BYU has a proud basketball tradition. It was the first team to recruit an international player. It's ranked as the 41st best program in Division I history in ESPN's mammoth College Basketball Encyclopedia. The Cougars and Danny Ainge put themselves in college hoops lore forever on this play. But BYU hasn't won a tournament game since 1993, when it beat Southern Methodist 80-71 as a 7-seed.
The Cougars got rocked by eventual national-runner-up Kansas in the second round that year, 90-76, and it's been all downhill in March since. BYU's made it back to the dance seven times without walking back as winners to the locker room. If you're like me, you've picked a strong, disciplined BYU team in that 8/9 game in recent memory, only to be foiled.
It's probably fair to say the Cougars are thrilled to not be placed in yet another 8/9 game this year (just missed!) and don't have to face Texas A&M again, which happened the past two years. In 2007, it was Xavier in the 8/9 game, and BYU lost 79-77. A fresh start, and probably the best team since 1986's 32-3 squad.
It's a topic of hourly conversation in the entire state of Utah, and the team can't run away from the ominous precipatory gathering that's hovering over its head.
So how can the seventh-seeded Cougs break the spell this year, when they go up against Florida Thursday afternoon?
• Rely on Jimmer Fredette. One of the best names in basketball also has one of the best strokes. He's scored more than 40 points multiple times this year, including a conference-best 49 points over Arizona right before the New Year. Fredette battled with mono for the better part of this season, but when he's clicking he's got "in-the-gym" range, as Gus Johnson is prone to say.
• Get out to a big lead. BYU was over, toast, done, dead and buried 10 minutes into its game against A&M last March because the Aggies sprinted to a 26-8 lead and never looked back. Well, BYU leads the country in scoring margin at 18.5 points-per-win. Best build a cushion against a Florida team that hasn't proven an ability to come back in a lot of games.
• If the Gators keep it close, BYU has to continue to push the pace and be as aggressive as possible. This will benefit it in two ways: BYU scores more than every other team in the tournament, averaging 83.5 points per game. And if BYU's pace is frantic and aggressive at the hoop, it will get to the line very, very often against a grab-happy Gators team. BYU shoots free throws at a 78.4-percent clip, the best in the country as well.
• Lastly, Fredette and fellow guard Jackson Emery (who is fourth in the nation in steals, by the way) can counter Florida's interior defense (if it shows up) by extending it beyond the 3-point arc and nailing the long ball. The Cougars are third in the country, shooting 42.1 percent from downtown. Seems silly such a proficient team is seeded seventh, right? We're still confused, too.