BYU’s Cinderella run in the Ultimate Fan Bracket ends in the championship round

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU celebrates their 83-50 win over UNLV in men's NCAA basketball at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Sat. Dec. 7, 2019.

There was no game-winning shot from TJ Haws or another dominating double-double performance from Yoeli Childs. Jake Toolson didn't knock down 3-pointer after 3-pointer.

And there definitely wasn’t an NCAA Tournament, a downer for a BYU squad that was set to return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2015.

Yet, No. 10 BYU found itself in the championship round, staying in the game up until the final seconds. But top-seeded North Carolina pulled ahead to win.

With no March Madness, FOX College Hoops came up with the Ultimate Fan Bracket and asked fans to vote through Twitter polls, coming up with a bracket and going through each round.

“First of all, I think it taps into the passion of college sports fans,” Mark Titus, FOX Sports Digital talent and co-host of the “Titus and Tate” podcast said.

Had BYU won, it would have been the Cougars' second national title in as many weeks. On April 17, Cosmo was named the nation's top mascot in the SiriusXM Mascot Bracket.

BYU was actually not included in the initial mascot bracket, but was added as a No. 16 seed after much protest from fans. The championship round wrapped up April 15. Two days later, it was determined Cosmo was the rightful winner and that Western Kentucky had committed fraud.

When he saw the news involving the SiriusXM Mascot Bracket, Titus checked to see if there could be any type of fraud in their Ultimate Fan Twitter poll.

There hadn’t. But even if people were trying to game it, Titus wouldn’t have done anything about it.

“I'm all for it anyway,” Titus said. “I don't consider it cheating. I don't consider it anything. I think it's win by all means necessary. This is a staple in college basketball, if you've been paying attention to the news of college basketball in the last few years. You have to kind of bend the rules to win anyway.”

In the fan poll, BYU quickly advanced from the first round and then had a classic March Madness buzzer-beater in the second round against Michigan State. A retweet by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney helped push BYU ahead for a win by 1.2%.

The next poll was even more dramatic. BYU advanced to the Elite Eight by only 0.2% against Dayton, again with some help from Romney.

BYU eventually found itself in the championship round by upsetting No. 1 Indiana — this time all through organic support. But BYU wasn’t able to pull an upset in the championship round.

“One thing that’s been interesting for us, as we’ve been watching things unfold, is that BYU was obviously a 10 seed in this thing,” Titus said. “These seedings were determined by Twitter followings of the basketball accounts. That is to say, BYU’s basketball account doesn’t have the most followers in the country, but this is not about the followers — it’s been about the passion.”

Unlike the mascot competition, the fan competition included a prize — a billboard, with anything the winner wants on it, close to their rival’s school for bragging rights.

“That’s what makes college sports great — the rivalry and the passion and all that stuff,” Titus said.

BYU coach Mark Pope believes the polls had meaning.

“I know we all look at each other as we all vote for the best mascot in the country and we vote for the best fan base in the country … and it's ridiculous and silly,” Pope said. “But you know what? That's what being a fan is. Being a fan is ridiculous and silly, and just caring enough to do stuff normal people don't want to do.”

Pope also believes being part of these polls help BYU’s image, and even helped him land Purdue transfer Matt Haarms.

“This fan base, here at BYU, went a long way to winning this Matt Haarms — that is not an overstatement,” Pope said. “Like when we talk about doing this together — we all recruited this kid together. So, this fan base is so great for us to sell them.”

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