Cougars could be sitting on NIT bubble

Published: Tuesday, March 12 2013 3:15 p.m. MDT

BYU and San Diego players fight for a rebound during the West Coast Conference men's basketball tournament in Las Vegas, Friday, March 8, 2013. Matt Carlino of the Brigham Young Cougars is at front center.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

PROVO — For anybody who was wondering, yes, there are National Invitation Tournament "bracketologists."

Of course, few pay attention to them, what with the bracketologists for the more prestigious NCAA tournament generating almost all of the interest. The NCAA tournament pairings will be announced Sunday.

Later that night, the less-celebrated NIT will announce its field of 32 — and BYU is hoping to hear its name called.

According to most NIT bracketologists, the Cougars are sitting on the NIT bubble.

This for a program that has played in six straight NCAA tournaments, dating back to 2007.

BYU, which had an RPI of 68 as of Tuesday, is coming off a disappointing 72-69 setback to San Diego in the West Coast Conference quarterfinals last Friday in Las Vegas.

Here's how the NIT works. Any regular-season champion of a Division I conference not selected to the NCAA tournament will earn an automatic qualification into the NIT. The NIT selection committee then chooses the best available teams to fill the 32-team field. Once selected, teams are seeded and placed into one of four eight-team regions.

With all the conference tournaments going on, a lot could happen between now and Sunday.

The Cougars (21-11), who finished the season with a 3-5 record in their final eight games, are projected by several websites to be invited to the NIT.

According to the NIT Bracket Project, BYU is a No. 4 seed, with a first-round game against the University of Denver.

NYCbuckets.com lists BYU as a No. 5 seed, playing a first-round game against former Mountain West Conference rival Air Force.

Bankrollsports.com also projects the Cougars as a No. 5 seed, with possible matchups against projected No. 4 seeds like St. John's, Arizona State, Indiana State and Washington.

BYU has put itself in a tenuous situation, as the Cougars' résumé features a glaring lack of marquee wins. BYU has an 0-6 record against RPI top 50 opponents, while it is 2-2 against teams ranked between 51-100, and 18-3 against foes ranked 101 or higher.

"Yuck, BYU. The Cougars were beaten by San Diego in the WCC quarterfinals, and that might be a loss that proves to be damning for the NIT," wrote Bankrollsports.com. "BYU’s résumé wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. Now, there’s an ugly loss at the end of the year, a painful week of waiting without being on the court, and an NIT bubble that is shrinking by the day. It’s not looking great in Provo."

BYU started slowly against San Diego, battled back from a double-digit first-half deficit, but, in the end, could not defeat the Toreros, a team the Cougars fell to twice this season.

"We're just not making plays down the stretch and we're not closing out games the way we should be," senior guard Brock Zylstra said after the San Diego loss. "This was another one where they made more plays than we did."

"Any time you take a week off, you can expect a little rust," sophomore guard Tyler Haws said of BYU's slow start. "But we talked about it all week, being ready to fight. We didn't do that in the first half, and it's disappointing."

And now, the Cougars are simply hoping to hear their name called Sunday night.

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