PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – The BYU basketball team earned the respect of the NCAA Tournament Committee, getting a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cougars (20-6) will face the winner of the play-in game between UCLA (17-9) and Michigan State (15-12) on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 7:40 p.m. MT at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“I’m super excited to make it to the tournament,” said center Matt Haarms. “This team has worked so hard to earn this. It’s not something that every team gets.”
“I got a lot of energy flowing through me right now,” added senior guard Matt Barcello. “I feel like I got a new pair of legs right now. Just so excited for this opportunity. I think we’re going to shock a lot of people and I know we’re going to be ready to play.”
BYU would have ended a five-year NCAA Tournament drought last year had it not been canceled. But the Cougars will enter the Big Dance with its highest seed since 2011, when they were a 3-seed led by Jimmer Fredette.
There will be 11 days between games for the Cougars, who lost in the West Coast Conference semifinals to #1 Gonzaga on Tuesday.
But the Cougars have dealt with long layoffs this season. They went ten days between games in February, and came out and beat Pacific by 28.
BYU can finally put the disappointment from having the tournament canceled last year to rest.
“Because of what happened last year, we just have this incredible sense of urgency to stay healthy and to play well,” head coach Mark Pope said. “I think we have an unbelievable amount of gratitude for the opportunity that we have to do it. If you are going to play in the NCAA Tournament, you probably want to have Michigan State and UCLA right there. So, we’re incredibly excited.”
While the Cougars will be favored to move on to the second round against either Texas or Abilene Christian, they cannot look past either UCLA or Michigan State.
“We cannot look past this matchup,” Haarms said. “It doesn’t matter that we’re the six and we’re going to play an 11 and we’re supposed to win. We cannot look past that. The ultimate goal of this team right now is make the second round. It shouldn’t be get to the Sweet 16, it shouldn’t be it to the Elite 8, it shouldn’t be to win a national championship. That’s all fun and games before the tournament starts. But now our ultimate goal and the only thing we should be thinking about is making the second round.”
If BYU makes it to the Sweet 16, the bracket schedule would have be re-arranged. As the bracket is constructed now, it would position the Cougars to play a Sweet 16 game on March 28, a Sunday, which violates BYU’s policy of playing on Sundays.
The NCAA has announced a contingency plan, however, that would swap the East and Midwest regions’ playing dates if the Cougars win two games and make the Sweet 16, which the team last reached in 2011.
The move would mean the East teams, currently scheduled to play their Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games on March 28 and March 30, a Sunday and a Tuesday, would swap with the Midwest Region, which has games scheduled for March 27 and March 29, Saturday and Monday. If BYU reaches the Sweet 16, the East’s games would move to those dates to accommodate the Cougars — a move that would reduce the region’s days of rest between games to four — and the Midwest would play the Sunday-Tuesday stretch, allowing those teams to gain an additional day of rest between games (six).
“That contingency will only be utilized in the event that BYU were to advance to the Sweet 16,” Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s men’s basketball vice president, said on NCAA.com. “If they do not, then there would be no change to dates for any teams for regionals.”
The other two regions would not be affected by BYU’s advancement to the Sweet 16.