Patrick Kinahan: Nothing wrong with BYU basketball seed in NCAA Tournament

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PROVO — Virtually every time it happens — that BYU's rule against Sunday play knocks down the men's basketball team a seed line in the NCAA Tournament.

Multiple analytics suggested the selection committee could have given the Cougars a No. 5 seed, reflecting the team's better-than-expected nonconference and Big 12 season. Instead, they got bumped to a six and will play No. 11 Duquesne in Omaha, Nebraska, on Thursday morning.

And right on cue in the days after the brackets are announced, critics slam on the committee for not rewarding some teams with better seeds. But when it comes to BYU, don't expect any complaints here.

Besides the Sunday situation, which the committee can only accommodate to a degree and doesn't deserve significant considerations, there's another aspect that factors into BYU's seeding. Even if it goes unsaid, success in prior tournaments directly correlates to better seeds.

In other words, reputations matter. Human beings, even with all the data that is available, have biases.

To put it simply, BYU doesn't have a great history at winning in the NCAA Tournament. In the last 40-plus years, the program has made only two appearances in the Sweet 16 — and both times it had the national player of the year in Danny Ainge and Jimmer Fredette, respectively.

Until Fredette helped coach Dave Rose's team win a tournament game in 2010, the program had not advanced to the round of 32 since 1993. BYU reached the Sweet 16 in 2011 but has not been in the second round since then.

"I don't know what happened behind closed doors, if it was something actually dealing with basketball or religion, I'm not sure," former BYU coach Steve Cleveland said during his weekly interview on The Zone. "But I'm hoping that it was more to do with the fact they couldn't play on a Sunday than knocking them down a seed because they lost in a conference tournament. That's hard for me to believe because they've got a great resume."

The same thing happened twice to Cleveland's teams at BYU in 2003-04. The Cougars were seeded No. 12 each season, losing close games to perennial national powers Connecticut and Syracuse, respectively. They probably deserved more respect from the selection committee but likely were hurt by the Sunday issue and no recent prior tournament success.

To have a shot at better seeds going forward, BYU faces a must-win in the first round against Duquesne. The Dukes started Atlantic 10 conference play at 0-5, but closed on an eight-game winning streak that included four straight to earn the automatic bid.

Utah State is in a similar situation but with even less NCAA success. The Aggies, who got a No. 8 seed, haven't won a tournament game since beating Ohio State in 2001.

Considering the Mountain West got six teams into the tournament, there's some merit to the argument the regular-season champion deserved better than an eight seed. San Diego State, which lost to Connecticut in the national championship game last season, got the conference's highest seed at No. 5.

With Washington potentially on the verge of hiring away Utah State first-year coach Danny Sprinkle, this year might be the program's best opportunity to land the elusive tournament win. The Aggies play No. 9 TCU, which had seven of 12 losses against ranked teams.

After Utah State lost to San Diego State in last week's conference semifinals, Sprinkle repeatedly said his team needed to get tougher and more physical. The Aggies did race out to a 17-point lead in the first half before the Aztecs took control of the game.

"You have to play desperate," Sprinkle said, "and you've got to be tough and physical. I expect our team to respond. Sometimes when you lose a game it helps you win the next one."

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.


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