Numbers behind a BYU run in March Madness

Can the Cougars make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament? Let's look a bit deeper into what the numbers may tell us.

Jaxson Robinson has been a key factor to BYU's success this season
Jaxson Robinson has been a key factor to BYU's success this season / Jay Biggerstaff/GettyImages
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4 years ago the BYU Cougars men’s basketball team embarked on a remarkable season emphasized by a major home victory against the number-2 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. After the victory many national writers and commentators thought the Cougars could make a deep run in the tournament. Unfortunately, the March Madness tournament was canceled and we never got to see how well the Cougs would’ve performed in one of the most captivating sports tournaments in the country. As if adding salt to the wound, ESPN ran a massive simulation of the March Madness tournament where the Cougars, a six seed, ran all the way to the national championship game before falling short to the virtual Wisconsin Badgers. This only added to the belief that Cougar fans, players, and coaches held, that the team had the potential to make a deep tournament run. 

Fast forward to today. The Cougars have retooled and seem poised to deliver in March. The team finished the season ranked at 21 in the AP Poll and are rated very highly among most basketball metrics. They received a six seed in the NCAA tournament despite being rated as the 17th best team in the field. Most fans feel optimistic about the team’s chances in the tournament but in the back of many people’s minds are memories of strong regular season teams who fall flat in March (think Purdue losing to 16 seeded FDU, Arizona losing to 15 seeded Princeton, or Kentucky losing to 15 seeded Saint Peter’s, all of which happened in the last 2 years.) Let’s consult the stats to see if they give any insights into what we can expect from the Cougars in March.

KenPom

The Cougars currently sits at 16th in the KenPom rankings with an offensive efficiency that’s 11th in the country and a defensive efficiency at 48th in the country. Of the last 10 March Madness tournaments the team that has finished at 16th in the KenPom rankings has averaged 1.2 tournament wins with 7 teams winning at least one game. Among these teams that finished the season ranked 16th in the KenPom was one final 4 team (UNC in 2022). This group also included a few early upsets including Georgetown losing to 15 seeded FGCU in 2013.

BPI

The Cougars are ranked 17th in the BPI at a 14.1. Teams with a similar score have averaged less than 1 tournament win through the last 10 seasons. Many of these teams received high seeds but were upset in early rounds including Arizona in 2023 when they lost in the first round as a 2 seed, and Ohio State in 2021 when they lost in the first round as a 2 seed. 

NET

The NET rankings are a composite score given to a team based on performance through the season against teams weighted by how good they are. BYU has been ranked high in the NET all season and right now sits at a 12th in the NET rankings. Teams in the 12th spot in the NET rankings have averaged almost 2 wins in the tournament.

Similar Resumes

Barttorvik.com accumulates a large number of statistics from past seasons and compares current teams to teams with similar resumes. Using this resource, the 10 teams with the most similar resume to BYU from the last several years averaged 1 win in the NCAA tournament with none advancing past the Sweet 16.

Similar Games

As a 6 seed, BYU is slated to play 11 seeded Duquesne. 6 seeds have won matchups against 11 seeds 61.8% of the time but since 2004 at least one 11 seed has upset a 6 seed each year. BYU has already played another 11 seed this year against NC State where the Cougars won 95-86 on a neutral court despite losing Fousseyni Traore to an early injury.

Aly Khalifa
Aly Khalifa celebrates a 3-pointer / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

Obviously stats don’t play the games and qualities such as team chemistry, hustle, and experience don’t factor into these predictions so it’s hard to put too much stock into what these numbers show.

Most, if not all, BYU fans would agree that this season has already been a massive success given what the expectations were for this team to start the season. However, some would feel disappointed if the Cougars weren’t playing on the second weekend of the tournament given how well the Cougs have looked this season and how strong their metrics look. A Sweet 16 appearance would solidify this team as the best BYU team since Jimmer and anything beyond that would qualify them as one of the best in BYU history. Can the Cougars follow in the success of the 2020 simulated tournament or are they bound for an early exit to the tournament? Only time will tell how far this team can go.

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