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BYU basketball finishes season at No. 18 in AP Top 25, but was a national title run imminent?

By Sean Walker, KSL.com | Updated - Mar. 18, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. | Posted - Mar. 18, 2020 at 10:14 a.m.



PROVO — There will be no March Madness.

But BYU basketball will finish the 2019-20 season in the Top 25.

The Cougars dropped to No. 18 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll released Wednesday morning, just under a week after the season was terminated amid concerns for the coronavirus pandemic. It’s the program’s highest ranking since finishing No. 10 in the 2010-11 season.

BYU lost its final game of the season, 51-50, to Saint Mary’s. The Gaels finished the season six spots outside the AP Top 25, just behind Utah State.

The Aggies, who won their second straight Mountain West title, had 36 votes for an unofficial spot at No. 40. Saint Mary’s finished with 33 votes, just ahead of Penn State (27).

Kansas finished No. 1 with 1,623 votes, followed by Gonzaga (1,547), Dayton (1,505), Florida State (1,381) and Baylor (1,337).

The Cougars could’ve finished even better, at least according to one simulation by ESPN.

BYU was projected as a No. 6 seed in the final bracketology report from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Using that information, ESPN.com performed a simulation of the entire 68-team tournament.

And the Cougars made history. Or at least, would have.

BYU head coach Mark Pope instructs forward Dalton Nixon in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. The Cougars finished the 2019-20 season with. the No. 18 ranking in the AP Top 25, its best since 2010-11. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL)

It started with a win over 11th-seeded Indiana in the first round. BYU then shot past No. 3 Seton Hall before a stunning upset over No. 2 San Diego State, according to the simulation. The Cougars lost to the Aztecs 76-71 back on Nov. 9 at home. That game was only the second of the year for BYU, during an NCAA-mandated nine-game suspension to star power forward Yoeli Childs.

Apparently, the senior from Bingham High’s reinsertion into the lineup made all the difference.

But wait, there’s more.

Upstart Yale, the Ivy League champion and No. 12 seed, stunned No. 1 Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, setting up an Elite Eight matchup between the Cougars and Bulldogs in the simulation. But Childs got the better of Yale forward Paul Atkinson to advance to the first Final Four in school history.

You thought it was over? Hardly.

The Cougars faced fellow six seed Virginia in the Bronco Mendenhall Hardwood Classic on one side of the Simulated Four (Wisconsin and Maryland, a pair of No. 4 seeds, were the other side).

On ESPN.com

“Hot starts by Childs and Jake Toolson put the Cougars ahead by double digits at the half, and Virginia struggles to fight its way back into it,” ESPN’s Seth Walder wrote. “While BYU’s run to the finals was also incredibly unlikely, it was actually slightly more likely than Wisconsin’s, though both were just over 2%.

“Now, the Cougars are very slight favorites to win the national championship.”

But that was as far as BYU’s run would take it.

“The Badgers had less than a 1% chance to pull off this feature entering the tourney,” Walder wrote. “It’s a team effort, but Nate Reuvers leads Wisconsin with. 16. points. (Wisconsin coach Greg) Gard is lauded for getting his group to play their best when it mattered the most.”

Even in a simulated dream scenario, it still ends in a loss.

But what a (fake) year for the Cougars, who finish the season with a 29-9 record in the simulation.

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