Bracketology: BYU is state's only hope for an NCAA Tournament bid
BYU, a men's college basketball-loving state turns its lonely eyes to you.
After a dismal week in which the Utes, Thunderbirds, Wildcats and Aggies fell short in their respective conference tournaments, the Cougars represent the state of Utah's only chance to have a team in the NCAA Tournament this year albeit as an at-large pick and a 12 or 13 seed when Selection Sunday unfolds at 4 p.m. MST on CBS.
The 25-8 Cougars also finished poorly, losing 77-58 to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference semifinals. But did they do enough in the regular season to make the big dance? Nobody will know for sure until the bids are announced Sunday, but if they are, they will certainly receive a low seed, and could possibly be relegated to play in a "First Four" game Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.
Not since 1994 has the state failed to produce an NCAA Tournament participant in the men's bracket. In the women's bracket, BYU earned the automatic bid by winning the West Coast Conference tournament and will learn its NCAA destination Monday night.
As for the Cougars men, they will meet at BYUtv headquarters on campus Sunday afternoon in an unfamiliar position, having pretty much known they were in each of the past five years.
"I don't think it is the change of conferences that will hurt [BYU] as much as just kind of an average profile," ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi told The Tribune last week. "I mean, it is good, but not great. And they went 1-4 against the two finalists [St. Mary's and Gonzaga]."
Most bracket experts point to the Cougars' lack of wins against top-50 programs as the hole in their resume, along with the fact that they were blown out by 19 points in the last game they played. It hurt that two of the teams the Cougars beat Nevada and Oregon dropped out of the top 50 with conference tournament losses.
"Ultimately, I think BYU is going to be right on the cut line," Lunardi said. "... I would say, if I was a betting man, that [BYU] will just make it, and play in one of those play-in games [on Tuesday] in Dayton."
The Beehive State is not alone in its hoop sorrows this year; South Carolina, which has 12 Division I schools eligible for the tournament, won't have a school in the dance for the first time since 1995. Nine years ago, Utah placed four of its five eligible D-I teams in March Madness as BYU, Utah, Utah State and Weber State all received invitations.
But it has been a down year for college hoops in the state, symbolized as much as anything by Utah's decline the past two years and Utah State's failure to advance past the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament.
What else to keep an eye on Sunday?
Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina are going to be No. 1 seeds, but the fourth top seed could be moved away from third-ranked Kansas after the Jayhawks were upset by Baylor on Friday night in the Big 12 semifinals. Ohio State won the Big Ten regular-season crown and is a strong candidate.
The Big East will get more teams in the NCAAs perhaps as many as 10 than any other league. The Big Ten will also be well-represented as perhaps the best top-to-bottom league in the country.
Locally, the Mountain West Conference was viewed as the best in the West this season, and will likely get four teams in: San Diego State, New Mexico, UNLV and Colorado State. Only the Rams are on the bubble, but their RPI is in the 20s, which should be good enough.
The Pac-12 suffered through an abysmal season, and might get only its conference tournament champion in the tournament. Washington and California, which finished 1-2 in the regular season and have the best profiles in the Pac-12, were upset in the conference tournament and will play the waiting game Sunday, along with BYU.
If BYU is invited, the WCC will have three participants for the just the second time ever and first time since 2008. The Cougars' RPI got better as the week went along, and was 42 by midday Saturday. Also, the Cougars were in 93 of the 98 brackets tracked by the website bracketproject.com Saturday, with an average seeding of 11.
Another bracketologist, Shawn Siegel of Collegehoops.net, says BYU blew the chance to help itself with the loss to Gonzaga and also believes the Cougars could go either way Sunday.
"Neutral isn't good enough in March," Siegel said. "Other teams were able to jump by BYU while [it] could only wait."
Projected No. 1 seeds
Kentucky • Wildcats deserve No. 1 overall seed after putting together best season in the country and are the clear pre-tournament favorite.
Syracuse • Orange stumbled in Big East semifinals against Cincinnati, but easily won that league's regular-season title and deserve a top seed.
North Carolina • Getting to Sunday's ACC championship game probably solidified a No. 1 seed for the Tar Heels, who weren't impressive in Saturday's 69-67 semifinal win over North Carolina State.
Ohio State • Best team in the regular season in country's best league deserves a No. 1 seed.
The Salt Lake Tribune's projections:
Big East • 10 (Syracuse, Notre Dame, Connecticut, West Virgina, South Florida, Louisville, Georgetown, Cincinnati, Marquette, Seton Hall)
Comment: Nine or 10? Depends on what committee decides to do with hot-and-cold Seton Hall
Big Ten • 6 (Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue)
Comment: Could have had seven in if Northwestern had won a conference tourney game
Big 12 • 6 (Kansas, Baylor, Missouri, Kansas State, Texas, Iowa State)
Comment: Jayhawks' loss to Baylor in semifinals might have cost them a No. 1 seed. Who knows?
SEC • 5 (Kentucky, Alabama, Vanderbilt, Florida, Mississippi State)
Comment: Big drop-off in this league after Kentucky, although Florida gave Wildcats all they wanted in SEC tournament semifinals Saturday
Atlantic Coast • 5 (North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina State)
Comment: Not a great year for one of country's premier conferences, but N.C. State played its way in with strong run in conference tournament
Mountain West • 4 (San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State)
Comment: Colorado State has a great RPI and will make it if committee ignores its ugly road record and just-as-ugly lopsided losses
Atlantic 10 • 3 (Temple, Saint Louis, Xavier)
Comment: Former Utah coach Rick Majerus' St. Louis team recovered nicely after a losing season last year; Saint Bonaventure needs to win championship game Sunday to get in.
West Coast • 3 (Saint Mary's, Gonzaga, BYU)
Comment: Cougars have been on the bubble for more than a week, but will likely make it in
Pac-12 • 2 (Colorado, California)
Comment: Some say league will get just one bid, others say it could get three
Missouri Valley • 2 (Creighton, Wichita State)
Comment: Not going to be happy if/when WCC gets more bids
Conference USA • 2 (Southern Miss, Memphis)
Comment: Marshall made a strong run late, but will probably fall just short
Utah teams in men's NCAA basketball tournament since 2001:
2011 • BYU, Utah State
2010 • BYU, Utah State
2009 • BYU, Utah State, Utah
2008 • BYU
2007 • BYU, Weber State
2006 • Utah State
2005 • Utah State, Utah
2004 • Utah
2003 • BYU, Utah State, Utah, Weber State
2002 • Utah
2001 • BYU, Utah State, Southern Utah