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How will new WCC seeding metric impact Cougars down the homestretch?

With only three regular-season games remaining on the schedule, the Cougars can’t afford another loss as it pushes toward an NCAA Tournament bid

Pacific Tigers guard Daniss Jenkins (4) drives against Brigham Young Cougars guard Alex Barcello (13) and guard Brandon Averette (4) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.
Pacific Tigers guard Daniss Jenkins drives against BYU guards Alex Barcello (13) and Brandon Averette (4) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. The Cougars, who prevailed in double overtime in Provo earlier this season, will take another crack at the Tigers Thursday night, this time at their place.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

It’s been 10 days since BYU played a game — a home loss against No. 1 Gonzaga — and the Cougars have played just two games in the month of February due to COVID-related postponements and cancellations.

How will BYU respond after the long layoff when it returns to the court Thursday (6 p.m., MST, CBS SN) at Pacific?

Not only are the Cougars trying to avoid being a little rusty after just two games in 18 days, but the last time they played the Tigers, it was a battle. BYU survived 95-87 in double overtime at the Marriott Center on Jan. 30.

Seniors Alex Barcello, Brandon Averette and Matt Haarms combined for 60 points to lead the Cougars.

“We barely escaped in double overtime. It was a really exciting game, a really hard-fought game,” coach Mark Pope said during his coaches show Tuesday night. “A game where fatigue started to play a part because it went on and it was so competitive. We get to run it back at their place.”

With only three regular-season games remaining, including a game Saturday at Loyola Marymount, the Cougars can’t afford another loss as it pushes toward an NCAA Tournament bid.

For now, BYU (15-5, 6-3) is No. 28 in the NCAA’s NET rankings and is projected as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

Just days after the Cougars outlasted a physical Pacific team, the Tigers challenged Gonzaga deep into the second half at the Spanos Center. Pacific (6-6, 3-5) led the Zags at halftime and it wasn’t until midway through the second half that Gonzaga pulled away.

“Pacific’s a really talented team. They can space the floor with five guys that shoot the 3. They’re tough and really physical. They take on the nature of their coach, Damon Stoudamire,” Pope said. “They had the Zags on their heels for 30 minutes at their place. They’re a really good team. It’s a team that’s capable of really scoring on the offensive end and every night they’re good on the defensive end. … They’re as good as anybody in this league minus probably the Zags.”

With a couple of weeks before the West Coast Conference Tournament is scheduled to tip off at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, BYU and Pepperdine are tied for second place in the standings with identical 6-3 records.

Meanwhile, the WCC announced Tuesday a new seeding metric it will use for the upcoming tournament due to the imbalance in the number of games played within the league this season.

The metric, developed by Ken Pomeroy in collaboration with the WCC, is called “Adjusted Winning Percentage.”

Gonzaga is No. 1 with a .987 AWP, while BYU is listed No. 2 in the league at .789, followed closely behind by Pepperdine at .786. It will be updated multiple times before the WCC Tournament begins.

“It’s interesting. Everybody’s kind of flying by the seat of their pants trying to figure things out. I think it’s a little bit of a complicated notion,” Pope said. “Instead of taking any of the metics that we’ve had all season that we’ve been shooting for, that the league is going to create a metric two weeks before the tournament.

“But everyone is trying to do the best they can. I think there’s a lot of teams that look at that list and say, ‘I don’t understand what’s going on. We’ve never heard this before. Why are we getting this metric now, after the season’s been mostly fulfilled?’”

At the same time, Pope realizes this is the nature of this unusual season being played during a pandemic.

“At least we’re playing games,” he said. “We’re so grateful to be playing games and that’s what’s important.”

In the conference’s news release about the metric, WCC commissioner Gloria Nevarez explained why it has been developed.

“We have all experienced unprecedented challenges associated with conducting athletic competition throughout the past year and we continue to work to find the appropriate solutions to the challenges ahead of us,” Nevarez said. “The reality of not completing a full conference schedule is in front of us and we have explored alternative models to properly seed our men’s and women’s basketball tournament.

“The Ken Pomeroy adjusted conference winning percentage model that has been developed for the WCC provides the most accurate reflection of the conference games that have been completed,” she continued “We appreciate the opportunity to lean on Ken’s well-regarded expertise and thoroughly analyzed algorithms to develop this model for seeding our conference tournament.”

Pope acknowledged that teams will have no idea what wins really mean with this new metric.

“The algorithm is never going to be explained. That’s complicated also,” he said. “You hope it’s win-out and you’re fine. But you don’t know that. You could win out and end up being the No. 5 seed in the tournament.”

At the same time, there are reports that BYU and Gonzaga could opt out of the WCC Tournament.

For the Cougars, it’s all about winning their final three games of the regular season — starting Thursday at Pacific.