Tough nonconference schedule pays off for tenth-seeded BYU
I've covered the BYU basketball program for six seasons now Jimmer Fredette's sophomore season (2008-09) was my first as the full-time beat writer and I don't know if I have ever seen coach Dave Rose as happy as he was tonight at the Cougars' press conference at the Marriott Center. Rose was animated and clearly excited after BYU received a 10 seed for the NCAA Tournament. "Our coaching staff is excited, our players are thrilled. We look forward to the next few days," Rose said in his opening statement.
How did the Cougars (23-11) get such a favorable seed after they lost five WCC regular-season games? It has to start with their rugged non-conference schedule. No question, the Selection Committee rewarded Rose and the Cougars for playing one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country. The committee showed that by leaving out SMU, the first team that was currently in the top-25 to be left out since Utah State in 2004. The Mustangs played the 129th most difficult schedule in the country, and they paid for it. I asked Rose if he put together the schedule with the committee in mind. "I don't know if we knew exactly, but I had quite a few discussions with our staff when we were scheduling the games, because I wanted the games, and I felt like our schedule was pretty well put together, and we were just trying to finalize the last few games, and in years past we would kind of take the ones that fit the best for us to win, and this year we didn't. We took two road games. We took a road game at Stanford, we took a road game at UMass [Actually at Springfield, Mass.], which we will get them both in the Marriott Center next year. That will be terrific for us. But we were able to win one of them. The Utah game is part of a series. The Oregon game was part of a series that was delayed until this year. So that was coincidence, I guess. But any time you get in those exempt tournaments, you have a chance to play some really good teams. We got Texas and Wichita State, and it turned out they both had terrific seasons. Next year we will be in the Maui Classic, and we will have three good games there. You look at the field and it is really quality teams. We didn't finish the schedule last year in a normal way. We waited and took some really tough games, and I think it really paid off." Rose said scheduling is part art, part science, and that it took the staff some time to figure it out when they joined the WCC three years ago. "The first time with the league change a couple years ago, and your schedules are out a year or two, we really decided that we are going to change the model to a certain extent. And we really challenged our team. We got a couple of those games, but quite a few of them got away from us. The two overtime games, the overtime game at Oregon and the overtime game at Portland in league, those are things that you always want to get back. I just believe these guys went through a really difficult schedule in the non-conference, and I am really glad to see that they were rewarded for it." Here are more of Rose's comments, especially some of those that weren't in the first few minutes of his 15-minute chat with media members on Sunday: On what the expectation was before Selection Sunday and if he sweated this one out:"When we left Las Vegas disappointed in the championship result, we had just lost to a 20-RPI team [Gonzaga], and we are leaving Las Vegas in the high-20s, low-30s. When you look at it from that point of view, we looked at it like we actually felt like we had the chance. We will just have to see how the next three or four or five days turn out. I have never actually really been through this, as far as studying what everybody has to say, and watching games. But this year, I got pretty involved. And I thought our numbers were good, and Thursday was a good day, Friday was an even better day, and Saturday was a great day as far as how the rest of the teams played out. So I actually when you just look at the numbers and the sheets and you take the names off the sheets, felt pretty good. We had a chance. Then you listen to everybody, and it seemed consistent that we were going to be the last team in, and end up in Dayton. I was just hoping that was true. Then to see how it turned out, our guys, we were really excited when we saw the committee's decision and the results. Just really looking forward to it."On how much he followed Oregon after they lost to them in overtime: "Well, I actually followed them, because they came to Utah right after Christmas, and got an overtime win here, then they went on a skid and lost quite a few games in a row. There were a lot of comments during that skid from our staff, that we played them close. If we had got a win and their numbers kept dropping the way that they did, it would have been more of a disappointment. I tried to explain to them that there is nothing more disappointing than losing in overtime to a team. But then they really caught fire, and they are playing really well right now. I anticipate that it should be a really good game."On not having Kyle Collinsworth for the tournament and how that changes the team: "Well, we practiced a couple times now without Kyle, and basically I have said this for quite awhile about why I am so proud of this team, because of how resilient they have been over the year. We have reinvented ourselves a couple of times. When we came back from our first road trip in league, and made an adjustment to our starting lineup. And after the Saint Mary's game, made another adjustment. We have found different ways to make this work with our guys, and we are going to have to do that again. I think the real positive thing that we can hang our hat on here and expect good results is that we are trying to reinvent this group with experienced guys. Matty is a guy who has played a lot of minutes, and will play a lot more at the point. Anson is a guy who is a fourth-year junior. He's been here a lot and we depend a lot on him. But it is going to give Skyler Halford probably more minutes, and he played well in the middle of the year for us, so we are not [inexperienced]. And we will get Frank Bartley the opportunity that he had in the non-conference schedule, when he was really a factor for us. So we will look to Josh Sharp for some of the rebounding issues. Those guys I think you can tell from the practices that they are really excited for the opportunity. The whole team is disappointed for Kyle, and for how that effects us. Moving forward, we will try to reinvent ourselves maybe one more time." On having to reinvent themselves in 2011 after Brandon Davies was out and whether that helps: "Well, the main thing is the character of the players. We will draw on the fact that these are quality guys. And they are talented players. And we need to find their best basketball right now. Hopefully in the next three days we can as a coaching staff motivated them to the point where they feel really confident, they feel really comfortable in this setting. These light are bright in this tournament. That's the beautiful thing about playing in the NCAA Tournament is that it feels really special. It is different, and hopefully your guys can perform at their best in those bright lights." On whether they will miss Kyle and how much:"We will really miss him. He has been so positive in his approach, and feels really confident in his situation, as far as being able to get the injury repaired and get into a routine that will prepare him for next year. From a guy who has been through the experience I missed a year between my junior and senior year those are tough times mentally and hopefully our team and I know our team will support him. But we will miss his presence because he's got really great leadership skills, and our team has really relied on him." On the season's ups and downs:"I remember the flight from UMass, and how I felt for those guys, because they played their hearts out. They played a really good team, flew across the country and got beat. I remember the locker room in Eugene. I remember our locker room after the Iowa State game here. And these guys were challenged. But they had a lot of disappointment in that challenge. The locker room in Kansas City against Texas, the locker room at Stanford, the locker room after the Wichita State game in Kansas City, and what I really like about this team is that they are really close together, but they are not afraid to show their emotions, their emotions to each other. But I think that has helped our team grow. What I really wanted was to be together as a group at our house, and however it went that they could experience those emotions with the players themselves. I really like the way it felt."On what the feeling is like this year going into the tournament compared to other years:"They are all so exciting. I mean, this is the seventh invitation for us, and they've all been invitations, because we haven't been able to win the conference tournament, but I know from the reaction of our guys, there's no regrets at all. They are just so excited about the opportunity and looking forward to the game."On taking pictures at center court of NCAA Tourney:"I was sitting in my office yesterday thinking I need to find those. Because we need to frame those and put them somewhere. And now we got one more. â¦ We got a lot of space in the locker room and the hallways and up in the office. I think our guys should be really proud of seven trips."On Luke Worthington and director of basketball operations Cody Fueger being happy to go back to their home states:"Cody is really excited to be going home. We asked Luke if he had sold his place yet. Maybe we could stay there. They've actually moved to Florida. It has been a really good couple hours. Guys are really excited, and so is the staff. You never want to act too excited because you have to go play the game. And the game is going to be a real challenge. But the feel of everybody is, 'we are up for it. Let's go do it.'