There really isn't much at stake in the grand scheme of things Saturday night in Provo.  The season won't come to an end for the loser, the winner will not have automatically guaranteed itself an invite to the NCAA Tournament in March.

That doesn't mean the Gaels and Cougars won't play like everything is on the line.  In the present, this is a huge contest between two very good teams, and it's a somewhat rare chance for the West Coast Conference to get a little prime-time TV exposure without making a huge chunk of the nation stay up late to catch the action. 

Openers on the NCAA basketball lines made BYU a 2.5 point favorite for the 9 PM (ET) broadcast start on ESPNU.  The total started in the 151-152 range. 

 

The teams met just before 2012 calendars went into use, Saint's Mary's scoring a convincing 98-82 win as 5 point home chalk on the NCAA basketball odds.  That marked the first ever meeting between the two schools as conference rivals, and served as the West Coast season opener for both as well.  Saint Mary's has rolled through all comers since then to fashion a 9-0 mark in the conference standings, good enough for a 1.5 game lead over Gonzaga and 2.5 games ahead of BYU entering play on Saturday. 

Randy BennettBrigham Young will be out for a measure of revenge, but that's not as important as simply not falling any further behind the Gaels.  The Cougars will have just six conference games after this before the postseason tournament that begins Feb. 29 in Las Vegas, and they won't have another shot at Saint Mary's before then. Head coach Dave Rose understands just how much a win over the No. 20 Gaels would look on the Cougars' resume.  Not only that, but their next opponent will be Gonzaga on Thursday, so this is a very big mini-homestand for BYU. 

Saint Mary's would seem a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament right now, but we've seen stranger things happen than a 20-2 team in late January not making the big dance.  Gaels head coach Randy Bennett, along with Rose and Gonzaga's Mark Few, know full well they can't give the selection committee any extra reasons to limit the WCC to just two slots. 

Bennett brings the Gaels into this one off a 71-64 win at Loyola Marymount on Thursday.  The Lions had been playing some of their best ball going into that one and actually held a 7 point lead on Saint Mary's 14 minutes into the game.  Stephen Holt stepped up for the Gaels, however, scoring a game-high 19 to help put the final into the win column for both teams' backers.  If you got on Saint Mary's -6.5 early, congrats are in order; same thing for those who waited and had the Lions +7.5 at the closing bell. 

Rose and the Cougars came home Wednesday night following an upset win at Virginia Tech, 70-68.  The victory was BYU's second straight since getting whipped at home by that same Loyola Marymount club a little more than a week ago.  The Cougars built a 15-3 lead over the Hokies midway through the first half, then watched all that work evaporate before pulling the game out in the final minute. 

The meeting between BYU and SMC back on Dec. 29 might have been the first time the two faced off as West Coast foes, but the clubs do have some recent history between them.  It's the first time they've played in Provo since 2004 when the Cougs just got the cover in a 70-55 win over the Gaels as 14-point chalk.  The three since then have all been played on Saint Mary's own floor, the Gaels grabbing the cover each time and winning twice.

Taking a Chance: Neither the Gaels nor the Cougars have posted consistent betting trends to fall back on this season.  That's been partly due to the sportsbooks setting sharp lines and partly due to the inherently inconsistent nature when it comes to a bunch of 20-year-old kids playing college hoops. Brigham Young is 10-9 ATS (2-2 in WCC games at home) and 8-10 O/U, while Saint Mary's is 9-8 ATS (2-2 in WCC road games) and 9-8 O/U.  If you can detect any trends in that, be my guest. 

One thing the Gaels have done consistently this season is attack the glass. Bennett's bunch is one of the top rebounding clubs in the country, and they do it well on both ends of the court. That's the only reason I'm going to take Saint Mary's and the points. My free pick is the Gaels +2.5.