Some of you writing for and reading the 800 GP have seen teams join and leave the conferences you follow. Not me. Until this season, the West Coast Conference has had the same lineup for as long as I can remember, and only the Ivy League had been together longer. The travel partners were the same, and there was a familiar routine to the conference schedule, with either two home games or two road games every weekend.
Many things have changed with the addition of a ninth member this season, though. The Pilots have played a home game followed by a road game, and sometimes just one game a week. The old travel partners don't always come on the same weekend anymore either. It's been an adjustment for me, and likely many other fans as well. This newcomer is not a school just joining Division I. It's Brigham Young. You may have heard of them. In this day and age, it's not surprising BYU should join the WCC for, ahem, "football reasons" rather than "basketball reasons." They didn't like what seemed to be coming in the Mountain West, went looking for a new place to play, and the WCC welcomed them with open arms.
BYU became the biggest school in the WCC in enrollment and athletic budget by a wide margin when it joined. It has over 28,000 students, 153rd biggest in Division I and over five times as many as LMU, the second biggest WCC school with 5,500. Portland, meanwhile, is eighth in the conference with about 3,000 students. The Cougars' athletic expenses in 2010 were $35.5M, nearly twice that of San Diego's $18.4M, while Portland has the smallest budget of anyone in the WCC at $10.2M. BYU also plays at the only NBA-sized arena in the conference, the 22,000-seat Marriott Center.
Thought BYU is different from the other WCC schools, there still are common areas. The WCC is still made of church-affiliated schools that have strong academic reputations. (Common misconception: the WCC before BYU was all Catholic schools. If you can name the one that isn't you've either been around the WCC a long time or you've been searching Google or Wikipedia.) Having a school of BYU's caliber gains exposure for the whole conference, and the presence of another high-quality basketball program to compete with St. Mary's and Gonzaga will push the rest of the league to keep improving.
Another benefit to having BYU is the extra tickets Cougar fans in the other WCC cities will buy. There are Cougar fans throughout the West, and Portland is no exception. The last time BYU visited the Chiles Center, in 2007 when a freshman named Jimmer scored 11 off the bench, I was surprised at how large the crowd was, and how many of the 3,500 were wearing blue. Saturday, I expected a large portion of the 4,100 fans to be Cougar fans and this was the case. It was not an overwhelming majority this year however.
The BYU fans in the crowd had plenty to cheer about in the end, as the Cougars pulled away in the closing minutes for a 79-60 victory. It really should have been a blowout long before that the way the Pilots played. Saturday was another in a long series of frustrating nights for the Pilots. They actually shot the ball very well, at 45 percent overall and 38 percent from superhoop range. It was good to see them finally make some outside shots. Unfortunately, they were outrebounded 37-28 and missed 13 free throws, two areas they've usually been strong in. The Cougars were given 53 FTs of their own, which didn't help the score or the Pilots' ability to get into a rhythm. Then there were the 23 turnovers. Yes, 23. That was 29.5 percent of their possessions. When you give it away that much, it almost doesn't matter how well you shoot, because you're making it pretty easy for your opponent. The good news was freshman Kevin Bailey's play. He had 15 points to lead the Pilots, and he gives Pilot fans something to look forward to considering he's just in his first season. For the Cougars, Brandon Davies led five players in double figures with 18, and Noah Hartsock scored all 12 of his points from the free-throw line.
Despite the lopsided score, the BYU fans who came on the Pilot message board were complimentary of the Pilots' effort and recognized the potential of this team under Coach Reveno. They reflected what I've seen of BYU fans as a whole, a positive bunch who support their team loudly and enthusiastically, and are friendly and polite to their opponents as well. I think Pilot Nation will get along wonderfully with their new WCC neighbors and I hope for more competitive matchups with them in seasons to come.
BRIGHAM YOUNG 79, at PORTLAND 60 02/04/2012
BRIGHAM YOUNG 20-6 (8-3) -- B. Davies 7-13 4-10 18; C. Cusick 4-9 2-4 12; B. Zylstra 3-5 6-9 12; M. Carlino 3-11 7-8 13; N. Hartsock 0-6 12-12 12; C. Abouo 1-6 4-6 7; A. Winder 0-2 0-0 0; N. Austin 1-2 2-2 4; D. Harrison 0-0 0-0 0; J. Sharp 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 19-54 38-53 79. PORTLAND 6-18 (3-8) -- R. Nicholas 3-4 2-5 8; T. van der Mars 3-5 3-5 9; D. Rodgers 2-6 0-2 4; N. Mitrovic 2-6 0-0 6; D. Carr 2-4 0-1 6; K. Bailey 5-13 4-6 15; T. Douglas 0-2 0-0 0; D. Cason 4-5 1-4 9; T. Riley 1-4 0-0 3; J. Bailey 0-0 0-0 0; K. Thieleke 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-49 10-23 60.
Three-point goals: BYU 3-16 (B. Zylstra 0-2; C. Cusick 2-4; C. Abouo 1-4; A. Winder 0-2; M. Carlino 0-4), PORT 6-16 (N. Mitrovic 2-5; T. Riley 1-3; T. Douglas 0-1; K. Bailey 1-3; D. Carr 2-3; D. Cason 0-1); Rebounds: BYU 37 (B. Davies 13), PORT 28 (R. Nicholas 11); Assists: BYU 9 (B. Davies 4), PORT 14 (D. Rodgers 4); Total Fouls -- BYU 20, PORT 32; Fouled Out: BYU-None; PORT-K. Bailey.