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How high can BYU get seeded in the NCAA Tournament? Does Utah State still have a glimmer of at-large hope?

The Cougars are rising up ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s seed line, while he says the Aggies still could get in the Big Dance.

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BTYU Cougars center Matt Haarms (3) hugs his teammates late in a West Coast Conference basketball game against the Saint Mary’s Gaels in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021.

Annie Barker, Deseret News

There’s still some regular-season college basketball left to be played, but with the calendar having officially turned to March, most eyes at this point are on the postseason, and especially how the NCAA Tournament bracket might look when it is unveiled March 14.

Here’s the latest look at where teams in Utah stand in their quests to be in the Big Dance field.

BYU keeps moving up seed lines. How high can the Cougars get?

Just last week, we wrote in this space how it appeared the BYU Cougars were becoming more and more likely to end up in the top half of the bracket (a top eight seed).

Could the Cougars now get as high as a 6 seed? It certainly appears possible.

In his latest bracket, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has BYU as a 7 seed (facing the 10-seed VCU Rams). In a Q&A session on Twitter Saturday night, Lunardi was asked if the Cougars could get as high as a 5 seed. Lunardi answered simply “No,” but did not elaborate, perhaps leaving the door open for the idea that it’s possible BYU could end up as a 6 seed.

The Cougars were No. 26 on Lunardi’s latest seed line he released last Friday, which would make them the second-highest 7 seed.

CBS’ Jerry Palm isn’t quite as bullish on BYU at this point, as his latest bracket projection released Monday still has the Cougars as an 8 seed (facing 9 seed Colorado).

The Cougars have won four straight games heading into the West Coast Conference tournament and will have byes until the semifinals.

Does Utah State still have a chance at an at-large bid?

All season long, a bunch of teams in the Mountain West Conference, including the Utah State Aggies, have been seen as being squarely on the tournament bubble. After the Aggies lost two games to fellow bubble-sitter Boise State in mid-February, it appeared their hopes of getting an at-large tournament berth were over.

But maybe not so fast?

In the Q&A referenced above, Lunardi was asked if there was a path for Utah State to get a bid short of earning the MWC’s automatic berth by winning the conference tournament. Lunardi responded by saying, “Not impossible, but probably have to make the final.”

The notion that the Aggies might not even have to make the MWC championship game, let alone win it, certainly has to be a big ray of hope in Cache Valley.

Utah State has a game scheduled for Thursday at home against Wyoming, and it is slated to finish the regular season on the road Saturday against Fresno State.

SUU, Weber State should be real contenders for the Big Sky’s automatic bid

As they gear up for their final week of the regular season, both the SUU T-Birds and Weber State Wildcats are playing excellent basketball, and thus are positioning themselves well to make a run in the Big Sky conference tournament.

Standings are a bit wonky because teams have played different numbers of games due to COVID-19 pauses, but the T-Birds are second in the Big Sky having won seven straight contests. The Wildcats are third and have gone 13-2 in their last 15 games.

The Eastern Washington Eagles are atop the Big Sky standings but are just a half game up on both SUU and Weber State. The Eagles were picked to win the conference and thus should be seen as the team to beat (they’ve won nine straight games), but the two Beehive State squads are showing they could have what it takes to make a run.

UVU should contend for the WAC crown

Like SUU and Weber State, the Utah Valley Wolverines aren’t quite at the top of their conference, but they’re certainly in position to contend for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolverines are just a half game back of the conference leading Grand Canyon Lopes despite having gone just 5-4 in their last nine games. The Lopes are 2-2 in their last four contests but won eight straight before that (although they did start the season just 4-3).

Perhaps it’s fitting that the two teams are scheduled to meet this week for a two-game series at Grand Canyon to conclude the regular season. It will certainly be a big measuring stick opportunity for both sides, but regardless of what happens, UVU is proving it is capable of being there at the end of the conference tournament when things matter most.

The other WAC team from Utah, the Dixie State Trailblazers, are 4-8 in conference play and are scheduled to wrap up the regular season this weekend with a two-game series against New Mexico State in St. George.

A note about Utah while we’re here

As has been realized for quite a long time now, the Utah Runnin’ Utes won’t make the NCAA Tournament barring what would amount to probably the biggest shock in Pac-12 basketball history.

That said, kudos to Larry Krystkowiak’s club for its upset win of the 19th-ranked USC Trojans last Saturday after Utah looked in its previous four contests like it was just ready for the season to be over.

The Utes have two more regular season games scheduled this week. It would at least be a fun end to a long season if they can finish strong and then play spoiler for a bit in the Pac-12 Tournament.