If Mark Santiago's shot would have fallen in the final seconds against Utah early Sunday morning, BYU would probably be feeling pretty good about its NCAA chances right now. The Cougars would be 18-11, a solid second-place finisher in the WAC with a win over the ninth-ranked team in the country.
Instead the Cougars have the pressure of winning the WAC tourney in Laramie this week to assure themselves a spot in the NCAA tournament.However, there are some good reasons why the Cougs could still make the NCAAs even without winning the WAC tourney.
Schedule: The Cougars had by far the toughest schedule in the WAC this year, and several of their losses came against NCAA-bound teams such as St. John's (20-7), East Tennessee State (28-4) and Utah (26-2) and possible NCAA teams such as South Carolina (19-9), Rutgers (19-9), Arizona State (17-9) and LaSalle (19-9). They also beat James Madison (19-9) winner of the Colonial, and Tulsa (18-11) third in the MVC and Eastern Kentucky (19-9), second in the Ohio Valley.
Momentum: Teams that play well late in the year are looked upon favorably by the NCAA. The Cougars have won six of their last eight, the only two losses to ranked Utah.
Lack of good teams: It's hard to come up with 64 quality teams this year. One reason is all the teams on probation such as Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri. Another is the poor seasons by a number of NCAA regulars, such as Notre Dame, Michigan and Louisville.
THREE FOR THE WAC: Here's guessing the WAC will get three teams invited to the NCAAs this year. Utah, of course, is a lock. New Mexico (20-8) and BYU are the next logical choices to go and several "experts" around the country have either or both of those teams on their NCAA lists. In three of the last four years, the WAC has had three teams invited.
However if Wyoming or someone else should sneak through and win the tourney, that team would earn the automatic berth. That means it could come down to a possible semifinal matchup between BYU and New Mexico for the WAC's third spot.
But the Cougars, who have a dismal record in WAC tournament play (two wins in seven years) had better beat Colorado State in the first round, or they probably won't go anywhere except the NIT. Not many 17-13 teams have ever been invited to the NCAAs.
NCAA LOOK: If BYU does make it, the Cougars will likely come to play in Salt Lake since it is one of just two subregionals that doesn't lead to a Sunday playing date (Louisville is the other).
Utah can't play at home because of NCAA rules, and the logical thinking is that the Utes will go to Tucson as the No. 4 seed. That would put them on a collision course with UNLV, which will be the West's No. 1 seed. Utah would have to win two games to meet UNLV in the West Regionals in Seattle.
In return, Salt Lake will probably get Arizona for its subregional March 14-16 as the No. 2 seed. You can never outguess the NCAA, but it usually keeps conference champions in their own region, and Arizona has already wrapped up the Pac-10 title.
RICK'S FUTURE: One of the logical questions in local basketball fans have been wondering is what's the future of Utah Coach Rick Majerus?
During the past few years, Majerus has made a habit of not sitting still for long. After being the head coach at Marquette for two years, he went to the Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant for a year and then moved on to Ball State, where he stayed just two years. Majerus has always been vague about his future plans, but he elaborated, a bit, in an interview on Take Two Sunday night.
"I don't plan on leaving . . . I haven't given it much thought," he said. "I don't have any offers right now. I wouldn't have an interest in pro basketball."
Later, Majerus indicated he won't stay at Utah for a long time, however.
"It's very hard to keep doing this at this level," he said. "I have a feeling when I'm 48 or 49 I'm might go to a lower Division I level school like Santa Clara."
Let's see, Majerus is 42, so that gives him another six years or so at Utah. But don't count on it. "I never say never. There are no certainties in life," he said.
SHAWN'S FUTURE: And what about BYU's Shawn Bradley? Will he stay or go?
Bradley, who turns 19 later this month, has hinted lately about staying on at BYU and perhaps doing his missionary work in the NBA, but has never said for sure.
If he does go on a mission, where would Bradley like to go? He said in a press conference earlier this year he'd prefer to go to Australia or somewhere in the South Pacific. Wherever he goes, if he goes, he'd better end up somewhere that has lots of good food.