Utah’s Journey back to the tourney

The state of Utah has a history of great basketball. The Utes have traditionally been a basketball school as they were the runner up in 1998 and won a championship in the World War II era. BYU has Jimmer Mania and once won the NIT back when it was the main tournament. The Aggies have had great players and teams especially in the last 20 years with the Stew Morrill era and now the future looks bright with Craig Smith.

The fact is the whole state has struggled to put a team back into the NCAA tournament. For two straight years the NIT has been home for the Utes and Cougars. Weber, UVU and SUU have failed to capture their respective conference titles which is their only hope to go dancing since they are in one bid leagues.

The last team to qualify for the Big Dance was the Utes in the 2015-2016 season. They finished as the runner up of the PAC-12 tournament and earned a 3 seed. They easily dispatched the Mountain West champion Fresno State before falling to 11 seed Gonzaga in a big 23 point upset.

BYU got to the Elite 8 in the NIT that year. For two straight seasons the NCAA tournament has eluded every college team in the state but that doesn’t mean that basketball is bad here. There are just 68 teams that get in out of over 300 Division 1 basketball schools. The Utes were the runner up of the NIT.

Why is this the year for the Beehive State? Who as the best chance to go dancing? What is the most likely scenario?

It’s Crunch Time, let’s Crunch some numbers

It’s time for the bracketology nerds to start stalking the Ken Pomerroy rankings as well as the other basketball sites that rank advanced metrics like BPI.

Utah State University is the best ranked school on the Basketball Power Index at 52nd in the nation. However, due to the East Coast bias they aren’t considered an auto bid…. yet. They are still considered by ESPN bracketology experts to be among the Next Four Out. This means that after the 68 team field is set, the Aggies would earn a 2 seed in the NIT which is still a big improvement since it will be the first postseason the school will have played in since the 2012 season when they were the runner up in the CIT Championship.

With a game winner over New Mexico in the Pit this weekend the Aggies improved to 15-5. It’s definitely been a great year for Coach Craig Smith who is off to the best start for a first year coach in school history. It’s been a while since the Aggies have rattled off 20 wins but they look like they will at least do that. They will have to win possibly even more to earn an auto bid in the Big Dance. Since there are no guarantees the best way to get a team in is win the tournament. The Aggies appear to be ready but the West is still a gauntlet. Look for Coach Smith to preach intensity as always which will be the calling card for the blue and white as the rest of this season unfolds.

BYU has the second best BPI in the state at 94th in the nation. So far it looks like their recent win against St. Mary’s is their best rated BPI win but the Aggies were a great win too. The Cougars are simply unstoppable at home. It will take a big effort from the Cougars to keep the Dave Rose 20 win season streak alive and hopefully a postseason future that means something. The West Coast Conference is a two bid league at best so it will be interesting to see whether the Cougars can become a bubble team as they try to climb up the standings.

The Utes are struggling as their BPI is only 143rd. The fact that UVU is rated better is unbelievable. The PAC-12 appears to be a two bid league. Even among the Power 5 conference west of the Mississippi there isn’t much love in general for college hoops out on the West Coast. If people out west want to watch championship basketball then they go to the pros to cheer on the Warriors at Roaracle arena.

Right now it looks like nobody but the Aggies have a chance to have an auto bid. Weber State (157) UVU (136) SUU (276) are all in one bid conferences and none of them appears to have a chance at the Big Dance unless they pull off a miraculous conference tournament run.

There is still plenty of basketball left to be played. Throughout the next month teams will make their case to bring basketball from the Beehive State back to the Big Dance. The Round Of 64 and 32 will include 4 teams playing in Salt Lake City for the chance to advance to the Sweet 16. It’s time to give the Beehive State someone to cheer for besides teams in other states that they don’t care about. The Jazz are on the come up. Who’s got next in college hoops in the Beehive State? We will soon find out.

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