can tell you I’ve never seen it like those Huskies had throughout this tournament.
People that make the argument that talent will ultimately be the issue for BYU. On paper, they are getting more talent than the program has ever seen. And hey, look at UConn’s roster. The Huskies had ZERO McDonald’s All-Americans on this team. Look past the name on the front of the jersey. This wasn’t your Khalid El-Amin and Rip Hamilton squad. Heck, this Husky team couldn’t hold the jock of the Kemba Walker team in 2011, and we all saw how much of a juggernaut those Huskies were against Butler in the National Championship game. This was a bunch of role players who captured the highest honor in college hoops. BYU on the other hand had a pre-season Wooden Award candidate in Tyler Haws, a diaper dandy in the post in Eric Mika, one of the most versatile players in the game with Kyle Collinsworth, and a terrific head coach in Dave Rose. Yet the Cougars were done before the evening games on the first Thursday in the round of 64.
If BYU ever wants to have a one shining moment, it’s going to come down to attitude. And not just on the court. The attitude has to be on display in all facets of the program. BYU needs to act like a big-time program everyday. In games to facilities, salaries, apparel, recruiting budgets, and always looking to get the best talent on their team. Act big-time and take this program to new heights. Look at the University of Oregon, the Ducks are now a national brand in college sports because they act big-time on and off the field of play. Yeah, BYU doesn’t have a Phil Knight in their corner, but there’s no reason a program like BYU should be behind the eight ball in anything.
On paper, BYU’s best chances to get their one shining moment will be from 2016-2019. All the Lone Peak stars will be in the program during those years.
The past two recruiting classes Dave Rose and staff have put together have been ranked as Top 20 classes by national recruiting websites. ESPN’s Sean Farnham even said in the BYU-Texas game earlier in the year, that he feels BYU will be a Final Four team with the Lone Peak stars in the program. There will be a ton of expectations placed on all of those guys, but expectations are good for a program looking to become a national player.
Time will tell on how good those signees are, but their pedigrees in high school are impressive. But like I said, it’ll take more than just talent for BYU to get that One Shining Moment. It’ll come down to an attitude and a commitment that BYU Basketball is ready to become a big-time program. When they do that, get ready for Luther Vandross to serenade the Cougars moment.