Utah schools chalked up a record seven invitations to the NCAA basketball tournaments, with the men and women of the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Weber State University qualifying for the Big Dance, along with the men of Utah State University. It's been 24 years since four men's teams from the Beehive State played in the tournament.
For Utah basketball fans, it doesn't get better than this. We congratulate the players, coaches and athletic departments of these four universities for their respective accomplishments, and we wish them well in tournament play, which gets under way Thursday.
The NCAA tournaments are exciting in and of themselves because of the high level of play and the fact that underdogs occasionally carry the day. With seven Utah teams in the mix, the passion for basketball in Utah should be fever pitch.
Here's how it breaks down, pending a postponement necessitated by impending war with Iraq:
The U. drew the highest seeds of the three Utah schools fielding both men's and women's teams. The Utah women, who won the Mountain West Conference regular-season title, are No. 8 in the Mideast and play ninth-seed DePaul on Sunday in Raleigh, N.C.
The U. men, who received an at-large bid, are seeded ninth in the Midwest Regional. Utah, which is in the tournament for the seventh time in eight years, faces eighth-seeded Oregon on Friday in Nashville. The winner likely will face top-seed Kentucky, which has won 23 games in a row. Kentucky, by fate or design, has figured prominently into Utah's tournament plans at least five times in the past 11 years.
Brigham Young's men, who also received an at-large bid and are seeded 12th, play Connecticut in Spokane, Wash. How the committee arrived at this seed and placed BYU in a grouping that would have necessitated the LDS Church-owned university to play on a Sunday defies explanation. Should BYU advance to the Sweet 16, the NCAA will rectify the error by switching BYU from the South to the Midwest Region, which has a Thursday-Saturday schedule. Seemingly, the whole mess could have been avoided by switching BYU and 12th-seeded Weber State in the orginal bracket. One would have thought that committee chairman Jim Livengood, a BYU graduate, would have foreseen this issue.
Meanwhile, BYU's women are seeded 11th in the Mideast and play the University of Colorado on Saturday in Boulder.
The Weber State men, who won the Big Sky Conference tournament last week, will play Big 10 regular season champion Wisconsin on Thursday in Indianapolis in the Midwest Regional. Weber State's women, who also won the Big Sky championship, are seeded 13th in the West Regional. The Weber State women will play Big 10 runner-up Ohio State on Sunday in Ruston, La.
Meanwhile, Utah State makes its third NCAA tournament appearance in four years against powerhouse Kansas, seeded second in the West. The Aggies, seeded 15th, play Thursday in Oklahoma City.
Phew, that's a lot of basketball. Here's hoping that the U.'s, BYU's, WSU's and USU's winning ways are rewarded with success at the Big Dance. These men and women have already won the hearts of Utah's diehard college basketball fans.