The journey hasn't been smooth for BYU Basketball, but at least they are still on the road.
BYU Basketball is trying to do something that they never did while I was at BYU and something nobody thought they would possibly be accomplishing only six months ago: Make the NCAA Tournament. To do that in the WCC as a non conference champion, it has been shown that a team has to do two things to be considered "safe", play a tough non conference schedule and win at least 25 games.
A couple of seasons ago, St. Mary's finished the regular season with 29 wins and were ranked. Despite this, they did not make it to the NCAA Tournament. They set an example of what not to do in the non conference, and BYU took note. Often times, the non conference schedule is full of teams that barely exist like Eastern Dakota State A&M Prairie. This year, while there are few teams including Montana Tech, most of the slate has been filled with teams who are at least well known by common college basketball fans.
To this point, BYU has absolutely done well enough in scheduling a tough schedule. As of right now, the Cougars have or will play four teams in the BPI Top 50 in the non conference. Against those teams, the Cougars are currently 1-2 with Utah State coming up.
BYU will also play St. Mary's, Gonzaga twice each and likely each a third time in the WCC Tournament. If BYU can take down Utah State and then even go 2-4 against Gonzaga and St. Mary's, that would give BYU a 3-6 record against BPI Top 50, something that surprisingly would probably be good enough to get in the tournament (barring any terrible losses) with enough BPI 51-100 wins.
The Cougars will also have quite a few opportunities at some resume building BPI Top 100 teams with San Francisco (twice), Nevada, and they already have a win against Virginia Tech.
With the loss to Boise State, and with opportunities to still play San Francisco and Nevada the Cougars realistically could finish 7-7 in BPI Top 100 games, again something when combined with 25 wins would get BYU into the tournament.
Last year, Oklahoma, a nine seed, had a conference record of 7-11 and were still able to make the tournament because they had a few really good wins. It showed that the NCAA looks for the ability to win big games, rather than actually having a winning record against teams.
Avoid Bad Losses
To this point, BYU Basketball does not have any terrible losses, however with Utah, Boise State and San Diego State still big question marks, the Cougars can not afford them to drop off. Currently, Utah is the lowest ranked team at 112th, but that will likely go up if they can avoid having any other losses like they did against Coastal Carolina.
Other than that, the Mountain West is so weak this year, that Boise State will likely remain around No. 100 nationally, and San Diego State is showing no signs of losing any games any time soon.
If the Cougars can avoid any bad losses in WCC play, or the remainder of the non conference, then BYU will have successfully made it through the season without any terrible losses that the selection committee would turn to.
I touched base on this earlier, but BYU has to hope that everyone they play does well other than when they play the Cougars. At the end of everything, BYU just needs to be a little bit lucky with no terrible losses and some great wins. If Utah goes on to lose 15 games, suddenly that game can become a huge weight that holds the Cougars back.
Something else that BYU needs to go their way is dominating conference champions. Kansas for example, needs to run the table against the lower half of the Big 12. If conferences beat up each other, suddenly eight out of the ten teams in the Big 12 make the Big Dance. No matter what BYU does, if all of the conferences have a bunch of teams hanging around .500 then the Cougars will have a real tough way of finding a path to the NCAA Tournament.
Is this a lot of hypothetical situations? Yes, but that is ultimately what BYU is going to have to do if they plan on dancing in March.