By Todd Bluth
When the National Invitation Tournament bracket was released last Sunday, Mar. 12, 2006, many BYU faithful were hopeful that the men?s basketball team would wind up with a favorable seed and homecourt advantage in the first round.
News of a No. 6 seed, though, came as a disappointment to many but not to the team itself, which is still excited at the prospect of postseason play.
The Cougars, who finished the season as the nation?s most improved team, were fostering hopes of an NCAA Tournament appearance before falling to Utah in the first round of the MWC Tournament. Still, the team has exceeded preseason expectations with its NIT selection and welcomes the opportunity to return to a tournament that it has won twice before, in 1951 and 1966.
?There are a lot of good things this team has done this year,? said head coach Dave Rose. ?I?m excited for them that they have the chance to play in the postseason. I think that if you make it to the postseason, you?re going to play a good team.?
BYU is the only team from the Mountain West Conference to be selected for the NIT and will take on No. 3 Houston Wednesday, Mar. 15, 2006. Pre-bracket projections had the Cougars as a higher seed, possibly at a No. 3 or 4, which would have afforded them homecourt advantage in the first round. However, with many prominent teams such as Michigan and Maryland failing to secure NCAA bids, the tournament competition promises to be tougher than in years past, with many perennial NCAA invitees receiving higher seeds in the NIT.
Despite losing the opportunity to host the first-round game, the Cougars are excited for the experience that postseason play brings.
?[Our seed] doesn?t really matter, we?re going to play one of those teams anyway,? said guard Rashaun Broadus. ?We?ve had something to prove all year, so the fact that they rated us sixth, we?ll just have to go in and prove that we should have been a higher seed. It would have been good to have one or two of those first games at home, but?that didn?t fall in our favor.?
?It doesn?t matter what seed we got,? echoed forward Keena Young. ?Last year we didn?t play in anything at all, so we?re happy to get this opportunity to play in the postseason.?
Houston also holds special meaning for a number of BYU players and coaches. Rose played at Houston with NBA greats Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon as part of the historic ?Phi Slamma Jamma? squad in 1983. Guard Mike Rose also hails from the Houston area, and starters Young and Trent Plaisted grew up within hours of the city.
?I?m going to be very excited to play in front of friends and family, but we also have to go down and take care of business,? said Young.
?It?ll be a good steppingstone for next year?s team,? Broadus said. ?Just to get everybody prepared for postseason play for next year will be good.?