BYU drops to 18th in final AP basketball poll, but makes it to NCAA title game in ESPN simulation

FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2020, file photo, BYU students and fans celebrate on the court following their victory over Gonzaga following an NCAA college basketball game, in Provo, Utah. Utah public health officials are contacting and testing BYU basketball fans who sat near a coronavirus patient at a game prior to the infection being diagnosed, the university said Monday, March 9, 2020. He had mild symptoms and there's little risk the virus was transmitted more widely the Feb. 22 game against Gonzaga, the school said in a statement. People who went to the game don't need to do anything unless the are contacted by the Utah County Health Department. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Provo • In the midst of March Sadness, the college hoops world received another punch to the gut of could-be's and reminders of greatness. In the final AP Top 25 poll, released Wednesday morning, BYU dropped to No. 18.

The ranking is the highest for BYU since the Cougars finished No. 10 in the 2010-11 season. The latest poll came less than a week after the NCAA canceled all remaining winter championships and spring championships.

BYU ended up playing its last game in the West Coast Conference tournament, in a heartbreaking 51-50 loss to Saint Mary’s in the semifinals.

But here's an even bigger blow.

Using Joe Lunardi’s final bracket (he had BYU as a No. 6 seed) and their own Basketball Power Index (BPI), ESPN decided to simulate the 2020 tournament. And BYU could have made history, according to the results.

Of course, anything is possible in the postseason and any team can make anything happen during March Madness, so of course nothing can truly be predicted, but let's give this a whirl.

[Read more: The NCAA Tournament was to start in earnest Thursday; here’s how we think it would have played out]

According to this alternate reality, BYU would open the first round with a win over No. 11 Indiana.

“If there’s one team BPI is underrating in this tournament, there’s a good chance it’s BYU,” ESPN’s Seth Walder wrote. “The Cougars spent a significant portion of their season without Yoeli Childs — not only their best player, but a top-20 player on a per-minute basis according to our win shares number. BPI doesn’t know about his specific missed time, so BYU is probably a little better than we have them rated.”

In the second round, the Cougars rely on their 3-point shooting — their biggest strength — to upset No. 3 Seton Hall. BYU then finds itself in a rematch against San Diego State in the Sweet Sixteen.

The Aztecs handed the Cougars their lone home loss of the 2019-20 season, but BYU is able to avenge their early season loss to advance to the Elite Eight.

BYU finds itself going up against No. 12 Yale, who took down Gonzaga in the last round, but the Cougars end up being the better team and advance to the Final Four for the first time in program history.

“[Yale] took down some goliaths but ultimately it was an underrated No. 6 seed that got the best of them,” Walder wrote. “Childs got the better of [Paul] Atkinson at both ends of the floor and, as a result, the Cougars are moving on to Atlanta.”

If you thought BYU's historic season would end in the Final Four, buckle up. Walder expected Childs and Jake Toolson to have hot starts to put the Cougars up by double digits at the half against Virginia, who is unable to recover. Just like that, BYU is in the championship game.

“While BYU's run to the finals was also incredibly unlikely, it was actually slightly more likely than Wisconsin's, though both were just over 2%,” Walder wrote. “Now, the Cougars are very slight favorites to win the national championship.

No. 6 BYU goes up against No. 4 Wisconsin in the finals, but their miracle season ends there. The Badgers were the superior Cinderella team.

Wisconsin had less than 1% chance to pull it off, but the Badgers were led by Nate Reuvers with (a fictional) 16 points.

“Gard is lauded for getting his group to play their best when it mattered most,” Walder wrote. “This is a team that did not begin the season in the AP's Top 25 and only barely cracked it in the last set of rankings. Not that any of that matters, because the Badgers are now (simulated) champions!”

Of course, there’s no way of knowing if this was how the NCAA Tournament would have played out, but it would have been a fun ride for BYU regardless.

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