Breathe deeply, Cougar fans. Your team has been given a new lease on life — and it seems to be a pretty favorable one.
As expected, the NCAA tournament selection committee did not extend a bid to BYU on Sunday, leaving the Cougars to wait and see if the lesser National Invitation Tournament would call their number. Many NIT bracketologists (yes, they do exist) speculated in the run-up to the selection announcement that BYU's lack of marquee wins and inauspicious finish to the regular season could result in their complete exclusion from the field, a possibility that would have sent shockwaves of revulsion through the fanbase.
Thankfully, these sage individuals forgot the two cardinal rules of the NIT: 1) Never expect the NIT to act rationally, because they almost never do; and 2) Money talks, and it speaks especially loudly to a second-class basketball tournament that merely functions as a revenue generator. Many years from now, when the Earth is nothing but a burnt husk, the NIT will still be handing out dubious bids to schools with big arenas and the ability to pull a decent TV audience. It's the American way.
As such, BYU received a No. 3 seed in this year's competition to name the 69th best team in college basketball, a marked improvement over where most expected the Cougars to end up. With this very favorable selection, Provo will get to see their boys play at least one more time, as they will play host to underachieving, sixth-seeded Washington on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. MST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. (You can view the full NIT bracket here.)
But it gets even better from there. If Dave Rose's squad manages to regroup and pull off a win over the Huskies (more on the likelihood of that shortly), they are guaranteed to get a second home game, due mostly to pure randomness.
The BYU-Washington winner is slated to play the winner of a matchup between No. 2 Tennessee and No. 7 Mercer this weekend. If Mercer were to win, they would be expected to travel to play either BYU or Washington, as they would be the lower seed in either case. If Tennessee were to win, they would normally be expected to host their next game as the higher seed, regardless of the BYU-Washington result — but because Thompson-Boling Arena will be unavailable this weekend due to it being a host site for the NCAA women's basketball tournament, the Volunteers would be required to travel to face their second round opponent.
The bottom line? If BYU wins on Tuesday, they will get to play another game at the Marriott Center, probably next Friday or Saturday. That's right, BYU somehow went from allegedly being on the cusp of exclusion from the tournament altogether to having two more games in front of their raucous home crowd and a much easier path to Manhattan. Talk about the luck of the draw, eh?
(As several folks noted on Twitter, it's about time that BYU got a favorable tournament seed after years of being consistently under-seeded in the NCAA tournament, due mostly to difficulty scheduling around the school's Sunday play restrictions. Justice!)
Nevertheless, despite their seemingly fortuitous circumstances, the Cougars still have to show up and win on Tuesday night to fully take advantage of the situation. Washington is exactly the kind of team that BYU struggles with — long, quick, athletic — but they also struggle shooting the long ball (only five Huskies made a three-pointer this year, and the team shot only 34.2 percent from deep), which could mean good things for Rose's zone defense. To be sure, Lorenzo Romar's team is very talented, but as our Zach Bloxham has noted, they rarely realize that potential:
Lorenzo Romar: No one gets less out of more. The Emperor with no clothes.— zbloxham (@zbloxham) March 15, 2013
Complicating things even further is the fact that neither team will have much time to prepare for the other. The game is less than 48 hours away. That doesn't leave much time to track down game film, cut it together, and install a gameplan. Factor in that Washington will have to spend a portion of Monday traveling to Provo, and the Huskies will have even less practice time than the Cougars. This reality figures to favor BYU — in a game where neither team is likely to be fully prepared in a strategic sense, a loud home-court atmosphere and the effects of high altitude could tip the scales toward the hosts — but as we've seen it past NITs, the results can be kind of a crapshoot.
It is worth noting that BYU and Washington did play one common opponent this season — Utah. Whereas we all likely remember the Cougars' dramatic home win over their arch-rivals, powered by a handful of late-game heroics by Matt Carlino, the Huskies weren't so fortunate. They lost to the Utes in Seattle on January 19, 74-65, handing the Pac-12 newcomers their first ever conference road win. Washington, who were a perfect 4-0 in conference coming into the game, never really recovered from the loss — they dropped six of their next seven contests and fell out of contention.
Perhaps more so than usual, Tuesday's outcome will depend on which team shows up to play. Neither team will have time to dream up any innovative ideas to shut down their opponent. Both teams will probably be a bit sloppy and ill-prepared. And let's be honest, neither team is all that good to begin with. Each has shown flashes of what they are capable of doing at some point throughout the season, and victory at the Marriott Center (and the chance to host a guaranteed home game in the second round) will depend on which squad comes closest to bottling that lightning for 40 minutes.
If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on BYU. The external, intangible factors point the Cougars' way. The crowd will be loud — there's simply nothing better to do in Provo on a Tuesday night. They will get to sleep in their own beds. And they will undoubtedly be motivated to wash the bad taste of that disgusting loss to San Diego out of their mouths.
But this is college basketball and we are in March. And even more than that, we are in the NIT, where logic and reason have no place. Buckle up and loosen up those vocal chords, Cougar fans. It's survive-and-advance from here on out. Anything can happen.