The college basketball season ended just a few days ago, but it is never too late to talk about next year. Joe Lunardi released his first predictions for next year's NCAA Tournament on Thursday — and BYU is nowhere to be found.
Gonzaga and St. Mary's are both included in Lunardi's projection, as a 6 and 8 seed respectively, but BYU finds themselves not even on the bubble, according to the master of all things Bracketology. This may come as a surprise to many fans, who see the future of BYU basketball as trending upward — but if we step back and look at things from an outside perspective, it's not hard to see why Joe may have overlooked the Cougars.
First, let's look at who Lunardi does include in his projection. First, Gonzaga. Even with Domantas Sabonis declaring early for the NBA draft, the Zags being in the tournament should come as no surprise. They had a great Sweet 16 run this year and have an elite coach, period. Plus, they'll get an infusion of fresh talent next season that should make them as formidable as ever.
The team that may come as a surprise to some is St. Mary's, who Joe has as the second WCC team represented in the field. It is important to note that the Gaels are slated to return every single player from their very good 2015-16 roster for next season — and were probably closer to qualifying for the tournament this year than BYU. As a result, Randy Bennett's squad will almost assuredly be ranked higher than BYU in most preseason polls and that seems rational at this point given the Gaels' strong track record and an expectation for continued improvement of their young players.
Now, the Cougars. The 2016-17 BYU basketball team figures to have some real talent — there's no denying that. But the fact is, many of these guys either haven't played basketball at all in two years or haven't played at a Division I level yet — or both. All of them are very young and inexperienced (basketball-wise, at least), and that can have a big impact on performance.
Bottom line: BYU is losing an all-time great player in school history, in addition to its leading scorer, from a team that wasn't even in the mix for a tourney bid this past year, and are now attempting to replace them with talented, but incredibly young and unproven players. It's not too hard to see why Lunardi — who can't possibly follow the ins and outs of every team's recruits (especially when they've been away from the game for multiple years) — might, rightly or wrongly, believe the young Cougars aren't quite ready for inclusion just yet.
But BYU fans should take this projection as a hopeful opportunity to exceed expectations this year, something they were unable to do last year. BYU lost six games that they were favored in and won one that they were underdogs in. For that reason, this year has to be seen as a disappointment, if you ask me. Apparently, 56% of you disagree with me, according to this poll. Despite my feelings about this year, I believe there is reason to think that this team can prove Joe wrong!