It wasn't that long ago Utah fans went into the conference tournament worrying about potential NCAA Tournament seeding. But outside 2009, the Runnin' Utes really haven't sniffed the Big Dance since their run to the Sweet 16 six years ago.
That's a long drought for a once proud basketball program. And once again, Utah finds itself looking to play the role of spoiler to those bubble teams hoping for a chance to dance.
This year's Mountain West Conference has produced overwhelmingly positive results. It is, without question, the strongest season for the league since its creation in 1999. The BYU Cougars and San Diego St. Aztecs are both still viable deep tournament threats, while the UNLV Rebels continue to be their consistent selves.
For Ute fans, that's hard to digest. For years, we were always at the top of the conference and its most named member nationally. That isn't the case anymore. Instead, as the conference sees its best season ever, Utah is not part of that amazing run. We're an afterthought.
Think about that for a second. In 2005, Utah finished their conference slate with a 13-1 overall record. Only the New Mexico Lobos, who were 10-4 that season, came close to challenging the Utes at the top of the conference. BYU was limping to a nine-win season, the Aztecs and Colorado St. Rams had won a meager eleven games and the Rebels were an average 17-14.
Today, all those programs have comfortably passed Utah. I don't know how long it will last and I'm sure in some instances (CSU), it's fleeting - but as we find ourselves on the verge of another tournament, it's disheartening to see how far and fast this program has fallen.
Like I said, we're regulated to spoiler.
But this year's conference tournament is going to be very interesting. Especially for the BYU Cougars. A week ago, they looked primed for a one-seed and many were even floating around the potential of the Cougars receiving the overall number one seed in the tournament.
If you're a follower of the sport, you know just how important seeding is. Specifically the one seeds, because they, almost more than anything, dictate how far a team will most likely go in the tournament.
Look at it this way - since 1990, 43% of one seeds have advanced to the Final Four. That might not seem too impressive of a number on its face, but when you compare it to other seeds, you see how important it really is.
Over the same span, two seeds have made the Final Four 20% of the time. Three seeds only 11% of the time. If you're a five seed, well just 1% can claim a Final Four appearance in the last 21 years.
So seeding is everything. If you're the Cougars, who still have a shot at a top seed, that's what they're playing for this week.
A loss in the tournament, though, will kill any chance of receiving that one seed and they'll most likely find themselves as a two or three - which could dramatically alter the course they take in the tournament.
If you're the Aztecs, it's unlikely a one seed is possible. But they still can play themselves into a two seed with a tournament championship. Right now, they're often projected as a three, which isn't entirely bad for a program that lacks any type of tournament success.
UNLV, who has really taken a backseat to both BYU and the Aztecs this season, is pretty much a lock, though they can certainly bolster their seeding by winning the tournament on their home floor.
For the remainder of the conference, the lone chance they have of making the NCAAs is via winning the conference tournament. The Rams and Lobos certainly have the goods to upset their way to the title, but it's unlikely and both should be playing in the NIT later this month.
Air Force, Utah, Wyoming and TCU are unlikely to string together enough wins to advance to the NCAA Tournament. But they can derail the seeding hopes of the major teams and when you're a struggling program, it's the least you can do. Especially if any of 'em do it against BYU.