So I'm going to admit something I hate admitting: I am jealous of the BYU basketball program right now. Of course, the key words in that statement are right now. Because it's a no-brainer that, at least on the national stage, Utah has done more over the past twenty years than the Cougars could ever hope to achieve.
Unfortunately, that and a dollar is only good enough to buy you something off the McDonald's Dollar Menu.
But there is no denying what BYU has done over the last few years. Since Rose took over, they've won at least a share of the Mountain West the last three seasons and look well on their way to a fourth straight title. No team in the history of this conference has been that dominant at this level.
If Utah was the team of the 90s for the WAC, the Cougars certainly are jockeying to be the team of this decade for the Mountain West and it hurts extra more when you realize it coincides with the worst era the Utes have produced since probably the pre-Gardner days.
And that's where these two teams converge. They're on opposite sides of the road, even though a year ago it looked like Utah had finally found its footing. For BYU, there has been no step back since the Rose era began. In fact, they've reloaded and won like only a handful of teams have nationally over the past five years. What that has given them is national publicity, a stronger recruiting pool and their fans hope, eventually, more clout on the national stage.
It is there where the Cougars have struggled. Rose, in all the good he's done down there, has still failed at advancing beyond the first round in the NCAA Tournament. It's been nearly thirty years since BYU last made a deep tournament run (their 1981 Elite Eight appearance) and it seems that's the only thing holding their program back from being a legitimate power.
That should change this season.
Rose's Cougars started the 2010 season with their best start ever - rising to as high as tenth in one poll for the first time in program history. And though they fell at The Pit earlier this week, they're established enough to probably garner a very good seed in this year's tournament - especially if they win out, which seems very possible.
If that happens, a deep tournament run should be expected.
For Utah, it's a different season. There is no hope of playing in the NCAA Tournament outside of an improbable event like winning the Mountain West Tournament. The NIT seems unlikely, as well. That leaves the lower-level tournaments that offer little in terms of publicity and success.
So this season has now become all about playing the spoiler and progressing. Utah could rock the Cougars with a win tonight in Provo - but that's unlikely. That means tonight's game is mostly about playing competitive, not wilting and showing some progress. Something this team has sorely lacked over the year.
A win over BYU would be nice. But I'm a realist. We'll talk about that possibility when they come to Salt Lake later in the conference season. For now, I just hope they don't roll over and die.