BYU's image has recovered after Loyola Marymount upset

By RANDY HOLLIS

Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Feb. 18 2012 7:10 p.m. MST

PROVO — The BYU men's basketball team had just suffered a surprising home-court setback to Loyola Marymount, a devastating double-digit defeat that, at the time, appeared to seriously damage the Cougars' postseason hopes.

And a former co-worker of mine — an apparent University of Utah fan and/or avid BYU hater — couldn't contain his delight.

"There's no way they're getting to the NCAA Tournament now," he gleefully chortled back on that night of Jan. 19, pleased with the prospect of seeing the Cougars miss out on what has become their customary trip to the Big Dance under head coach Dave Rose.

Well, it looks like my former co-worker (who shall remain nameless to protect the clueless) was wrong. And, to paraphrase the late, great Mr. Mark Twain, rumors of the Cougars' demise have been greatly exaggerated.

That is, if a couple of NCAA "bracketology" experts know their stuff — which they almost always do.

In his latest projections, Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com has the Cougars going dancing as a No. 11 seed and facing sixth-seeded San Diego State, their old Mountain West Conference rival, in the East Regional at Louisville, Ky.

And ESPN's Joe Lunardi, whose ability to pick the NCAA tourney field is generally second to none, also has BYU as a No. 11 seed, facing sixth-seeded Creighton in a West Regional matchup at Pittsburgh.

Four or five other online projections all also put the Cougars at No. 11, though their first-round opponent and destination changes from site to site.

Indeed, in their first season as a member of the West Coast Conference, the Cougars may be forced to take a back seat to St. Mary's and Gonzaga. But, by the time the WCC Tournament concludes and Selection Sunday gets here, BYU will likely have 25 or 26 victories on its ledger and should be assured of another NCAA berth.

That's a relief for college basketball fans from the Beehive State who, a few weeks ago, were fearful that none of the state's Division I men's programs were going to earn an invitation to the Big Dance this year. That disappointing showing hasn't happened since 1994.

Of course, there's always the possibility of Utah State and/or the University of Utah men's teams catching fire and winning their conference tournament title and the automatic NCAA bid that goes with it. … OK, so probably not.

Now, if Weber State can take care of business and win the Big Sky Conference postseason championship, the state could have two teams participating in March Madness. The Wildcats, who are gunning for their first NCAA berth since 2007, are projected as a No. 15 seed should they earn the Big Sky's automatic bid.

But, even though they could finish with 23 or 24 regular-season wins, if the Wildcats don't win their league tourney title, they won't go dancing. It's as simple as that, because the Big Sky has always been strictly a one-bid league when it comes NCAA Tournament time.

And even though they've got the nation's leading scorer in junior guard Damian Lillard, this year will be no different.

But, barring a total collapse by the Wildcats and Cougars, at least it looks like the Beehive State won't get shut out when it comes to Selection Sunday three weeks from today.

And my former co-worker will be eating some crow.

email: rhollis@desnews.com

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