Last year the Beehive State sent as many teams to the Big Dance as the Jazz have championships. This talent rich state isn’t used to settling for the NIT and CBI but that is exactly what they had to do last year. This year the state looks to send many teams like they have most recently done with the Utes and Weber State Wildcats in the 2015-2016 season. The Utah State Aggies and UVU Wolverines have also had some past success in their respective conferences. This year it’s time to rank the odds of each team going dancing.
1. Utah Utes: The Utes have the best chance of making the NCAA tournament only because being in a Power 5 Conference makes them a multi-bid League. Last year they didn’t quite win enough games to get in but they were close. The loss of Kyle Kuzma to the NBA hurts but players like big man David Collette will look to make plays as the season progresses.
Don’t expect the Utes to start the season great as they have some tough in-state rivalry games against USU in the Beehive Classic and a return to a Holy War after a one year break due to safety concerns. They also face some decent Power 5 opponents like traditional SEC powerhouse Missouri as well as Ole Miss. They will turn it around in PAC-12 play and if they can keep being a top 4 basketball program in their conference then they should get in.
2. Weber State: Weber State gets the nod at number two only due to their recent success in a smaller league like the Big Sky. The Wildcats always reload some talent that starts out playing in “The Purple Palace” and lately ends up in the NBA. NBA franchise point guard Damien Lillard as well as recent Jazz Center Joel Bolomboy are the most recent examples. Look for WSU to roll through their non-conference schedule with no Power 5 teams and make a run at a return to the Big Dance.
USU: This is going out on a limb considering last year the Aggies had their first losing season in 20 years. However, this season is going to be different because of one guy: Koby McEwen.
Just how good was Koby his freshman year? About as good as Jaycee Carroll was as he averaged about the same amount of points as a freshman which was around 14 points a game.
Koby was one of four diaper dandies to average 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists last season. The other three were Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson and Markell’s Fultz. While the other three were selected in the top 5 of the NBA draft, the Aggie mamba has elected to stay in school and help the Aggies right the ship. He will be helped by another player who had a great first year in San Merrill.
The Aggies will have some tough games early on vs in-state rivals Utah and BYU as the defending runner-up Gonzaga Bulldogs. They have a punchers chance if they can keep playing like they did last year when they defeated the best team in the league in Nevada. Unfortunately the Mountain West has lately become a one bid league but that could change if a couple teams get hot.
4. UVU: It’s either the Wolverines or the New Mexico State Aggies for the WAC title. The WAC has been owned by the NMSU Aggies ever since the Aggies of Logan moved to the MWC. The Aggies have won all the conference championships since then with the exception of Cal State Bakersfield one year.
Ever since UVU fans clashed with some NMSU players in a brawl in Family City USA, it’s become clear that these two teams don’t like each other. Look for UVU to make a run in the WAC tournament but have a tough time dethroning the cream of the crop in the conference.
BYU: If they play like the team that beat Gonzaga they will be fine. If they play like the team that lost to UVU they will struggle. It hurts that Eric Mika left but the Cougars will live or die by the speed that Haws and Emery progress at. Emery might be stalling his progress as NCAA violations might lead to a several game suspension. If the WCC is going to be a two and a half bid league then maybe the Cougars sneak into a play-in game again but don’t look for them to upset the Zags in the actual conference tournament anytime soon.
Everyone else: Sorry but Dixie State and SUU aren’t going to do anything in basketball. They have beautiful red rock landscapes but their best sporting event down there is probably high school football and the St. George marathon.