BYU men's basketball starts 2019-20 season vs. Cal-Fullerton 03

BYU fans cheer at the start of Brigham Young University men’s basketball’s regular-season opener against California State University Fullerton on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, at the Marriott Center in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

It’s impossible to fill the gaping void in the hearts of college basketball fans everywhere who are mourning the loss of their beloved NCAA basketball tournament — and its accompanying bracket excitement — in 2020 due to efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But the Daily Herald’s BYU reporters Darnell Dickson and Jared Lloyd are giving Cougar fans a chance to play out a bracket of their own:

The Greatest BYU Men’s Basketball Team of All Time Bracket. Dickson and Lloyd combed through the annals of Cougar hoops history and have selected the 16 BYU squads they believe earned the right to vie for the illustrious title.

Those historic Cougar teams have been seeded by the committee (no computers or NET rankings here) and put into a four-round tournament — and you get the chance to vote for which team you think should advance all the way to the top.

Will there be upsets?

Will it just go straight chalk?

Will great memories of BYU stars of the past and present prove to be enough to propel one squad past another?

Cougar fans, you get to make those calls.

Don’t make your judgment based on which team you think would win if a squad from one era faced a squad from another. Given the numerous changes to the game of basketball in the last century, that method is virtually impossible.

Instead, you should select the team that you think has the better overall body of work — i.e. the one that was the “greatest” of the two that are matched up against each other.

Dickson and Lloyd will make a case for each team to help remind you of what they accomplished and then the choice will be yours.

We start with two teams that got wins in the NCAA tournament, which are definitely noteworthy achievements:

Danny Ainge

Currently working as president of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge lived in Provo while playing basketball for BYU. Ainge played 14 seasons in the NBA. 

No. 1-seed: BYU 1980-81 (25-7, Elite 8)

This is the only BYU men’s basketball team to reach the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament in the modern era, but the Cougars actually finished third in Western Athletic Conference play behind Utah and Wyoming, which tied for first. The Cougars reached as high as No. 15 in the AP poll and Utah was ranked as high as sixth. BYU opened the NCAA Tournament with a 60-51 win against Princeton and Ainge scored 37 points in a 78-53 rout of UCLA in the second round. Ainge made history with his coast-to-coast drive that beat Notre Dame 51-50 in the quarterfinals before Ralph Sampson and Virginia ended the Cougar run in the Elite 8.

Ainge wasn’t the only pro on the BYU roster that season. Greg Kite played 15 seasons in the NBA and Fred Roberts played 14. Steve Trumbo played 12 seasons professionally in Spain.

— Darnell Dickson

Kevin Nixon

Kevin Nixon

No. 16-seed: BYU 1992-93 (25-9, NCAA second round)

The Cougars faced some big names in 1992-93, including Duke, Oregon, Oregon State and Kansas. Its signature moment came in the Maui Invitational in December when BYU played No. 9-ranked Oklahoma in the first round. The tight game ended up in another buzzer-beater for Cougar forward Kevin Nixon as he snagged an offensive rebound and put in the jumper to give BYU the 76-75 win.

The Cougars ended up with some ups and downs that year but got an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and ended up as a No. 7 seed. Tournament wins are valuable and BYU defeated SMU, 80-71, to start the tournament before falling 90-76 to Kansas in the second round (the Jayhawks reached the Final Four). The Cougars were a balanced team with four players — Gary Trost, Nick Sanderson, Jared Miller and Russell Larsen — averaging in double-figures.

— Jared Lloyd

Be sure to get your vote logged at CougarBlue.com!

Check back Friday for the No. 8/No. 9 seed matchups in The Greatest BYU Men’s Basketball Team of All Time Bracket.

Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or jlloyd@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.

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