SALT LAKE CITY — We're less than three weeks away from what I consider the most exciting sports day of the year — NCAA Selection Sunday.

This year it could be especially exciting for one local team, the BYU Cougars, who will likely earn their highest seeding ever for the Big Dance.

Since the NCAA began seeding the tournament in 1979, the Cougars have been invited to the tournament 18 times. They have been a No. 8 seed five times, a No. 12 seed four times, a No. 10 seed three times, a No. 7 seed twice and a 6, 5, 4 and 3 seed once.

The Cougars' highest seed was in 1980 when as a No. 3 seed, and the Danny Ainge-led Cougars earned a first-round bye in the tournament, only to lose to Clemson in a second-round game at Ogden.

This year, barring a complete collapse, the Cougars should at least match that No. 3 seed and perhaps get a No. 2 seed. Both BYU and San Diego State are being projected as No. 2 seeds in most credible mock brackets right now, and deservedly so.

However, as high as the Cougars and Aztecs are ranked this year and as much national publicity they're both getting, I just can't see both teams ending up with No. 2 seeds. In fact my guess is that the winner of Saturday's game in San Diego will end up as a No. 2 seed and the loser a No. 3.

And what about a No. 1 seed? I can't imagine the NCAA committee giving a No. 1 seed to a Mountain West Conference team. Look for teams from the ACC (Duke), Big East (Pitt), Big 12 (Kansas or Texas) and Big 10 (Ohio State) to nail down the top four seeds.

ANOTHER NO. 2: If the Cougars beat San Diego State this week, finish strong and grab a No. 2 seed, it would match Utah's accomplishment for the highest seed ever for a team from the state.

Utah had two No. 2 seeds, in 1997 and 1999. The first time, the Utes made it to the Elite Eight, losing to Kentucky in San Jose, while the second time they were upset by Miami of Ohio and Wally Szczerbiak in New Orleans in the second round. When the Utes went to the NCAA finals in 1998, they were a No. 3 seed.

BEST EVER FOR USU?: Another team that could earn its highest-ever NCAA seed is Utah State.

The Aggies took a big step by knocking off No. 24 St. Mary's on the road Saturday night. They'll probably have to win out to do it, but the Aggies could get a single-digit seed for the first time in history. Even before Saturday's win, ESPN had USU as a No. 9 seed.

USU has been to the NCAAs 12 times since 1979, but has never been higher than a No. 10 seed, which it has been three times.

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN: Many sports fans who saw Utah's buzzer-beating 62-60 win over New Mexico Saturday night may have missed the Utah women beating the Lobos in nearly the exact same scenario a few hours earlier in Salt Lake.

Both Utah teams trailed by 13 points at nearly the same point in the second half — the Ute men with 13 minutes left and the Ute women with 14 minutes to go.

Both teams fought back and made 3-point shots that fell through the hoop with :00 showing on the clock. Chris Hines hit the 30-foot banker from out front in Albuquerque, while Iwalani Rodrigues sank a 22-footer from the right angle for a 61-58 U. win at the Huntsman Center.

MOVIN' UP: By beating the Lobos Saturday night, the Utes improved their chances of moving up to the 4 vs. 5 game at next month's Mountain West Conference tournament after being headed for the seventh spot before Hines' miracle shot went down.

With a 5-8 mark, the Utes are a half-game behind the Lobos, who fell to 5-7 with the loss. The Lobos have road games at TCU and BYU and home games against UNLV and Air Force. If the Lobos split those two games, they'll end up 7-9 in league play.

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All Utah would have to do to tie UNM would be to win its home games against TCU and UNLV (Utah's other game is at Colorado State). Then the Utes would get the tiebreaker over the Lobos because of its two regular-season wins.

BYU, meanwhile is locked into either the No. 1 or No. 2 spot and the Cougs don't want the No. 2 spot for many reasons, one of which is because UNLV is likely to be No. 3 and would be a possible semifinal opponent at the Thomas & Mack Center.

By beating Colorado State in Fort Collins Saturday, UNLV improved its chances of finishing third as it is just a half game behind the Rams, who still have games at BYU and San Diego State. If the Utes could finish fifth, they would avoid a likely first-round matchup against the Rebels for the second straight year.

e-mail: sor@desnews.com