If you're on Twitter, or if you've been checking mock brackets with any regularity, you're probably aware of the biggest schism in the BYU fanbase since the Saints left Nauvoo. ESPN resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi has BYU clear in the field (they aren't even listed as his First Four In), while CBS bracket pro Jerry Palm doesn't even have the Cougars in his first four out. Various other mock brackets have BYU anywhere from a 10 seed to completely off the board.
So who is right? Why is there so much variance about the team's chances, and what's realistic? First, let's take a look at BYU's profile.
Assuming BYU wins their last game of the season at San Diego (which, given BYU's performance on the road this season, isn't a lock), they'll finish with a 21-10 regular season record, and second in the WCC (baring some sort of historic choke by Gonzaga).
The good news? BYU played a very ambitious out of conference schedule, something the selection committee has typically given the benefit of the doubt for, and picked up a few key wins. BYU has three quality wins over the RPI top 50, (Stanford, Texas and Gonzaga), with the first two coming away from Provo. BYU boasts a decent RPI number at 35 (as of this morning, per ESPN), even though the computers don't count BYU's win over Colorado Mesa. The Cougars also played several of those top 50 RPI losses very close, including Iowa State and Wichita State.
That's the good news. The bad news is that BYU has a bevy of really bad losses. The Cougars have lost to two squads who have an RPI ranking below 150, two others in the RPI 120ish range, and a bad loss to Utah, who currently sits at 89. A committee member could also argue that BYU did their best work several months ago, and appeared inconsistent during league play. While the team has certainly looked good over their last three games, members of the committee will certainly point out the questionable losses, and lack of *big* wins since the new year.
If we look at the Bracket Matrix, a collection of the dozens of bracket projections across the web, we see BYU as a 12 seed, just barely making the cut. It's also worth noting that both Palm and Lunardi were only "okay" at making projections (neither made the top 30), compared to some of the others in the Matrix, so their word should probably not be taken as gospel.
So what's the word then? If we look at the Matrix, my best guess is that BYU's fate lies somewhere in between Lunardi and Palm. BYU is very much in the conversation right now, but the only way they can be 100% assured of a bid is if they win the WCC tournament. Even if they beat San Diego and make it to the WCC finals, their ability to make the field very much depends on what happens with other conferences.
The "size" of the proverbial bubble is going to vary a lot over the next few weeks. What happens if Wichita State is upset in the MVC finals? That means one less at large bid for a team like BYU. Same thing could happen with Green Bay in the Horizon, or with a random team in the Atlantic 10.
So who are the teams BYU should be rooting against? Let's take a look where some of these bubble competitors are:
The Big East
There might not be a bigger collection of bubble teams right now than the middle tier of the Big East. Villanova and Creighton are both locks, and Xavier is probably just one dumb loss away from sliding right into danger territory. The league boasts three teams in the middle of the pack who are fighting for a 11/12 seed: Providence, Georgetown and St. John. I'd guess that the Friars probably need to beat Creighton at the end of the season to climb off the bubble. The Hoyas finish with games against both Villanova and Creighton, but with 11 losses already, they probably can't survive losses to both. St John has the most manageable schedule of three to finish (home against Xavier, DePaul, at Marquette), but the Red Storm could lose any of those games. Cougar fans should root hard against Providence, Georgetown and St.John, to help give them some space on the bubble.
The Atlantic 10
The Atlantic 10 neither solely spans the Atlantic (YOU CAN'T FOOL ME, I'VE BEEN TO DAYTON LOTS OF TIMES), nor 10 teams, but it does boast another healthy crop of bubble teams. Saint Louis, UMass (a former BYU opponent), VCU and probably George Washington are in, but Saint Joseph's, Dayton and Richmond are battling for the a spot or two in the NCAAs. Saint Joe's probably has the best chance of the group, with a relatively high RPI and lack of terrible losses. They have road games against Saint Bonnie and George Washington and a home date with Lasalle, and may make the NCAAs even if they lose to GW, barring an early postseason tourney exit.
Dayton was left for dead a few weeks ago, but they've won six in a row, and with games against the top of the league left, the Flyers could play their way into March...but a loss to Saint Louis, Richmond or UMass probably pops their bubble. The Richmond Spiders still have to play VCU and travel to Dayton as well. If Dayton could drop a few games but beat RIchmond, BYU might reap the biggest benefit.
The Big Ten
One of the nation's best basketball conferences might not send as many teams to the Big Dance as they thought they would before the season started, but they still have two squads hanging around Bubbleville, with Minnesota and Nebraska. The Gophers chocked away a 12 point lead in Columbus on Saturday on their way to an 18 point blowout, and are probably a loss away from a popped bubble. They face Iowa and Michigan (and Penn State) to close out the schedule, but if they win both, they'll have a tourney spot again. Nebraska is a little bit of long shot, given their stretch of bad losses, but winning out isn't an impossibility (at Illinois, Northwestern, at Indiana, Wisconsin), and if they do, things could get very interesting. Cougar fans should probably root for the Cornhuskers to drop a game before the Big Ten Tournament.
BYU needs to win the rest of their games, so they don't have to put themselves in the hands of the committee. If they can't, their profile is likely not strong enough to guarantee selection, so they should root against the middle of the pack of the Big East, Atlantic 10 and Big Ten, along with upsets in other conference tourneys, to give them more space on the bubble, and improve their chances.