PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball finds itself on the NCAA Tournament bubble as the calendar turns to March. Some bracketologists have the Cougars in. Others like ESPN’s Joe Lunardi see BYU outside the field.
The mixed bag of projections had BYU head coach Mark Pope doing everything he could to find another Quad 1 non-conference opponent for his team to play on the road. But after a lot of effort, it just couldn’t get done.
“We were trying to get to a piece of paper on the table; we just couldn’t get there. So you know, I did have some nervousness. I’m like every other coach; I had some nerves about where my guys were,” said Pope after Tuesday’s practice. “We got a lot of feedback where teams are a little banged up. We had some teams that were like, ‘we’d be really interested in doing it next week.’ But we’re not allowed to play a regular-season game after the postseason. We just couldn’t get anybody to agree to a Tuesday or Wednesday game.
“We had a Monday game that we might have been able to get, but that would have been a Saturday night game, Sunday travel, and a no-prep game. And I’m not sure that would be good for our guy’s energy or bodies or rotation or anything else. So we refined it to a Tuesday or Wednesday, but we couldn’t get anybody to take a Tuesday or Wednesday with us.”
Potential Quad 1 opportunities await at the WCC Tournament
The good news for Pope and his team that boasts a 21-9 overall record is that Quad 1 opportunities will be in front of them in Las Vegas at the 2022 WCC Tournament. BYU will fly to Vegas for its penultimate WCC Tourney run on Thursday night, having a Friday morning shootaround in Vegas, then gear up for LMU or Pacific on Friday night (7 p.m., BYUtv & KSL NewsRadio).
If BYU gets by either the Lions or Tigers, a Saturday Quarterfinal against NCAA Tournament hopeful San Francisco will await, and it would have a “win, and you’re in” type of feel to the matchup. Then if you get by the Dons, a matchup in the Semifinals on Monday night against the best Quad 1 in America, Gonzaga.
But Friday night is the priority. Pope has liked the effort from practices this week saying his squad has “some juice right now,” which makes him excited.
Who does BYU basketball want to play, LMU or Pacific?
LMU was a team that took BYU to the wire in Los Angeles three weeks ago with the heart of their team, Keli Leaupepe, easily identifiable with his mullet hairstyle. He missed the game in Provo that saw BYU cruise to a 20-point victory.
Pacific was a team that BYU beat to open up WCC play on January 6, but 23 days later, the Tigers pulled off a shocking upset in Stockton, handing BYU its first Quad 4 loss in the Mark Pope era. That loss is the reason why BYU basketball finds itself on the bubble.
Revenge could be in play for the Cougars, who know they need to show well in Vegas to punch their ticket to the Big Dance for the second consecutive season.
“It doesn’t matter to me. But it would be nice to play Pacific again,” BYU’s Spencer Johnson said when asked if he had a preference for the opponent. “That would be fun. A little redemption game.”
Pope knows that both teams will give BYU everything they can handle on Friday night.
“I think we just want to play. Whether we play Pacific or LMU, we know it’s just going to come down to the wire, and it’s going to be physical and brutal. Whatever team we play is going to be walking with some confidence because they’ll be coming off a win by definition, and they’re both teams that have pushed us to the very brink. We know how good both teams are, but everybody you play in the postseason is going to be great. It just is the way it is. Everybody’s going to be great.”
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.