Southeast Regional play from the 2011 NCAA Tournament continues Thursday evening from the Pepsi Center in Denver as No. 3 BYU takes to the hardwood against the Southern Conference champions and No. 14 seed Wofford Terriers.
BYU tied the program record for wins in a season with 30 in putting together its finest season on record to date behind the best efforts of MWC Player of the Year and the nation's leading scorer, Jimmer Fredette. Despite having just four losses heading into the tournament, the Cougars had to share the Mountain West's regular-season title with San Diego State and lost to the Aztecs (32-2) in the MWC Tournament, 72-54, as the top seed. A more troubling development was the suspension of sophomore forward Brandon Davies, who was the team- leader in rebounding (6.2 rpg) and field-goal percentage (52.5) while adding 11.1 points as the Cougars' top inside talent. The dismissal was felt immediately by the Cougars as they suffered an ugly 82-64 home loss to New Mexico March 2 in their first game without Davies. Though they managed to bounce back in the conference tourney, the loss of such a consistent contributor figures to be a huge hurdle to overcome. Not to be overlooked is BYU's full body of work, which included non-conference wins over tournament teams Utah State and Arizona. In addition, both San Diego State losses came by way of the Cougars, who also swept the season series from the MWC's third NCAA seed in UNLV. BYU is making its 25th appearance overall and fifth straight in the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars' track record hasn't always necessarily translated into success, though, with their 99-92 win against Florida last year the club's first since 1993. BYU followed with a loss to Kansas State and hold a 12-28 all-time record in the tournament.
Wofford is back in the tournament on the heels of a second consecutive SoCon title, its only two NCAA appearances ever. The Terriers lost to Wisconsin as a 13-seed last year in the opening round. Wofford nailed down the South Division's second seed after posting a 14-4 league mark during the regular season, then proceeded to run through Appalachian State (69-56), Western Carolina (86-72) and the South's top seed, College of Charleston (77-67). The Terriers finished strong and enter the tourney carrying an eight-game win streak. They were also tested early on against a host of tournament clubs, including Clemson, Georgetown, George Mason, Xavier and Virginia Commonwealth. Although all but one (George Mason) resulted in defeat and Xavier was taken to overtime, Wofford gained some valuable experience they'll need in taking on a high-powered BYU team.
The Cougars and Terriers have met just once prior with BYU taking a 73-67 win in Provo back in 1998.
The Terriers have a balanced and effective offense led by the SoCon's third- leading scorer, Noah Dahlman, who averages 20.0 points per game and 5.4 rebounds. Dahlman also leads the league in field-goal percentage (61.2). Cameron Rundles and Jamar Diggs are heavily involved as well, averaging 14.0 and 12.5 points, respectively. In addition, the duo kicks in respective 3.8 and 3.1-per-game rebounding totals. Rundles also adds 74 three-pointers, fifth in the SoCon, on 41.1 percent shooting with Diggs dealing 3.2 assists on average. Tim Johnson leads the conference in rebounding at 8.4 boards per contest and adds 6.2 ppg while Brad Loesing dishes 3.2 assists per game and also averages 6.2 ppg. Overall, the Terriers post 73.8 points per game, ranking third in the league, and allow teams to counter with 67.8 ppg for the conference's fourth-best scoring defense. Wofford's 47.9 field-goal percentage tops the SoCon as does a 40.7-percent accuracy from beyond the arc. The Terriers also lead the league in assists per game (14.4 apg) and assist/turnover ratio (1.2).
Fredette helped the Cougars establish themselves as one of the top programs in the country this year, averaging 28.5 points per game, 4.2 assists and 1.4 steals. His assists stand third in the MWC, while leading the conference in free-throw percentage (89.1) and finishing third in the nation with 112 three- pointers on 40.4 percent shooting, also good for third in-conference. Overall, the 6-2 senior shot 45.6 percent from the floor. His performance in the MWC Tournament only solidified his chances of being named the National Player of the Year, averaging a tournament-record 35.3 points on his way to tournament MVP. He set BYU and MWC records with a 52-point performance against New Mexico in the semifinals. Backcourt mate Jackson Emery, the MWC Defensive Player of the Year, helps to carry the load by putting up 12.6 ppg, 3.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and a conference-high 2.8 steals per contest. Emery's 94 steals this year set a single-season school record and allowed him to become the program's all-time leader in the department. The fellow senior added 86 three-pointers on 36.4 percent shooting. The Cougars shoot a collective 36.2 percent from three-point range. Without Davies, Noah Hartsock will have to improve upon his 8.5-point and 6.0-rebound averages. He shoots 48.9 percent from the field. BYU's overall offensive prowess figures to take a hit, but ranked eighth in the nation in putting up 81.6 ppg. The Cougars' scoring margin stands fifth in the country (plus-14.1) with a defense that holds opponents to 67.5 ppg. BYU could stand to improve a bit on a 45.2 shooting percentage but help its cause with the nation's 15th-ranked free-throw percentage (75.9).
Wofford has a great chance to pull the upset here with BYU missing one of its top performers. But the Cougars have already learned to adjust their game and will need to press on if they hope to live up to a lofty No. 3 seed. BYU may very well get tripped up sooner rather than later but figures to still have enough firepower with the nation's most dynamic scorer to handle Wofford in a game that might be closer than many think.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: BYU 79, Wofford 70