BYU Basketball 2013-14: What COULD Have Been


Photo Courtesy of Deseret News

Folks, we still have a good amount of time until the 2014 BYU football season kicks off, so bear with me for just a minute.

While I understand that the bitter hangover from the BYU basketball season is still looming, here is a little bit of insight that might give us frustrated Cougar fans some hope as we reflect back on this roller coaster of a season.

BYU had a good basketball team this year.  A dang good team.   Sometimes it is difficult to realize just how good a team we actually were, because there were so many puzzling, frustrating losses. I am curious as to how many broken coffee tables occurred in BYU fan homes this season.  Or broken remote controls.  Or punched walls.  Or kicked cats.

Despite whatever form of fan-venting catharsis that took place throughout this bi-polar basketball season, there was one thing that was evident:  When BYU actually showed up to play, they were good.  Dang good.

This BYU basketball theory was evident early on during the second game of the season in Palo Alto, CA.  This is clearly an example of a game that BYU actually showed up to play.  This was not a fluke.  BYU entered Maples Pavilion and completely dominated Stanford.  Yes, the same Stanford that is playing in the Sweet 16 this Thursday night against Dayton.  The same Stanford that just upset 2nd seeded Kansas last weekend.  The same Stanford that hadn’t allowed 100 points in a non-overtime game since beating Yale by 21 points in 1985.

How excited were you after that 112-103 win over the Cardinal?  How many of you realize that Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino combined for 57 points in that game?  How many of you realize that this was the game that Carlino earned the nickname “Matty Basketball” from the commentators.  I mean, golly, things were looking very good for our team.

Speaking of the Sweet 16, 3rd seeded Iowa State prepares to take on the Connecticut Huskies on Friday.  Yes, this is the same Iowa State team that BYU played in the Marriot Center back on November 20th.  And yes, this was a game that BYU should have won.  BYU led by as many as 12, and had several chances near the end of the game to wrap up an upset victory, but sloppy turnovers and poor decision making left BYU fans like myself knocking a napkin dispenser off the table at a local Firehouse Subs. [true story]

Nov 20, 2013; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Frank Bartley IV (24) shoots against Iowa State Cyclones forward Dustin Hogue (22) and guard Monte Morris (11) during the second half at Marriott Center. Iowa State Cyclones won 90-88. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

I believe that this game was a testament to how the rest of the season would play out for our team.  The Iowa State game was simply a tale of two halves, where the first half proved to be the BYU team that “showed up to play”, and the second half portrayed the team that tended to put on the brakes and settle for the infamous moral victory.  If BYU “shows up” in the second half and secures a win over Iowa State, the confidence and momentum would have carried on and the ammunition of that win for our resume would have been amplified.

BYU would go on to record another big win over the Texas Longhorns in the CBE Classic in Kansas City.  Texas is another NCAA Tournament team, coming in as a 7th seed and was a win away from the Sweet 16 after losing to Michigan last weekend.

The Cougars would then face undefeated and hyped Wichita State in the CBE Championship.  Remember how BYU jumped out to a 21-8 lead in the first 10 minutes of that game?  If you don’t remember, I don’t blame you, because it was very short-lived.  The Shockers would respond by going on a 20-2 run of their own.  Despite the Cougars taking a halftime lead, the 2nd half proved to be a half where BYU failed to show up, shooting 6-30 from the field and failing to make a field goal in the final 8 ½ minutes.  The Shockers would eventually win the game.

The season would start slipping downhill from there.  Despite getting a big win over Utah State at Energy Solutions Arena, BYU would drop games on the road at UMASS (another NCAA Tournament team), at Utah, and a heartbreaking overtime loss at undefeated Oregon—another game that BYU fans are still losing sleep over.  These were all losses against tough teams on the road that happened right before conference play would begin.

Good thing BYU would get a break and play some weaker teams for a change like Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine.  Oh wait.

Possibly the most puzzling point of the season was BYU heading down to Southern California to get embarrassed by Loyola Marymount—the worst team in the West Coast Conference, and Pepperdine.  Obviously, BYU is a better team than the LMU Lions, but going back to that theory about what happens when BYU doesn’t show up to play, the Cougars would pay a costly price.  Perhaps those two losses would be a wake up call for the rest of conference play.

BYU would proceed to see success for a majority of their remaining conference schedule.  The Cougars would go undefeated at home, including big wins over Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga.  The only three remaining losses would happen against Gonzaga in Spokane, and on the road at Portland and at Pacific.

BYU finishes in second place behind Gonzaga in the WCC standings with a conference record of 13-5.  The Bulldogs finish with a record of 15-3.

Mar 20, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Brigham Young Cougars players watch the clock wind down during the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament against the Oregon Ducks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

What if…

BYU getting embarrassed by last place Loyola Marymount, and then the three puzzling losses to Pepperdine, Pacific, and Portland (which I like to call: the three “Puzzling P’s”) continue to haunt me.  Those were four games that BYU should have easily won.  If the same BYU team that dominated Stanford, Texas, Utah State, Gonzaga, and Saint Mary’s shows up to play to their true potential against LMU and the Three Puzzling P’s, then there is no doubt in my mind that the Cougars walk out as winners.  If BYU wins those four games, then we would finish WCC conference play with a 17-1 record, which would guarantee us an outright regular season conference championship.  Winning 3 of those 4 games gives us the outright title.  Winning 2 gives us at least a share of the title with Gonzaga.  Are you beginning to comprehend WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN for the Cougars this year?

I’m not done.  If BYU wins those four winnable games, they would finish the regular season at 25-6 heading into conference tournament play.

I’m still not done.  If BYU can also secure wins over Iowa State and Oregon, two games that BYU had IN THE BAG, the Cougars would finish the regular season at 27-4.  Not even including conference tournament play, BYU would be guaranteed a high seed in the NCAA tourney with a very respectable resume of a regular season conference championship and several quality wins.

Jan 4, 2014; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Anson Winder (20) shoots a three point shoot against the San Diego Toreros during the second half at Marriott Center. Brigham Young Cougars won the game 87-53. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Why am I bringing up all of this speculation?  Wishful thinking doesn’t change the past.  I don’t have a flux capacitor that makes time travel possible.  What’s done is done.  I suppose I bring up all of this “woulda, coulda, shoulda” talk because I want BYU fans to realize that the 2013-14 BYU basketball team really was THAT CLOSE to being something special.  We had all of the potential in the world to being a team that was capable of winning 30 games this year.  It would be one thing if the big time opponents blew us out all season long, but we were a possession away from winning multiple games against quality teams.

If you get to know me, you will quickly learn that I am as pessimistic as anyone else out there.  I have been watching BYU sports for a long time now, and have experienced all of the heartbreaks with you.  But I have a normal, functioning brain.  I believe that I have some level of common sense.  I am serious when I say that this year’s BYU basketball team was fully capable of winning 30 games, including a regular season conference crown, and some post-season wins.  Call me crazy, I suppose.

As the hangover continues to loom after the sad loss to Oregon in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, I ask all the fans to genuinely reflect on this past season, and think about truly what could have been for this team.  BYU is a good team.  Dang good.

As Tupac Shakur once said, “Don’t cry.  You got to keep your head up.  Even when the road is hard, never give up.”

The future looks bright for BYU basketball.