Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The BYU men's basketball team huddles before a game against Saint Mary's in the Marriott Center on Feb. 27. The Cougars are a lock for the NCAA Tournament and looking to make some noise in March Madness. (Preston Crawley)

‘Business not done’ as BYU men’s basketball prepares for March

The BYU men’s basketball team lost just one game in the month of February, but now it’s March, and that means it’s tournament time in college basketball.

The Cougars ended the regular season on a four-game win streak, peaking at the right time of the year as they head into the West Coast Conference Tournament on March 4-9, Selection Sunday on March 14 and the NCAA Tournament beginning on March 19.

BYU finished the season as the No. 2 team in the WCC, giving them a bye in the conference tournament until the semifinal on Monday, March 8, when they will take on Pacific, Saint Mary’s or San Francisco. The Cougars are 6-0 against those three teams this season.

The Cougars will then likely face the No. 1 team in the nation, Gonzaga, in the conference championship. BYU lost to the Zags in both meetings this season.

No matter what happens in the WCC Tournament, TeamRankings.com gives BYU a 100% chance of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. The site says the Cougars are most likely to be a six seed in the Big Dance, but could realistically go anywhere between five and eight.

Head coach Mark Pope and the Cougars would have likely made the tournament in his first year in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports world just days before Selection Sunday, leaving questions of what could have been and a hunger to make it happen this season.

“We’re not letting COVID take another tournament from us,” Pope said after the game against San Francisco on Feb. 25.

Two days later, following the regular season finale against Saint Mary’s, Pope joked that he would be “fine with shipping (the players) off to federal prison isolation,” to keep them safe from COVID-19.

“I’m really prayerful that we’ll get to Selection Sunday,” Pope said. “These guys deserve it.”

BYU managed to play an entire 24-game regular season without any shutdowns or missed games because of COVID-19 cases within the program. Now the test comes to see if the Cougars can continue to stay virus-free through a grueling March filled with travel and multiple opponents in a short period of time.

The team has been led all season on and off the court by a trio of mature and determined seniors, all three of which transferred from other programs around the country. Brandon Averette, Alex Barcello and Matt Haarms were honored on Senior Night at the final home game against Saint Mary’s, and were given a chance to speak following the 65-51 win.

All of their messages to fans in the Marriott Center ended with the same words: “We’re not finished yet and business isn’t done.” Barcello in particular, who was part of last year’s BYU squad that had the tournament taken from them, drove the point home, ending his remarks with those words and laying the microphone down on the gym floor.

Barcello’s creed came just two days after he set a new BYU record for consecutive 3-pointers made in a game with seven. Haarms gave Cougar fans flashbacks to Shawn Bradley with his blocking prowess against the Gaels on Senior Night just 48 hours later. The talent and determination are there for the Cougars, now it’s time to put it to the test and survive the madness of March.

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