Will Loss At Pepperdine Cost BYU Basketball An NCAA Tournament Bid?

Jan 27, 2021, 10:41 PM | Updated: 10:42 pm
BYU Basketball - Mark Pope...
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Mark Pope calls to his players during the game against the Nevada Wolf Pack at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – It never fails, but anytime BYU basketball loses a game to a team not named Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s, the hot takes begin to fly about BYU’s NCAA Tournament chances.

That was the case on Wednesday afternoon after BYU dropped a matinee special against Pepperdine, 76-73. A game that saw BYU lead by 11 points in the second half to a Waves team that was 6-7 overall entering the rare afternoon tilt.

The loss marked the first setback against a Quadrant 3 opponent in the Mark Pope era. Does it beg the question, are BYU’s chances of going to the NCAA Tournament suddenly doomed?

The short answer: No.

Too-early to panic

Despite their record, Pepperdine is a good team. Don’t be surprised if the Waves reel off many victories in the coming weeks before the conclusion of the season and their NET ranking, BPI, and KenPom start to climb the rankings in the rankings.

Watching BYU basketball throughout its entire time in the West Coast Conference era that dates back to 2011, this year’s Pepperdine roster might be the most talented non-Gonzaga/Saint Mary’s team BYU has faced in this league. They are good. There’s a reason Mark Pope had sleepless nights about trying to stop Lorenzo Romar’s squad. They have talent, something that can’t always be said about every WCC team.

Far too often, people look at the name on the front of the jersey and assume BYU should roll in a game. Conference games are always tricky. That’s what makes Gonzaga’s dominance so remarkable.

That still doesn’t excuse the loss for BYU. The Cougars were a favorite coming in, and they had a big lead in the second half, they had to finish the job.

Going into the trip to Malibu, BYU was rising up Bracketology projections everywhere. According to Bracket Matrix, they were viewed as a nine-seed. With this loss, those forecasts will dip a bit in the coming days. But BYU still has a pair of Quad 2 games against Saint Mary’s and Loyola Marymount remaining. Along with the home finale against No. 1 Gonzaga.

Where was the toughness from BYU Basketball?

The problem for BYU is that their toughness, which won the weekend in the Bay Area, was non-existent down the stretch against Pepperdine. On one possession late in the second half, Pepperdine came away with three offensive rebounds and four shots on the basket.

“They were more physical than us, which should never happen. Especially with our team this year,” said BYU’s Kolby Lee. “We have a lot of big bodies on this team, and it’s just, not acceptable honestly. We’ve got to look within ourselves and respond.”

BYU head coach Mark Pope, who isn’t used to losing games as BYU’s head man against sub-100 teams, was not thrilled with his performance as a coach.

“I was putting my guys in bad situations, and that’s it,” said Pope. “I’m putting my guys in situations where they’re trying to penetrate in the game when there is no gap, and you know, that’s a bad idea on my side. I’m getting guys post catches in the wrong position with the wrong matchups, so that causes a little bit of a problem.”

Rebounding down the stretch and turnovers sunk BYU. But the good news for the Cougars is they can’t get down and out about the game as they once again have a game lined up on Saturday as Pacific comes to the Marriott Center in replace of San Francisco is currently on pause due to COVID-19.

As of today, BYU is still going to be an NCAA Tournament team. The problem is that they have a smaller margin for error in the future between now and the regular-season finale against Gonzaga. It might take another big winning streak as they had last season, where they won their final nine games in the regular season to secure an at-large bid.

But there’s no reason for panic in late January over BYU’s postseason chances.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.

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