by Daniel Olsen | In a one big league like the WAC or Big Sky, those teams will without a doubt have to win their conference tournament to get into the Big Dance in March. Utah Valley, Weber State, Dixie State and Southern Utah programs will look to punch their ticket to the conference tournament. None of those teams are in the top half of the Ken Pomeroy ratings. They will need to get into at least the top 150 and possibly 100 to get into any sort of tournament.
The Aggies, Utes and Cougars are all living around the 60s in the rankings. Including the play-in games, 68 teams make the tournament. There is still work to be done as somewhere around 40 in most rankings is the key to receive an at-large bid.
The reason 40 is the magic number is because the double digit seeds mostly are auto bids from one-bid leagues. If these teams climb up to a seed around 40, if they falter in the conference tournament, they could still be one of the last four teams in and earn a play-in game in Dayton.
That means if BYU for example loses to a powerhouse like Gonzaga in their conference tournament, their resume is still good enough to get into the NCAA tournament. The same is true for USU and Utah. They also have some tough teams in their conferences although no team is as tough as Gonzaga. We will look at each team and see what needs to be done to get in.
( 62 ) USU: How it started vs how it’s going
While USU looked rusty in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic, they now look like a well-oiled machine with six straight wins. This has helped them creep up from a lower tier NIT team in the 80s, to a bubble team. The Aggies have lived in the bubble the last two years but haven’t had to sweat it out on Selection Sunday due to punching their automatic ticket in the conference tournament two years in a row.
The best way for the Aggies to secure an at-large bid is if they just keep winning. This year is interesting because the Mountain West is minimizing travel by playing two games against the same team in the same location within 48 hours. This week the Aggies travel to Lubbock, Texas. The New Mexico Lobos cannot play home games in New Mexico due to COVID-19 regulations in their state. Lubbock is their new home for the time being.
The Aggies need to sweep the poor MWC teams like New Mexico and UNLV in the month of January. They have to at least split with San Diego State in Logan. Despite their hiccups against BYU and Colorado State, that has been one of the toughest opponents for the Aggies in the Mountain West. Last year the third time was the charm as the Aggies beat the Aztecs in the Mountain West championship. They cannot afford to do that again if they want to secure an at-large bid should they stutter in the conference tournament.
( 65 ) Utah: Can they turn around the program?
The Utes have the worst record of the three but their strength of schedule might be a bit better. They are currently 1-2 in the PAC-12 and 4-3 overall. Their only non-conference loss was a huge 64-82 one to BYU. Their main knock is while they have a close quality loss to UCLA, they don’t really have a quality win. Their best win was over Washington who is ranked #126 in KenPom. It gets much worse when you look at their quadrant wins according to NET rankings. Washington is ranked #237 in these rankings which makes them a quad 4 win. Utah is 4-0 in quad 4 games but 0-3 in their quad 1 games. If they can get a couple quad 1 and even quad 2 wins, it will greatly improve their resume.
BYU: Undefeated in the state of Utah
The Cougars have beaten Weber State, UVU, Utah State and Utah. Also don’t forget Westminster who is a Division II school. How much weight does that hold? While none of those games were quad 1 wins, there are several quad 2 wins in there. The only two losses BYU has on their schedule are to quad 1 teams. They did get a win over a quad 1 San Diego State team in Viejas arena which is a place where they seldom lose.
The Cougars are going to need to start playing soon as the cancellation of several games seems to have hindered them in moving up in these rankings. I personally believe they are a top 60 team with real potential to get an at large bid in a stacked WCC. They will have to beat other top teams in Saint Mary’s and San Francisco. They should also hope for a miracle against Gonzaga again. Even one win over the Zags would solidify them as a tournament team.
My Bracketology crystal ball is still a bit foggy in early January but I will do my best. I predict if these teams play to their potential, I see the Cougars as a definite tournament team, the Aggies as a play-in Bubble team, and the Utes as one of the better seeds in the NIT.
Featured image via The Salt Lake Tribune.