The NCAA Tournament is the pinnacle of college basketball and the highlight of the year for thousands of people. On March 18, the madness will begin in all its splendor.
When Jimmermania struck, Cougar fans got a sweet taste of NCAA Tournament action as a No. 3-seeded BYU squad, led by senior Jimmer Fredette, made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 2011 before losing to No. 2-seeded Florida in overtime. This year, the Cougars’ win over San Francisco in the semifinals of the WCC tournament and loss to Gonzaga in the championship placed BYU solidly on the bubble.
Anxiety changed to joy as BYU received an invitation to play in the 2014 tournament as a No. 10 seed, heading to Milwaukee, Wis., to take on No. 7-seeded Oregon.
This season’s trip to the dance is sure to add to the history the Cougars already have in the tourney.
BYU’s surprising history in the NCAA Tournament
The Cougars’ strength of schedule — especially against non-conference opponents — and prolific third-ranked national scoring ability have solidified their place in the tournament this year, which will bring BYU’s total count of appearances in the tournament to 28.
Though there are many teams that make the tournament year after year, this run of BYU appearances is impressive for a school like BYU and its peculiar nature. With each year of getting to the tournament and putting up impressive numbers, BYU is gaining momentum with its athletic program.
“I think it’s good for them to get in the tournament to get more exposure for the basketball program,” said Justin Rupper, a senior finance major from Johnstown, Pa. “It helps with recruiting.”
Before 2014, the Cougars have made it to the NCAA Tournament in 10 of the last 13 years since 2001. They have, however, made it past the first round only three times in the same 14-year span. BYU also had a run from 1990 to 1995, when they made it to the tournament five times in six years.
2011: Jimmermania and the Sweet Sixteen
Though 2011 was only three years ago, many current BYU students were either serving LDS missions or not yet enrolled as students. Even for those who weren’t in Provo that year, the word “Jimmermania” still calls to mind an electric time in BYU basketball.
Trevor Lemmons, a senior finance major from South Jordan, came home from his mission at the peak of Jimmermania in December of 2010, and he remembers the atmosphere of the games and of the entire school.
“When we played No. 3-ranked San Diego State that year, it was the loudest I’ve ever heard it get in the Marriott Center,” Lemmons said. “It was just insane.”
Fredette was recruited by twelve other schools — including North Carolina State, Wake Forest and Syracuse — before settling in at BYU. By his senior year, he was averaging 28.9 points per game and was the nation’s leading scorer.
“He just took campus and the nation by storm,” Lemmons said. “Everybody loved him and still loves him.”
BYU’s campaign that year ended in a particularly bitter way with the Brandon Davies suspension, which left BYU missing a piece going into the thriller against Florida. Though BYU couldn’t get past the Sweet Sixteen, it was far enough to give the fans a taste of tourney success and show the country that BYU can compete in the Big Dance.
March Madness always a thrill
Regardless of whether or not BYU makes the tourney or how many rounds it goes, the tournament is an exciting time for all college basketball fans.
“I think culturally it’s a big deal because people make their own brackets and it’s fun to compete against your friends,” said Andrew Pray, a junior, majoring in economics, from Fort Worth, Texas. “There are a lot of different teams, so a lot of people around the country get emotionally involved.”
Though only a select number of players get to participate in the NCAA competition on the court, thousands hit the court through bracket contests. These showdowns give those who share offices, homes, schools or just a love of basketball a chance to prove that they are the best and gives fans something to hope for.
“No one dreams anymore,” said Sarah Brown, a senior environmental science major from Orem. “March Madness teaches me that my fiancée is a dreamer, and it’s good to know that he gets enthusiastic and hopeful about his bracket.”
Beyond underdogs, upsets and dynasties is the competition between the players on the court and all those who fill out brackets and follow the tourney. That element of universal competition is what makes the tourney an integral part of our culture.