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Thursday, March 3, 2011
TMA: Down goes BYU?

By Eamonn Brennan

The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of the night's best basketball action. It is an F-18, bro.

New Mexico 82, No. 3 BYU 64: In yesterday's Saddle Up, I made only brief mention of BYU's home date vs. New Mexico. That note: "BYU will host New Mexico in its first game without dismissed forward Brandon Davies, and it will be worth watching to see how the Cougars adjust their lineup and strategy going forward."

"Interesting" is one way to put it. "Devastating" is another.

In its first game without athletic forward Brandon Davies -- who was dismissed by the Cougars for violating the school's honor code by having premarital sex with his girlfriend -- the Cougars didn't just look slightly off. They didn't play so-so. They weren't fighting through adjustments and feeling their way around an inferior opponent at home. Rather, they were utterly manhandled by a just-OK New Mexico team, a team that under normal circumstances has little business beating the Cougars in Provo.

But it's clear these Cougars aren't at full strength. At least not yet. The Davies dismissal wasn't just devastating because it robs BYU of its best interior player, or because BYU is now likely to lose its grip on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. It was devastating because of its timing. Anytime you lose a starter or important contributor, there's always an adjustment period. For BYU, that adjustment will take place during the last two games of the regular season and the Mountain West tournament, if not beyond. And that assumes the Cougars will be able to "adjust" in the first place.

Nor is this the usual player-gets-kicked-off-team scandal. Why? Because it's BYU. At BYU, having sex with your girlfriend before you're married isn't merely frowned upon, or greeted with a resigned encouragement to engage in sex safely. At BYU, having sex with your girlfriend is a major violation of the school's strict honor code, specifically the part that requires BYU students to "live a chaste and virtuous life."

Is this right? Wrong? According to BYU coach Dave Rose, that dichotomy misses the point:
"Everybody who comes to BYU, every student if they're an athlete or not an athlete, they make a commitment when they come," Rose said of a code that also forbids use of alcohol and coffee and requires students to be honest and attend church regularly. "A lot of people try to judge if this is right or wrong, but it's a commitment they make. It's not about right or wrong. It's about commitment."

Perhaps surprisingly -- or perhaps not -- much of the reaction in and around BYU, including those Pat Forde spoke with for his excellent column on the matter yesterday, seems to agree with Rose. The reaction isn't "Oh, come on, let him play!" It's more like, "This sucks, but these are the rules, this is who we are, and Brandon knew that when he signed the code. We all have to live up to it. Our athletes are no different."

As Pat wrote yesterday, that stance is entirely admirable. That admiration goes double in the context of the rest of the college sports landscape, where morally lenient, winning-is-the-only-thing coaches preside over programs whose players often face little or no punishment for far more serious rules violations.

So, yes, you have to sort of admire BYU. And you have to feel for it as well. The question now is whether the Cougars' loss to New Mexico last night should make fans lose hope on a dream season. In fact, there are reasons to think this loss isn't a dream-killer. For one, as John Gasaway pointed out last night, BYU has a habit of losing to the Lobos; the Cougars are 0-4 in their past two seasons vs. New Mexico and 26-1 against the rest of the Mountain West. What's more, BYU still has the core of its team intact, including Jackson Emery, Noah Hartsock, Charles Abouo and some dude named Jimmer Fredette. And besides, last night was BYU's first game since the dismissal. It's a little unfair to bury the Cougars before they have even a week to figure this thing out.

Yes, Davies is a huge loss. Yes, it couldn't have come at a worse time. Yes, it's a blow to BYU's chances at a national title. No, the Cougars won't get a No. 1 seed.

But in the midst of the panic, the jokes about the honor code, and the loss of a No. 1 seed, let's maintain a bit of perspective. This Cougars team still has time to figure it out. They still have time to make a deep tournament run. Bad timing and all, they aren't quite dead yet.

Everywhere else: As expected, Kansas had no issue handling Texas A&M at home, and the Jayhawks captured at least a share of the Big 12 title in the process. ... Clemson put up a nice fight at Duke but fell short in the second half as Kyle Singler joined the Charlie Sheen "winning" meme whether he likes it or not . ... UNC got a tough test from Florida State even without Chris Singleton, but Harrison Barnes' gutty game-winner pulled the Tar Heels through for a win. ... West Virgnia made their 2011 NCAA tournament appearance official with a win over UConn. ... Utah State barely escaped, 58-54, at New Mexico State. ... Michigan State beat the tar out of Iowa at home. ... Memphis lost to East Carolina; the Tigers seem determined to blow their already-specious shot at an at-large tournament berth. ... UAB, perhaps the only C-USA team worth an at-large bid, got a huge road win at Southern Miss to boost that status. ... The NIT-bound Maryland Terrapins lost at Miami. ... Iowa State torpedoed Colorado's at-large chances in Ames. ... and Cincinnati firmed up its already strong tourney status with a nice win at Marquette.