Brad Rock: NCAA Tournament bids are nice, but can BYU, USU actually win?
Now that BYU and Utah State have emerged worthy of NCAA Tournament bids, and their opponents are set, the only remaining issue is this: Are they there to win, or just going along for the free airline pretzels?
Sunday, the Cougars and Aggies learned they will be playing in the first round against Florida and Texas A&M, respectively. Win at least one game and they can consider the season a hands-down success. Lose and they're relegated to good-but-not-special status.
Win and people will remember for years. Lose and they can chalk the game up to experience. But at what stage does experience end and resignation begin?
If this seems a harsh indictment, remember both BYU and USU are far overdue for a tournament victory. USU hasn't won since people were calling it the "agricultural college." BYU hasn't won since, well, Brigham Young.
In that light, it's time to avoid talking about seeds, sites and selections, and start taking care of business — immediately. As Gen. George S. Patton said, "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week."
For the Aggies, losing in the postseason has become tradition. First, they win 25 or so games. Often, as this year, they sweat it out whether they'll get invited to the big tournament or end up in the NIT. Then they lose. It's a custom, like A-Day or Aggie Ice Cream.
Of the Aggies' 13 NCAA appearances since 1971, only once have they managed a win (2001).
USU is 6-20 all-time in the NCAA and 1-13 since 1971.
Adding insult to injury, the Aggies are just 2-9 all-time in the humble NIT, winless in their last eight appearances, dating back to 1967.
BYU's record isn't notably better. It hasn't won an NCAA tourney game since 1993 and is 4-14 since 1981, the year the Cougars advanced to the Elite Eight. That was also the last time they won more than one NCAA Tournament game.
Winning in the postseason isn't just good fortune, it's an art. Rick Majerus had it down pat when he coached at Utah. He didn't care a gum wrapper about the conference tournament, and made no secret of it. But get him to the NCAAs and he was Alexander at the Persian Gate, Hannibal at Trebia.
Give Majerus a few days to plan and he could almost telepathize his way into the Sweet 16.Say what you will about his quirky personality, his excesses and vulgarity, but the man could plan. His teams went to the NCAAs 11 times in his 14 seasons. Utah teams have made it as far as the Sweet 16 five times, the Elite Eight twice and the championship game once since 1991.
Mainly, the Utes didn't worry much about seeding and such. They won when they were favored and won when they weren't. They beat Oklahoma in 2005 when the Utes were a sixth seed, the Sooners No. 3. They beat Oregon when they were a ninth seed, Oregon No. 8. They beat North Carolina as a No. 3 seed when the Tar Heels were No. 1, same as when they beat Arizona.
When they were matched with roughly equal teams they won, too, claiming eight vs. nine pairings twice.
That's the problem with BYU and USU — or at least their fans. They've worried too much about the seedings and not enough about the games. BYU has lost as a No. 8 seed to No. 9 seeds three straight times.
Both USU (seeded 12th this year) and BYU (seeded seventh) shouldn't have gone all these years without success — seeding notwithstanding. If George Mason, Butler, Davidson, Winthrop, Bucknell, Bradley, Vermont, Pacific, Manhattan, Central Michigan, Southern Illinois and Pepperdine can win in the tourney, so can BYU and USU.
Those aren't better programs, and they aren't from better conferences.
They just figured things out.
This has been an award-winning year for both USU and BYU. The Aggies placed two players on the all-WAC first team and coach Stew Morrill was the coach of the year. BYU had a first-team all-conference player and four overall. USU won 17 straight and BYU beat Arizona, Arizona State, Nebraska, UNLV and San Diego State.
All of that means little if they can't win in March.
If you want respect, perform when the stage lights go up. Otherwise, plan on spending show nights in the green room.
To print a tournament bracket click here.
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