The madness of the NCAA tournament’s first week is now behind us. Our days of being forced to endure breakdowns of colleague and friend’s brackets are over for another year. And for the state of Utah, our collective college basketball seasons are finished.
While Weber State fans hold their heads high after putting up a valiant effort against one of the nation’s best teams, BYU fans are lamenting a blistering loss at the hands of the University of Oregon in the first round of the tournament.
For the Cougars, the game marked a seventh appearance in the Big Dance in the last eight years, and 10 in the past 13. The game also featured BYU’s eighth exit from the bracket in the round of 64.
Coach Dave Rose has done a remarkable job of making his team a perennial staple in the event, and BYU’s stellar recruiting classes the past three seasons put the odds in Rose’s favor that the trend will continue.
But will the next batch of Cougar hoopsters be able to make that special run into the tournament that their fans so desire? Or will one-and-dones continue as the norm as they have for BYU more than 76 percent of the time since 1990?
Cougar tournament success by the numbers
Before fans get too worried about the Cougars' lack of deep runs past the Sweet 16, keep in mind, that BYU’s advancement (or lack thereof) in the tournament each year has not been out of line with its respective seed.
Since 1990, BYU has been higher than an 8-seed just three times. In all of those years, the team advanced into at least the second round. It has avoided the dreaded first-round upset that doomed teams like Duke and Ohio State this season.
The remaining 12 appearances, the Cougars have been an 8-seed or higher. In those games, the team has just a single victory, in 1991 when it took down 7-seed Virginia.
In general, those BYU teams lost as a higher seed might be expected to do by the percentages. But there’s more to the story when you look at the performances collectively rather than just each year alone.
BYU hasn’t found its glass slipper
One of the things fans love most about the NCAA tournament is watching double-digit seeds beat those with single digits next to their names on the bracket. After all, that’s what puts the “madness” in the first weekend.
Anyone who’s filled out a bracket knows that you can always slot at least one 5-seed to knock off a 12. In fact, in the last three NCAA tournaments, 12-seeds have pulled off an upset 66 percent of the time.
And there are plenty of other upsets in the other double-digit seeds (See chart at left).
In that same time frame, BYU has been an 8-seed four times, a 12-seed four times, a 10-seed twice and a 14-seed once. As mentioned earlier, the Cougars have been able to win just one of those games, when it was a 10-seed in 1991.
So where are the upset wins for the Cougars?
Collectively, by the percentages BYU hasn’t performed well as an 8 or lower seed. Multiplying the historical rates of upset above by the number of games played as each seed tells us the Cougars should have at least four wins in those games they lost — and that’s just meeting the averages.
As an 8-seed, four times BYU hasn’t been able to break through despite the fact 8-seeds win 50 percent of the time. And as a double-digit seed, it hasn’t found the magic much either, even on the alluring 12-seed line four times in the past in a matchup that leads to an upset in 40 percent of games.
The seeds aren’t bearing fruit
In fairness, it’s not like the Cougars have had moments like Duke and Syracuse where they’ve been single-digit seeds dropping games to schools you have to Google to know anything about.
But in terms of underperforming, the Cougars have had struggles not just with elusive wins. In fact, in its 11 NCAA tournament first-round losses since 1990, BYU has lost by a greater margin and/or scored below average for its seeding in eight of those 11 NCAA games.
This year’s loss by 19 points to Oregon was second-highest in margin-of-defeat for BYU in first-round games, second only to a 25 point pounding the Cougars took from Cincinnati in 2001.
Looking for the bright side of the bracket
Unfortunately for its worldwide fan base, BYU has performed below average in the NCAA tournament over the past two decades or so in wins and general game performance. And fans are bound to become antsy about it.
The good news for BYU basketball is that the so-called “law of averages” says that the Cougars are due for wins in the NCAA tournament, even as lower seeds.
The better news is, with a stellar lineup of recruits coming home from missions over the next three years, they may find themselves playing double-digit seeds rather than being them. Either way, fans should expect to see more of BYU after opening Thursday.
Ryan Teeples, twitter.com/SportsGuyUtah, is a marketing and technology expert, full-time sports fan, owner of Ryan Teeples Consulting Inc. (RyanTeeples.com) and regular contributor to LoyalCougars.com.