Everybody knows BYU basketball is looking at a good generation of players who have achieved great heights in high school.
Top 100 players in their high school class. High School National Championships. A long time to play together.
The result is the “loyal, strong and true” are turning into Marriott Center Maniacs.
The enthusiasm is wonderful, but has turned into sincere recklessness.
Fans (and even a few media) prognosticators have visions of the BYU basketball team playing in the Final Four (and this time, not in the NIT). At first, I figured it was just a mindless, empty prediction. But when I’ve been able to dig deeper with people I had a shocking discovery — there is genuine belief that BYU will be a 2017 Final Four team. That’s wild!
It is as ill-advised as having your arthritic grandmother try out a hoverboard.
Now, maybe you don’t think this coming 2016-17 campaign is the “Final Four year,” but instead expect it to happen sometime in the next 3 seasons. While more cautious, this belief is only slightly less negligent.
At the risk of going all-Michelle Peralta, allow me to invite everybody into a cold shower.
As a fanbase, BYU fans simply don’t know what a Final Four team looks like. Final Four teams witnessed in the Marriott Center have only arrived as visitors. So, let’s take a look at the basic characteristics of teams that win their region during March Madness.
Final Four teams have NBA Draftees on their roster.
From 2001-2015, 60 teams have advanced to the Final Four. 45 of those 60 teams (75%) had at least 2 future NBA draft picks. 36 (60%) Final Four teams had at least 3 future NBA draft picks on their roster. 25 (41.7%) had at least 4 NBA draft picks. 16 (26.7%) featured 5 or more pro selections. 6 (10%) had 6 NBA draft picks on their roster.
On average, each season, there are 3 Final Four spots taken by teams with at least 2 future NBA players on their roster. This leaves just 1 spot for teams with only 1 or zero NBA draftees.
12 teams have made it to the Final Four with 1 NBA draftee. 3 teams have advanced to the tournament’s final weekend without a single future NBA draft selection.
If you feel confident that BYU is going to make an appearance in the Final Four within the next 3 seasons, you must believe that this “golden generation” of recruits will yield at least 2 NBA Draft selections.
For the record, since the NBA reduced the draft to only 2 rounds in 1989, BYU has only had two NBA Draft picks on the same roster once. It was in 2002-03 when both Travis Hansen and Rafael Araujo were teammates. This team lost its first round game as a 12-seed against UCONN, 58-53.
Final Four teams have a pedigree.
As much as it pains me, the Cougars severely lack in program pedigree — at least in terms of the NCAA Tournament.
BYU infamously owns the distinction of most NCAA tournaments (29) without a Final Four appearance. (Hey, finally something we have Gonzaga beat at!) As ugly as that fact is, there are a couple others that I find even more repulsive.
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, BYU’s record is 7-18.
BYU has only reached the Sweet 16 if the National Player of the Year is on their roster.
During this century’s NCAA tournaments, if you aren’t going to have 2 NBA Draft selections on your team, you probably have at least 1 future NBA player, a program that has reached the Final Four before, AND you probably have a terrific coach.
Here is a list of the 12 Final Four Teams from 2001-15 that only had 1 NBA draftee on their roster.
- 2002 Indiana Hoosiers
- 2004 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
- 2005 Louisville Cardinals
- 2009 Villanova Wildcats
- 2009 Michigan State Spartans
- 2010 West Virginia Mountaineers
- 2010 Michigan State Spartans
- 2011 Butler Bulldogs
- 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes
- 2014 UCONN Huskies
- 2014 Florida Gators
- 2015 Michigan State Spartans
All 12 of these programs had made it to the Final Four previously. If a team wants to make a deep run in March with only 1 NBA Draftee on the roster, they had better not be blazing a new trail for the program.
Furthermore, 9 of the 12 teams were coached by somebody that has made it to multiple Final Fours in their career. To win in March with only one NBA Draft talent, it helps to have the battle-tested coaching experiences and inventiveness of Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, Thad Matta, Bob Huggins, Jay Wright, Brad Stevens and Rick Pitino.
Over his first 11 campaigns, Dave Rose has taken BYU to seldom seen territories. Coach Rose has been good overall in his 11 seasons at BYU. His record in tournament games leaves more to be desired. Rose is 4-8 at the NCAA tournament. 6-3 in the NIT — 1-3 not in the Marriott Center. 14-12 in conference tournaments. That’s 24-22 in postseason tournaments.
However, history suggests that as good as Coach Rose may be, if he’s going to get BYU to a Final Four for the first time, he’s going to need 2 NBA Draft prospects.
Still, every program has to reach the Final Four for the first time.
In the past 28 NCAA tournaments (since the expansion to a 64-team field), the Final Four has only welcomed programs for their first time on 12 occasions. That’s 12 Final Four spots out of a possible 112. First timers are welcomed to the Final Four once every 3 seasons! 91 programs have reached the Final Four in the history of the event. That means that 260 teams are still waiting to join the party. Remember, on average, only one berth will be earned in the next 3 seasons to the 260 teams that have never made it.
