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BYU basketball: Are the No. 19 Cougars a ‘lock’ for the NCAA tournament

An ESPN college basketball insider – John Gasaway – wrote Sunday that the BYU Cougars are one of five Big 12 “locks” for next month’s NCAA Tournament, along with Houston, Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor.

He noted that Texas Tech, TCU, Oklahoma and Texas “should participate” in the Big Dance and that Cincinnati and Kansas State “have work to do” before Selection Sunday, March 17.

“I mean, what a team, my God. Playing (UCF) is like a fight. They’re doing an incredible job…coming into the Big 12. They’ve had some huge wins. They are ridiculously physical and athletic. So this is going to be an all out war, as it is every game in this league. — Mark Pope, BYU basketball coach

For BYU fans, it’s pretty heady, considering the Cougars were picked to finish 13th in the league in October at Big 12 basketball media days in Kansas City.

But after BYU beat Kansas State 72-66 Saturday at the Marriott Center, holding on to the narrow victory after leading by as many as 17 midway through the second half, coach Mark Pope and some of his players said that there was no time to lose. .

“You can’t (relax) for one second in this league,” Pope said.

That remains true this week, even though there are two fairly winnable games on the schedule, starting Tuesday night when the Cougars (5-5, 17-6) host Mercurial UCF (4-6, 13-9) at the Marriott . Center. Tip-off will take place at 7 p.m. MST and the rematch of BYU’s 63-58 win in Orlando on Jan. 13 will be available on ESPN+.

If the Cougars win, they’ll have a chance to snap their first-ever three-game winning streak in the Big 12 on Saturday against last-place Oklahoma State (2-9, 10-14), who should be rested and ready as the Cowboys have mid-week off.

“I mean, what a team, my God. Playing (UCF), it’s like a fight,” Pope said Saturday night. “They’re doing an incredible job … getting into the Big 12. They’ve had some huge wins. They are ridiculously physical and athletic. So this is going to be an all out war, as it is every game in this league.

UCF lost 66-59 at Texas Tech on Saturday, despite guard Jaylin Sellers scoring 14 points to surpass the 1,000 career point mark.

The Knights, who will play in Provo for the first time in school history, have victories over Kansas, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma in the championship. They could be without 7-footer Ibrahima Diallo, who missed the Tech game with a knee injury.

Diallo had 11 points, 19 rebounds and two blocked shots in the Orlando game, and leads the Big 12 with 41 blocked shots.

Six days after a disheartening 82-66 loss to unranked Oklahoma and two days after holding on to beat Kansas State, BYU fell from 21st to 19th in the Top 25 poll. ‘Associated Press. The Cougars have been ranked 12 times this season, the fifth most in a BYU season, according to BYU sports information. They were ranked among the program’s best 19 times during the 2010-11 season, Jimmer Fredette’s final year.

The fact that BYU continues to command so much respect from national pollsters and computers is a testament to the quality of the Big 12. BYU is 5-5 in league play for the third year in a row, but that kind of record in the WCC wasn’t even close to sniffing a national ranking.

Some so-called national college basketball experts have suggested that BYU and other Big 12 teams “gamed the system” by loading up on easy teams in non-conference games and winning those games handily. points as possible, but Pope wasn’t accepting that notion when asked about it last Thursday.

“I think these people are crazy. We can experience it every day. This league is pretty amazing and I think the teams are pretty well tested and proven. It’s really great,” he said. “…Maybe I shouldn’t say ‘crazy,’ because people might take that too seriously. Come to the games. Be part of the deal .It’s really quite extraordinary.

That the Cougars are No. 8 in the NET rankings, No. 12 on Kenpom.com, is also pretty extraordinary, considering they’re pretty much the same team as last year. Charlotte transfer Aly Khalifa is the only “new” contributor.

“It’s been a lot of fun being around the guys and talking about it,” senior guard Spencer Johnson said of the difference between the Big 12 and WCC. “These teams are really good, really athletic. The players are intelligent. There’s a big difference.”

Johnson said BYU is getting used to playing guys who were “top 50, top 25 coming out of high school” and teams “that are top 10 teams” in the country.

“It’s fun to talk about it together as a group and figure out how we’re going to compete with them and how we’re going to beat them,” Johnson said. “It’s been super awesome.”

Why are the Cougars so close to being a lock for the NCAA Tournament?

For starters, they don’t have bad losses. They are 3-5 in Quadrant 1 games and 2-1 in Quadrant 2 games. They are a combined 12-0 in Quad 3 and Quad 4 games.

Central Florida is No. 66 in the NET rankings, with a 3-6 record in Quad 1 games. Tuesday’s game is a Quad 1 opportunity for the Knights.

For BYU, it’s a chance to move closer to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2021 and start playing for as favorable a seed as possible. A reasonable goal is a No. 5 or No. 6 seed and an opportunity to play a first-round match in Salt Lake City.

“It’s exciting,” Johnson said. “Every game is absolutely huge.”

BYU coach Mark Pope, center, talks with one of his players during a game against Kansas State, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, in Provo, Utah. Pope said of Tuesday’s game against UCF, “It’s going to be an all-out war, like every game in this league.”

Isaac Hale, Associated Press

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