SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News)- Between Sam Merrill’s championship-winning shot heard ’round the world and BYU’s high hopes for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, Utah and the nation has been buzzing about our local talent.
Utah State made an appearance in the Big Dance last year but lost in the first round to Washington. BYU hasn’t gone dancing since 2015. That was back when Jake Toolson was still on the roster before he left to go play for Mark Pope at Utah Valley University and before Pope and Toolson both made their way back to BYU. Utah State and BYU haven’t participated in March Madness in the same season since 2011 when Tai Wesley was leading the way for the Aggies and the nation was in the middle of “Jimmermania.”
That same excitement found in 2011 is making a comeback for these two teams with media members and fans having high hopes for Utah State and BYU basketball.
BYU: The new AP poll released Monday morning has BYU ranked 14th, pretty much assuring them a spot in the Big Dance assuming they will do well in the West Coast Conference tournament.
March Madness expert, Andy Katz, revealed his latest bracket predictions Monday morning. Katz has BYU as a 5 seed and Utah State a projected 10 seed. In Katz’s weekly power rankings, he even dubbed BYU the ‘most entertaining offense in the NCAA tournament.”
In Joe Lunardi’s ESPN Bracketology, BYU is once again a predicted 5 seed with Utah State earning a 10 seed. ESPN’s Jeff Borzello was recently complementary of the Cougars saying, “I might be on an island with this one, but after ranking the Cougars in my top 16 the past few weeks, I think Mark Pope’s team is deserving of a top-four seed. Do the Cougars need to beat Gonzaga in the WCC title game to have a real chance at it? Possibly, but I also think a top-10 NET and a top-16 ranking in all three predictive metrics could bode well for them either way.”
Borzello has the Cougars ranked 16th in his power rankings while pointing out how crucial it is for star forward, Yoeli Childs, to stay healthy and to remain in the lineup. Since Childs has come back from his NCAA suspension on Dec. 4, BYU is 16-2. When Childs missed four additional games due to injury, Pope’s squad went 2-2.
And we can’t forget to mention everyone’s love for BYU’s Zac Seljaas’ interesting hair and ‘stache duo. You can expect Seljaas to become a social media favorite once the big dance starts.
We will see how the Cougars do in their first game of the postseason when they take on St. Mary’s Monday night at 9:30 in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament. You can catch the game on ESPN 2.
USU: People still can’t get over Sam Merrill after he hit a stepback three for the win with 2.5 seconds left in the Mountain West Conference championship game.
“Things got worse for bubble teams when Utah State beat San Diego State in the Mountain West title game, making the Aggies the first team in the 2020 NCAA tournament — and shrinking the number of available spots in the field by one,” said ESPN’s Borzello.
Sports Illustrated says the Aggie’s “have the goods to make noise in March” and have “an experienced core, superstar senior guard and stingy defense, Utah State has all the makings of a team that can win a game or two in the NCAA tournament.”
And we can’t ignore all the social media love Sam Merrill continues to receive as he went from an under-the-radar athlete to an instant March Madness superstar, even catching the attention of Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell.
Needless to say, it is an exciting time to be a basketball fan in the state of Utah. Utah State can wait comfortably until Selection Sunday where they will find out what seed they earned with their automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. BYU will join Utah State on Sunday to see what their fate will be in the coming weeks. Selection Sunday will air the 15th at 4 p.m. MT on CBS.
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