The state of Utah has placed at least one of their six NCAA D-I basketball teams in the national tournament every year since 1994, and is continually putting their schools deep in the tourney.
BYU went to the Sweet Sixteen in 2011 and has gone dancing in six straight seasons, and although the Utah Utes haven't gone in a few years, they have been to the Final Four multiple times. Weber State and Southern Utah have also made brief appearances in the last few decades.
So when it is mentioned that the state may not put anyone in the tournament this season, several jaws are sure to drop. The Utes are nowhere close to making it; Utah State is a long shot; and BYU extinguished most hopes of an at-large bid with back-to-back losses to San Fransisco and San Diego.
Sure, if any of those schools win their PAC-12, WAC or WCC tournaments, they will receive an automatic bid, but none are favored to finish even in the top two or three.
So, is there any hope left for Utah schools in the Big Dance?
In fact, there is.
Southern Utah and Weber State are two teams that are rarely ever mentioned in the same sentence as "NCAA Tournament", and although the two have combined for 15 tournament appearances, they have shown up at the Big Dance only three times in this century.
But this postseason could be different. The Wildcats and Thunderbirds are second and third in the conference, respectively, and have both given Big Sky leader Montana a run for their money on the road. In fact, WSU fell by two points in Missoula earlier this year, and SUU overcame a 47-to-5 free-throw shooting deficit—yes, you read that correctly—and lost by only six.
Sure, the conference tourney for the Big Sky is one heckuva challenge to win if you are not the regular-season champ. The first seed gets a bye to the semifinals and home-court advantage, while all of the others play in three different rounds and have to play on the road.
But it is definitely possible. Weber State is 11-2 in conference; Montana is 14-0; and SUU is 8-6. The Griz travel to Ogden and Cedar City to take on the two Utah teams, and still have Sacramento State and Montana State on their schedule. If Weber stays unbeaten and Montana falls in two of those games, the road will be a lot less difficult for the Wildcats.
As for SUU, the only likely route for them is to win the BSC tournament. It is definitely possible, but it will be quite difficult. With scorers like Jackson Stevenett and Damon Heuir, the top two scorers in the league, you can never count the T-Birds out.
It's not yet time to take a stroll down memory lane and remember when the state of Utah had a representative in March Madness for 17 straight years. There is still hope, and that is implanted in Weber State and Southern Utah. With some big wins, and a little bit of luck, we will see a Utah team in the Big Dance this year.
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