Blue Blood: Looking for the Cougars’ magic number

COMMENTARY – In sports, one of my favorite terms is “magic number.” Used mostly in baseball and the NBA, it is the number assigned to the first-place or high-ranking team necessary to clinch the division or a playoff spot.

For instance, if the Utah Jazz had a three-game lead with four games remaining, their magic number would be two, meaning either two wins by the Jazz, two losses by the second-place team or a win by the Jazz and a loss by the second-place team would clinch the division championship.

What is BYU’s magic number?

Of course, NCAA basketball has all kinds of magic numbers, like RPI (Ratings Percentage Index), a complex formula used by the NCAA committee to determine the worthiness of at-large teams in earning an NCAA bid. BPI (Basketball Power Index) is another rating, created by ESPN.com, to try and qualify the worthiness of teams.

For the record, there are 347 Division I basketball teams, with both the RPI and BPI basing their ratings on things like overall wins, strength of schedule, record against the top 25 and top50, etc. BYU’s RPI is .5937, which puts them at No. 45 on the RPI scale, ahead of teams like Baylor and Ole Miss, but behind teams like LaSalle and Colorado (which just lost to Utah).

The BPI is based on a more-familiar 1-100 scale. Duke is on top with a 91.2. BYU comes in at 73.9, which ranks the Cougars at No. 50 on the BPI scale. Incidentally, 0-20 Grambling State has a rating of 5.1 and is dead last among the 347 teams.

So, knowing that the NCAA selects 68 teams, it makes sense that BYU would get an NCAA invitation. Except it’s not that simple. There are 32 automatic-bid conferences, meaning about 20 teams will get into the tourney even though they have no business being there. Teams like Florida Gulf Coast (BPI rank 153) and Norfolk State (BPI rank 236) will get in the tourney.

Throw into the mix an upset or three in some of the bigger conference tournaments (where a bad team like Utah or Pepperdine could get hot and sneak into the tourney by winning the conference tournament) and that means maybe three or four more spots are gone.

So if you take the field of 68, minus the 20 or so small conference auto-bids, throw in a handful of conference-tourney upsets, and that leaves BYU, with an RPI rank of 45 and a BPI rank of 50, looking at 40-45 bids left.

In other words, the Cougars are a border (or bubble, if you prefer) team. To me, that means the Cougars, at 18-6, have got to win quite a few more games.

BYU has seven regular-season games left, including tonight’s contest at San Diego (8 p.m. on BYU-TV). The Cougars have yet to record a signature win, one of those that would make the NCAA Committee sit up and take notice. BYU doesn’t really have any “bad” losses either.

In fact, the Cougars have pretty much beaten the teams they were supposed to and lost to the teams they were supposed to, a handicappers dream, I suppose. An early beat-down of Big Sky Montana just isn’t enough to make anyone go “Wow.” Let’s face it, BYU has got to get a “Wow” win if it’s going to dancing in March.

The only two games left (not counting the WCC Tourney) for the Cougars are Feb. 21 at Saint Mary’s and Feb. 28 against Gonzaga in Provo. I daresay BYU needs to win one or both of those games to get in the tourney.

So now we can start assigning that magic number for the Cougars. Besides those two marquee games, BYU has USD, San Francisco, Portland, Utah State and Loyola Marymount. The Cougs need to win six of their final seven games, so dropping one to any of those lesser teams would mean a sweep of Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga would be necessary.

So, 6-1 down the home stretch would put BYU at 25-7. That might do it. Of course, there is also the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas (Mar. 6-11 at The Orleans Arena). Even with a 6-1 finish, BYU could not afford to go out in an early round at the WCC Tourney. A minimum of two wins would be needed there.

So BYU really needs to get to 26 wins. That means finishing at least 8-2. BYU’s magic number, then, is eight.

With that kind of finish and a marquee win or two under their belts, the Cougars would be a lock.

~

Andy Griffin is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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