As BYU is on the cusp of another NCAA tournament berth, we're taking a look at what made previous BYU men's basketball teams successful. Each Cougars team that went deep into the tournament had one thing in common — star power. An in-depth look into the annual BYU Basketball Almanac reveals some interesting insights about the Cougars' basketball history, especially as it relates to elusive NCAA tournament wins.
BYU's first entrance into the NCAA basketball tournament came in 1950, when it included only eight teams around the country. Although the Cougars lost their first game to Baylor on a last-second shot, BYU played UCLA for third place in the West Region and soundly defeated the John Wooden-led Bruins 83-62. The Cougar lineup was studded with stars like Mel Hutchins, Roland Minson and Joe Nelson. The next year, "Minny" and "Hutch" led the team to a National Invitation Tournament championship in New York City.
There was a long drought before the Cougars got another NCAA tournament win under their belt. In 1971 Yugoslavian national hero Kresimir Cosic led BYU to a WAC championship as a sophomore. The team had to play Utah State in Logan in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Cougars defeated the Aggies before losing to UCLA at the West regional in Salt Lake City.
By 1981 Frank Arnold had put together a formidable team anchored by senior Danny Ainge, junior Fred Roberts and sophomore Greg Kite. Even without the other star who had just left on a mission, Devin Durrant, the Cougars were big on the national stage. Ainge led the Cougars to three tournament wins, the most ever for a BYU team. The dramatic win over Notre Dame, with Ainge's last-second full-court drive, overshadowed the dominant 78-55 trouncing of UCLA in the previous game, where Ainge, Roberts and Kite all had great performances.
With Durrant back from his mission, BYU got a tournament win in 1984 over the University of Alabama-Birmingham, but the bigger story was the discovery of Jeff Chatman in an Alabama high school tournament. Chatman not only went on to have a stellar four-year career at BYU, but his son Jordan will be a returned missionary on the squad next year with a lot of promise.
The 1988 team won an NCAA tournament game but was best known for an early-season undefeated run that put the Cougars close to a No. 1 ranking in the country. The team was led by Michael Smith and Jeff Chatman (pictured) as well as budding stars Marty Haws and Andy Toolson.
What did the Cougars get out of 1991 heralded recruits Shawn Bradley and Ken Roberts in their freshman year? They got a WAC tournament title win over Utah and an NCAA tournament win over Virginia. The 1992 team was even better, with Gary Trost, Kevin Nixon (who can forget his long shot to win the WAC tournament?), Nick Sanderson and star freshman Russ Larson. The Cougars had to face Shaquille O'Neal and LSU in the first round and lost after a valiant effort.
The 1993 team had many of the returning players from Roger Reid's 1992 squad and defeated SMU in the first round before losing to Kansas. Sanderson's 3-point shooting spree gave the Jayhawks a scare down the stretch. Who knew that an NCAA win would be 17 years later? Between 1993 and 2009, the Cougars were invited seven times to the NCAA tournament and lost each time in the first round. It was a frustrating era for the BYU program and for the fans.
It took another star, one of the greatest ever, to get that elusive NCAA win. Jimmer Fredette led the Cougars to a dramatic double-overtime win against Florida in 2010. The team followed that breakthrough with another exciting run the next year, with Fredette and defensive stopper Jackson Emery as seniors.
A win over Wofford in the NCAA tournament first round was followed by one of the best tournament games BYU has ever played, a resounding 89-67 win over future West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga. Fredette, Emery and Noah Hartsock came up big in the win, which was chronicled in a Sports Illustrated article and full-page picture of Fredette hitting a deep 3-point shot.
An interesting cap to this run through history is the last BYU NCAA tournament win, which was a play-in game to the field of 64, where the Cougars made the greatest come-from-behind performance in the history of March Madness with the 2012 win over Iona. Brandon Davies, Noah Hartsock and budding star Matt Carlino all came up big in that game.
Ken Driggs of Mesa, Ariz., is a BYU graduate and served as Cosmo in the '60s. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.