Gordon Monson: Great news for BYU — maybe — heading into the NCAA Tournament

The odds of winning it all are always long, but Vegas likes the Cougars more than most.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Noah Waterman (0), Mark Pope, and Brigham Young Cougars forward Fousseyni Traore (45) celebrate the win as BYU hosts Baylor, NCAA basketball in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024.

There’s fantastic news, albeit conditional, for BYU heading into March’s madness.

First, let’s get a few things out of the way here.

There are a thousand different ways to fill out your NCAA Tournament brackets, and the thousandth probably has as good a chance of doing it right as the first. That’s the beauty of it.

That’s also the reason your cousin’s friend’s sister’s nail technician, who has watched no college basketball all season, has as good a shot at winning her pool as you, a college game nerd, have of winning yours.

It’s just the way this thing works. Nobody knows nothing about nothing, not with any exactness. But, again, there is beauty all around when everyone’s guessing at home.

As BYU coach Mark Pope noted — and complained about — after the selections were revealed on Sunday that BYU, according to the selection committee’s own rankings, should have been a No. 5 seed possibly playing in Salt Lake City, not as it turned out a No. 6 playing in Omaha, the opening odds for which teams have the best chance of winning the tournament were released.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The BYU bench goes wild as the team makes up an early deficit to take down TCU 87-75 during an NCAA college basketball game against TCU Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Provo, Utah.

That list had BYU ranked as having the 15th-best odds of all teams in the tournament — not of winning a first-round game or a second-rounder or making the Sweet 16 or even the Elite Eight or the Final Four. No. It had the Cougars as the team — tied with Duke and Alabama — of having those odds of winning the entire tournament. You read that right.

Get a load of how the odds went (if you have a bit of a wagering problem, you already know all this):

1-seed UConn (4/1)

1-seed Houston (11/2)

1-seed Purdue (7/1)

2-seed Arizona and 2-seed Tennessee (15/1)

4-seed Auburn (17/1)

3-seed Creighton, 2-seed Iowa State, 2-seed Marquette and 1-seed North Carolina (20/1)

3-seed Illinois (25/1)

3-seed Kentucky (30/1)

3-seed Baylor and 4-seed Kansas (33/1)

Finally, 6-seed BYU, 4-seed Duke and 4-seed Alabama at 40/1

A few notable items here. The first is that, as far as the actual odds go, BYU is considered to have the ninth-best chances, considering the ties, to take the whole freaking enchilada. That’s remarkable, even if realizing that kind of run is off-the-charts difficult. The second is that the Cougars have been given the best odds by far of any other team that’s seeded sixth. Texas Tech, the closest of the other sixes, ranks 11 schools down the charts and sports 100/1 odds of winning it all. Clemson and South Carolina sit at 120/1. BYU’s odds are better than all four No. 5 seeds and, as mentioned, tied with the two fours.

What exactly does all of this mean?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars guard Jaxson Robinson (2) slips through the Horned Frogs during an NCAA college basketball game against TCU Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Provo, Utah.

Well. There are a lot of voices to listen to when it comes to not just picking which school will dance away with the national title, but how to fill out all the slots in your brackets. Everybody who’s ever participated in office pools and pools of other kinds is fully aware that this deal is a total crapshoot. Many well-informed folks really like the Huskies to hoist the trophy at the end, and the odds reflect that, but even that is a reach. Almost anything can happen … anything but 16th-seeded Wagner (1000/1) going all the way. That cannot happen.

Here’s the thing, though: While so many voices shout and all the guesses rage, some guesses are better than others. And Vegas is full up with really smart, informed oddsmakers who know a lot more than your average nail technician or your average show host out there with their theories regarding who will win what. We also know that Vegas sets its lines for reasons that extend beyond just who oddsmakers really think will win.

But for BYU to be so highly placed on this list is either a burst of inspiration by those laying the odds or it sets the Cougars up for a wicked fall. They are highly favored over their first-round opponent in Omaha — 11-seed Duquesne (500/1).

A side note, for what it’s worth: 8-seed Utah State’s odds at a championship are 150/1, third-best among the eights.


Just hear this: Fill out those brackets at your own risk. And remember the main theme here is, and I repeat it, opinions are interesting, but that’s all they are. Nobody knows nothing about nothing, no matter how smart they make themselves sound, not even the professionals from here to Vegas and back. We’re all chucking darts in the dark. And, yeah, that’s what makes it beautiful.