It’s been a long time since BYU entered a conference tournament with this dilemma: win it all or miss the NCAA tournament, something that hasn’t happened in six years.
BYU’s struggles this season are well documented, so I won’t spend time recounting Brandon Davies’ foul trouble, Matt Carlino’s turnovers or the overall poor shooting percentage.
The question is now: is it really worth winning the conference tournament?
It goes without saying winning any tournament is a huge accomplishment, especially when it means you get a conference championship. But looking at the big picture, does it serve the Cougars better?
I’m by no means suggesting throwing any game. Compete to the best of your ability and play your heart out. But consider this:
Let’s say BYU does somehow manage to defeat San Diego tonight, St. Mary’s Saturday and Gonzaga on Monday. The victories would take everything the Cougars have. They win the WCC Tournament and gain an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
BYU would most likely sneak in as a 14 or 15 seed at best. That means playing the likes of Michigan, Florida, Duke or Miami.
Don’t get me wrong, BYU is a decently talented team, but after an emotionally and physically draining WCC Tournament, a Cinderella story isn’t likely.
Bounced out of the first round. The season ends. The alternative?
Let’s say BYU beats San Diego tonight, finally get over the hump against St. Mary’s, but loses to the ‘Zags in the finals. A good showing, but not good enough to get into the Big Dance.
Having gained some much-needed confidence, BYU would be invited to the NIT with a higher seed and a little home court advantage.
You might be thinking, “The NIT? Isn’t that the ‘loser’s tournament’?” Not really.
The NIT has regained some of its previous glory in that some pretty good teams get invited to play. These are 20+ win teams, many from really tough conferences.
(The CBI, or College Basketball Invitational, is the “loser’s tournament” now.)
In the NIT, BYU could be highly favored. It gives a relatively young team some much needed “high profile” experience, and should the Cougars actually show up and play how they can (something that seems to allude them in tournaments, with a few exceptions), they could end up at Madison Square Garden.
So here’s the question: for a team that has struggled throughout the season, which is more beneficial?
One and done with a conference tournament championship? Or a strong showing in Vegas, with a good run at the NIT crown?
Arguments can be made for both, but thinking long-term, I’m going with the NIT run.