Before the upset in Spokane, nobody was paying attention to BYU. The preseason hype of Tyler Haws had faded as it became obvious he wouldn’t lead the nation in scoring. Kyle Collinsworth has a great story with his triple-double record, but it seems to come and go quickly after each game ends . The drama of the two overtime games in the Maui Invitational was a distant memory.
March 9, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Brigham Young Cougars guard Kyle Collinsworth (5) shoots the basketball against the Portland Pilots during the first half in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The Cougars were a good team with an exciting offense, but a serious lack of good wins and too many bad losses. They were a fringe bubble team with no serious chance of making the NCAA Tournament. But then the upset happened. The Cougars went into Spokane and knocked off Gonzaga, which was big for a multitude of reasons. They snapped the longest home win streak in the nation. They handed the Bulldogs their first conference loss and knocked them out of being a #1 seed. And perhaps most importantly, they did it late at night when every basketball fan and expert who was still up was squarely focused on that one game.
Suddenly, the Cougars are a real bubble team. It’s made even more interesting because they are a hot topic of debate. There are good arguments for and against putting them in the NCAA Tournament, and the debate has gotten more intense since the WCC Tournament. So are the Cougars in or out? We won’t know until Selection Sunday, but we believe that BYU belongs in March Madness. And that’s not just because we cover the West Coast Conference and want to see multiple teams in the tournament. Here are the real reasons why BYU deserves to play for a national championship.
A Dynamic Offense
Two of the most exciting plays in basketball are a thundering dunk and a perfect arc on a long-range shot. The Cougars don’t do much dunking, but their stroke is one of the sweetest in the nation. It would be hard to have an NCAA Tournament that didn’t include one of the best offenses in the nation, which would happen if they don’t include the Cougars.
There are teams that win ugly, and then there are teams that win while being really fun to watch. The crowd is electric when the Cougars are draining shots. It’s exactly the kind of excitement that March Madness is all about. Plus, a good offense can keep BYU in contention with any team. That’s important in a field where the at-large teams are selected in large part based on their ability to survive and advance. And the Cougars can do that.
The Slipper Fits
Speaking of hanging with teams, everybody loves a good Cinderella story. When choosing lower ranked teams for at-large bids, the committee prides itself on picking teams that can get upsets. It’s a positive for the whole system when lower seeded teams advance, because it proves the committee is doing a good job of selecting the right teams and not picking ones who are just going to get blown out and bring no drama to the tournament.
The Cougars have proven they have dramatic upsets in them. And not just because of their upset in Spokane. They gave the Bulldogs a good effort in the other two meetings as well. And they have had some really exciting near-upsets against quality teams like San Diego State, Purdue, and Utah. This is a team that has the ability to win games in the NCAA Tournament, so it’s worth putting them in to see if they can bring some excitement with an upset or two.
Not only do we like to see exciting teams in the NCAA Tournament, we also like to see big-time stars playing at their best in big moments. Haws and Collinsworth are both that type of player. Haws is as pure a scorer as they come, and he could electrify the nation with a big game putting up 20-30 points in a win or loss. Collinsworth has become one of the best triple-double threats in NCAA history, and you have to look at how he got the crowd fired up in Vegas during the semifinal as he inched toward another one to see what he can bring to the Big Dance.
Even if the Cougars struggle as a team, this duo would be exciting to watch on their own. So if you don’t buy that the Cougars can win some tournament games, put them in to see if this duo can put up some big performances that will be a treat to watch simply because it’s two great players doing amazing things.
The Eye Test
All of the above goes into this. When the committee is choosing from the bubble teams, they are all very equal. If they weren’t, that decision would be easy. But it’s like viewing 10 different resumes of people who applied for a job. All are qualified, all can do the job, but you can only pick one. So what do you use to separate them? Most companies would look at who has the best intangible qualities. The most passionate. The most hard-working. The most confident. Those factors then separate one candidate from other equally qualified ones.
That’s how the “eye test” works in the selection process. With all these bubble teams being so similar, it comes down to who is the most exciting. Who has star players? Who can get upsets and advance? Who is the most fun to watch? As we have seen, the Cougars check off all those boxes. That is their best weapon to put themselves ahead of other teams on the bubble. The Cougars are a team you want to watch. That will be fun in a win or loss. That can keep it close and maybe go on a Cinderella run. If the committee is looking for bubble teams that can excite and possibly go deep, then BYU is the top candidate for the job.
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Like any bubble team, the argument can be made both for and against putting BYU in the field. If they were clearly good or bad, they wouldn’t be on the bubble to begin with. They would be in our out. So you can make the claim that they don’t belong in the field. People will point to their lack of defense and interior presence, although they have improved in those areas immensely as of late. They will point out that they have a number of bad losses to inferior teams, although the WCC has proven to be deep and talented making many of those losses seem not as bad.
But at the end of the day, the Cougars have a tournament feel to them. They will be fun to watch both as a team and when focusing on their star players, and nobody can argue that they don’t have the potential to pull off an upset or two and become a Cinderella team. For all those reasons, they deserve a shot. And hopefully, they have earned one. Most brackets had them among the last four teams in the field before the WCC Tournament, and they did nothing to damage that status in Vegas. So as long as not too many surprise teams steal automatic bids in other conference which would cause higher ranked teams to need BYU’s at-large bid, the Cougars should earn an improbable but well-deserved trip to the NCAA Tournament.