All things being equal, the Cougars have a 0.4% chance of being that team.
9 of those 12 first time Final Four teams had 2 or more NBA Draftees. The 1994 Florida Gators made it to their first Final Four with just 1 future pro selection, while 11-seeds George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth out of the Colonial Athletic Conference were able to make their maiden Final Four voyage without any NBA draft prospects on their squads.
If you feel BYU will make the Final Four in the next 3 seasons, but that the Cougars don’t have 2 future NBA Draftees, you better have picked the 2006 George Mason or 2011 VCU teams to reach reach the National Semifinal in your office pool.
Final Four Teams earn a high seed.
The magic of March is found in upsets. But frequently, the Final Four is the playground for the Goliaths of college hoops. While we’ve seen plenty of David’s in the round of 64, it seems there aren’t many stones around to reload the sling in the next few rounds.
Since 2001, the Final Four has seen 25 1-seeds, 14 2-seeds, 7 3-seeds, 6 4-seeds, and 4 5-seeds. A combined 56 appearances by teams that were classified as the Top 20 teams in the country. 6-seeds and lower have only cracked the Final Four 8 times during this stretch — meaning that there is 1 spot in the Final Four for a 6-seed or lower every other year, on average.
While possible for an outsider to enter the Final Four, the last weekend of the tournament is where the big boys play.
BYU hasn’t provided much as an underdog in its body of work in the NCAA tournament. As a lower seeded team, BYU is 3-15. Just 2 Cougar squads have ever pulled an upset.
The Danny Ainge-led ‘81 squad scored 2 upsets as a 6-seed against 3-seed UCLA and 2-seed Notre Dame. In 1991, Shawn Bradley’s 9 blocks powered 10-seeded BYU over 7-seed Virginia 61-48 as the Cougars pulled off the upset, holding the Cavaliers to a measly 28 FG%. Interestingly enough, both of these teams featured BYU’s 2 most successful NBA players.
Dave Rose hasn’t had much luck as an underdog seed during his tenure. In post-season tournaments (conference tournaments, NITs, NCAAs), the Dave Rose-led Cougars are a combined 1-11 when they are lower seeded. Which makes some sense. After all, the other team is seeded higher because they are probably better.
At the same time, BYU has been upset several times and almost never do it to anyone else. As the higher seeded team, the Cougars have a 22-10 record under Rose. As equal seeds, 1-1.
The only time BYU has won as the underdog seed came thanks to a Brock Zylstra 3-pointer explosion in the 3rd round of the 2013 NIT on the road at Southern Mississippi.
All of this is to say, if you are looking for Cinderella to come out of Provo you are going to end up in a pumpkin patch. The Cougars’ fairy godmother has been stingier than the Honor Code. She casts a spell that wears off at 9 p.m.
BYU hasn’t won as an underdog in the NCAA’s in 25 years. I think it is fair to say: if the Cougars are going to make some real noise in March, they will need to do it as a 5-seed or higher.
In program history, BYU is 7-7 in the NCAA tournament when they are higher seeded than their opponent. In the Cougars 3 seasons in which they commanded a 3-seed (‘80 & ‘11) or 4-seed (‘88), the Y played to a 3-3 record.
In the West Coast Conference, it is possible to get a very good seed. But, only Gonzaga has done so. The Zags have earned a 1-seed once, 2-seed twice, 3-seed twice, and a 4-seed once. In each of those seasons, Gonzaga was both regular season and conference tournament champions. So, in order to secure a very high seeding, the Cougars are going to have to totally overcome Gonzaga.
In addition, to earn a high seeding from the committee, the Cougars can’t lose much in non-conference. Gonzaga’s high seeds all came in seasons where they only suffered defeat 2 to 5 times in the regular season.
For the record, in each of Gonzaga’s 6 seasons that they earned a 4-seed or higher, they had 2 NBA players on their roster.
If you believe that BYU is poised for a Final Four run in the next 3 years, you must also believe that BYU is going to dethrone Gonzaga in the conference regular season, finally win a conference tournament for the first time since 2001, AND earn a high seed in the NCAA tournament.
Even if all that does come together, you just never know.
All too often, the incoming recruits are referred to as the most talented group in school history. That simply isn’t true. That honor goes to the 1979-80 Cougars team had 4 players — Danny Ainge, Fred Roberts, Devin Durrant, Greg Kite (Kite came off the bench!) — that were all selected in the first two rounds of the NBA draft.
This team played their way to a 24-4 record in the regular season. Earning a 3-seed in the tournament. Sadly, the 79-80 team was upset by Clemson, 71-66, as a 3-seed in their first NCAA game.
The BYU basketball future is going to be a lot of fun. This group of players shows a lot of promise. The recruiting services loved them. The Lone Peak kids did some tremendous things as a group. I hope it continues.
Just don’t let the frippery of the hype sweep your expectations to unfair heights. If they are going to make it to the Final Four, just know it is going to take serious dosage of luck, magic, and surprises.