PROVO — Oh, what might have been.
When it comes to March Madness, that’s about all college basketball fans have to cling to since the NCAA decided last Thursday to cancel the NCAA Tournament due to the coronavirus outbreak, causing a huge void across the nation’s sports landscape.
There was no Selection Sunday, when the NCAA Selection Committee and CBS unveil the 68-team field on live television.
Though this is the first time since 1939 that the NCAA Tournament hasn’t been staged, that didn’t stop bracketologists and other prognosticators from creating their own brackets and creating their own tournament projections, which include both BYU and Utah State.
It was supposed to be the Cougars’ first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years and the Aggies’ second consecutive tournament berth.
There were debates on social media the past few days about whether the NCAA Selection Committee would, or should, release an official bracket without any actual competition to follow. Would that make players, coaches and fans feel better? Or worse?
“I respect the NCAA’s decision to put everyone’s safety first,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley wrote on his Twitter account. “That said, every team deserves recognition for their season’s success. Brackets should still be announced on Selection Sunday.”
NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt announced Sunday that brackets will not be released for the 2020 NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
“The important work of the basketball committees is to set up competitively-balanced brackets to determine national champions,” Gavitt said. “I don’t believe it’s responsible or fair to do that with incomplete seasons — especially for tournaments that unfortunately won’t be played.”
Meanwhile, it was revealed Friday that the NCAA explored holding a smaller tournament format before it ultimately decided to cancel the Big Dance. Gavitt told CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander that the NCAA considered alternatives. The one that “was most seriously discussed” was a 16-team field of at-large teams that would have played over five straight days at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
“Had BYU been involved and made it to Sunday, the NCAA would have pushed back the Final Four and national title game to Monday and Tuesday to accommodate BYU’s mandatory rule of not playing games Sundays,” Norlander wrote.
Here’s how various experts projected BYU and Utah State in hypothetical, mythical brackets for an NCAA Tournament that never was:
• USA Today released its own bracket and played it out, with BYU as a No. 5 seed in the West Region beating No. 12 Vermont before falling to No. 4 Oregon in the round of 32; and Utah State as a No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region defeating No. 7 Illinois before losing to No. 2 Creighton.
• In Joe Lunardi’s ESPN bracket, BYU received a No. 6 seed, playing in Albany against No. 11 Indiana in the West Region, with the winner facing the winner of No. 3 Seton Hall and No. 14 Eastern Washington.
USU received a No. 10 seed, playing in Tampa against No. 7 West Virginia in the East Region, with the winner meeting the winner of No. 2 Florida State and No. 15 Northern Kentucky.
• In Jerry Palm’s CBS Sports bracket, BYU was a No. 6 seed, playing in Albany against the winner of No. 11 seeds Stanford and UCLA playing in the First Four in the West Region, with the winner colliding with the winner of No. 3 Seton Hall and No. 14 Hofstra.
A few hours after the Selection Show would have aired on CBS, BYU head coach Mark Pope tweeted a video CBS’ Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis made analyzing the matchup just as they would have had the show gone on like normal.
Davis got the final word in the video, saying, “I’m telling you, Clark, if BYU makes the run through the bracket that I expect, the mustache on Zac Seljaas is going to be the most famous basketball mustache since Larry Bird’s. I like BYU as my sleeper pick to make it to (the Final Four in) Atlanta. This is a very, very good team.”
Our team has been dreaming of Selection Sunday since May—our Seniors have been working to earn it for years! Thanks to Greg Gumbel, @ClarkKelloggCBS, and @SethDavis for letting us see and feel what today could have been. Enjoy. Everyone stay safe. Love you Cougar Nation! pic.twitter.com/C9BuW7ceDR— Mark Pope (@CoachMarkPope) March 16, 2020
USU was a No. 10 seed, playing in St. Louis against No. 7 Michigan in the Midwest Region, with the winner taking on the winner of No. 2 Creighton and No. 15 Belmont.
• The SportsLine Projection Model used the bracket from Jerry Palm to simulate every game in the NCAA Tournament and Cougar fans would love the outcome. It has BYU beating Stanford in the opening round and then defeating Seton Hall to move on to the Sweet 16.
“The only upset (in the round of 32) is No. 6 BYU of the West Coast Conference over No. 3 Seton Hall, a co-Big East regular-season champion, in the West Region,” according to SportsLine. “The Cougars showed what they are capable of on Feb. 22 when they upset Associated Press No. 2 Gonzaga 91-78 in Provo.
“The Bulldogs had won 40 consecutive regular-season conference games and 39 straight road contests against WCC opponents. BYU, which hadn’t been in an NCAA Tournament since 2015, hasn’t reached a Sweet 16 since 2011. At No. 6, it would be the highest-seeded team in the 2020 version via the Model. That BYU-San Diego State game would be a regular-season rematch as the schools met in Provo way back on Nov. 9 and the Aztecs won 76-71.”
The SportsLine Model projected BYU losing to SDSU again, with the Aztecs going on to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga. The projection has the Zags going on to lose the championship game to Dayton.
The SportsLine Projection Model has No. 10 USU falling to No. 7 Michigan.
• Heatcheckcbb.com also performed a simulated bracket. BYU was a No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region in Tampa that beat No. 12 Xavier.
“BYU couldn’t miss. Yoeli Childs, TJ Haws and Jake Toolson combined for 71 points as the Cougars unloaded from deep,” according to the website. “Zac Seljaas became an internet meme in the process as well. A truly great day for BYU nation. BYU 91, Xavier 74.”
The Cougars went on to knock off No. 4 Louisville and No. 8 Florida to advance to the Elite Eight. BYU fell to No. 2 Michigan State in Indianapolis, one game short of the Final Four.
Utah State, a No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region in Cleveland, beat No. 7 Arizona.
“Sam Merrill does it again. After Neemias Queta and Zeke Nnaji got into it and were called for technical fouls with about nine minutes to play, Utah State put its foot on the gas pedal to grind out a hard-earned win,” according to the website. “A dagger Merrill triple pushed the lead to two possessions in the final minute to seal the win. Craig Smith called Merrill ‘the son I never had’ in the postgame interview with Allie LaForce. Utah State 76, Arizona 70.”
The Aggies lost in the second round to No. 2 Michigan State.
• The Bracket Project listed BYU as a No. 5 seed playing No. 12 Liberty in the Midwest Region in Tampa. It had USU as a No. 11 seed meeting No. 6 Iowa in the East Region in Greensboro.
• The Sporting News listed projected fields based on specific metrics, with regular-season champions awarded automatic bids for conferences that didn’t get to play in, or finish, their various conference tournaments.
The KenPom Field of 68 had BYU as a No. 4 seed and Utah State a No. 11 seed. The NCAA’s NET rankings Field of 68 projected the Cougars as a No. 3 seed and the Aggies as a No. 10 seed. The SOR Field of 68 featured BYU as a No. 7 seed and USU a No. 9 seed. And the Sagarin Field of 68 slotted the Cougars as a No. 5 seed and the Aggies as a No. 9 seed.
So, BYU and Utah State — do these various brackets seedings and projections make you feel better? Or worse?