COMMENTARY – What a weird kind of limbo BYU fans are in this weekend.
The Cougars didn’t get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, but were almost immediately selected to play in the National Invitation Tournament. Tuesday night BYU won its first-round NIT game at home against Washington. The Cougs play their second-round game Monday night.
In the meantime, the rest of the sports world focuses on the four best days in sports – the first and second rounds of March Madness.
I love these four days, when there is basketball from breakfast-time until Midnight snack-time. We get to see crazy match-ups like New Mexico-Harvard and Syracuse-Montana. And mixed in among the 48 games in four days are a few buzzer-beaters, several stirring comebacks and a couple of shocking upsets.
For sports fans, most of whom love the underdogs, this weekend has just about everything we could ever want. Someone big is going down. Someone we’ve barely heard of will be in the Sweet Sixteen. Some big, bad three seed will get its lunch handed to it.
And then there’s BYU. I will make no argument that the Cougars deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament. BYU finished third in a two-bid conference. That’s just the way it is. Had they won a couple of conference tourney games, you could make a case. But that didn’t happen.
So the Cougars and their fans sit and watch their old Mountain West rivals UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico and Boise State dance this weekend. Some will root for their old foes, others against. It doesn’t matter much as none of the four have a realistic chance of winning it all.
In fact, the only team west of Kansas with a realistic chance to take it all is BYU’s current conference foe, Gonzaga, and even that is a stretch of the imagination.
For the Cougars, they can take solace in being able to still play some hoops. The extra week or two of practice granted for postseason tournaments is invaluable. That means more time to work on the team’s system, more time for young players to develop and a few more games for fans to say goodbye to their favorite seniors – Brandon Davies, Brock Zylstra and Craig Cusick.
BYU plays at home again Monday night against Mercer. The 24-11 Bears won the Atlantic Sun Conference, but lost in their league tourney to Florida Gulf Coast. Mercer beat Tennessee 75-67 in their NIT first-rounder.
BYU’s win over Washington was fun, though only about 7,000 fans showed up to watch in the cavernous (20,000-plus) Marriott Center. So the jury is still out on whether or not the bulk of BYU fans even care that they’re still playing. The size of the crowd on Monday night will reveal a lot, I believe.
I, for one, am glad the season is still going for BYU and I do believe a deep NIT run will help in recruiting and team exposure, something we all crave.
A potential re-match with Baylor in the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden would get even the most curmudgeonly BYU fan back on board.
To see the NIT Bracket, click here.
Andy Griffin is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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