The waiting time is over. The nerves are settled. Hope is confirmed and the preparation begins. The BYU men’s basketball team is in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight season.
The Cougars (25-8) were selected as one of the last four teams in, as they will take on the Iona Gaels (25-7) on Tuesday night as part of a play-in game to see who will move on to be the 14th seed in the West regional to play third seed Marquette.
[media-credit id=149 align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]”It was pretty tense in there waiting for our name to show up on the board and be called,” junior guard Brock Zylstra said. “We’re excited to be in the dance and be playing in the big tournament.. We had a good resume, we’ve won a lot of games so we were hoping that we were going to get in, and we did.”
The Cougars are one of three teams from the West Coast Conference to make the tournament, joining Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, who were both chosen as seven seeds, showing how strong the conference is.
“We’re aware of it, but we don’t think too much about what other people are doing,” junior forward Brandon Davies said. “We’re focused on what we need to do and that’s winning this game coming up. We just wanted to be in there.”
The Gaels are statistically the highest scoring team in the country, scoring an average of 83.3 points per game. They are led by senior forward Mike Glover, who averages 18.5 points and 9 rebounds per game, while junior guard Lamont (MoMo) Jones also contributes 16 points per game.
Glover’s stats are similar to Davies, who averages 15 points and 7.3 rebounds. Senior forward Noah Hartsock leads the Cougars with 16.7 points per game. BYU is 13th in the nation in scoring, averaging 78.2 points per game, so the game is set to be a high-scoring matchup.
“They have a really good offense led by a really good point guard,” senior guard Charles Abouo said. “It’s going to be up and down, but it plays right into how we like to play.”
The winner of the BYU/Iona game will move on to play the third seed Marquette on Thursday. The winner of that game will play the winner of Murray State, the last team to lose a game this season, and familiar Mountain West Conference foe Colorado State on Saturday. Other teams in the bottom half of the bracket include second seed Missouri and Florida, who has met the Cougars in the tournament each of the last two seasons.
“What everybody says and what everybody believes and what they want to figure out mathematically is not how you get in this tournament,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “You get in this tournament with that selection committee actually voting you in. It’s a really good feeling when you know that the committee thinks you’re one of the best teams in the country to be in their tournament.”
Hartsock and junior forward Stephen Rogers have practiced all week and will both play in Tuesday’s game, helping the Cougars regain their health and be more dangerous to other teams on the court.
“The knee’s pretty much all the way back,” Hartsock said. “I’m still working on the ankle a little. In practice, I was able to hit a turnaround jumper for the first time without hurting, so I’m feeling pretty good. I’m just really glad and grateful that we get another shot at the tournament.”
The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. MST in Dayton, Ohio, and will be televised on truTV.