Men's basketball head coach Mark Pope with Gideon George, left and Caleb Lohner, right. (Decker Westenburg)

BYU men’s and women’s basketball teams look to improve March Madness resumes

The BYU men’s and women’s basketball teams could both use an additional quality win to improve their seeding in the NCAA Tournament. The respective coaches have made it clear they are open to doing whatever they can to help their teams.

Because of COVID-19 issues, both teams did not play as many games as originally scheduled. The men’s team had a game at Portland canceled, while the women’s team had games against Portland and Pepperdine canceled. University of Portland Vice President of Athletics Scott Leykam provided the following information to The Daily Universe about his school’s games with BYU.

“Both of the postponed men’s and women’s basketball games between BYU and Portland have been ruled as no-contests by the WCC because we could not find dates that worked for both schools.”

BYU athletic communications coordinator Kenny Cox confirmed the women’s game with Pepperdine was also ruled a no-contest by the conference for the same reason.

Men’s Basketball

Head coach Mark Pope took a direct approach when talking about scheduling: He wants another game with a quality opponent.

His players are also on board with the idea. Te’Jon Lucas commented after a recent practice, “I trust coach and I’ll just be ready to play.”

Pope elaborated that he would prefer a Quad One road matchup. A Quad One game is defined by the NCAA’s NET rankings, a metrics system used to rank all 340 Division I teams. A Quad One road game would be against a team ranked in the top 75 of the NET.

A strong opponent is a necessity because many bracket projections currently have the Cougars on the outside of the 68-team March Madness field. ESPN bracketologist John Gasaway, who writes about teams “on the bubble,” believes BYU could benefit from playing another tough team.

“This far out from Selection Sunday we can’t know whether one more quality non-conference win will be enough to earn an at-large bid,” Gasaway said. “But we can say two things. BYU is likely just outside the field right now, and one more quality win would boost the Cougars’ body of work.”

The difficulty with this endeavor is scheduling feasibility. BYU’s first WCC Tournament game is on Friday, which means the latest they could play a road game outside of Las Vegas is likely Tuesday. Compound that with the fact that if BYU makes it to the championship game, they will play four games in five days from Friday to next Tuesday. Despite those challenges, Gasaway believes the risk is worth the potential reward.

“The tough part, as always, will be logistics,” he added. “You’re looking for an opponent that’s open to improving its own profile yet is also highly ranked in the NET and is available early next week (the week of Feb. 28). Threading that needle won’t be easy, but it’s certainly worth a try.”

BYU has several options for an additional non-conference Quad One game. The following teams ranked above BYU in the NET (No. 50) do not have games scheduled during the early part of this week: Illinois, Texas, Murray State, Colorado State, Loyola Chicago, North Texas, Memphis and SMU.

The WCC Tournament also provides an opportunity for the Cougars to pick up valuable wins. A win on Friday would set up a Saturday game against Quad One San Francisco. BYU could also potentially play Gonzaga in the semifinal and Saint Mary’s in the final based on how results go, providing two more Quad One opportunities.

Of course, a win in the championship game would give Pope’s team an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, alleviating all of their stress.

Women’s Basketball

Pope’s counterpart Jeff Judkins was much more reserved when talking about scheduling, largely sad that canceled games cut into the season for his seniors. “I kind of feel bad for the seniors. I mean, they wanted to play those games and it would have been nice.”

While obviously health concerns surrounding COVID-19 dictated different results, Judkins did all he could to add more games. He confirmed that No. 1 South Carolina reached out to BYU, but the only feasible opening in the Gamecocks’ schedule was on a Sunday, which was not a possibility because of BYU’s no Sunday play policy.

Judkins has far less need to add a game, as his team is comfortably in March Madness regardless of what happens in the WCC Tournament. The only advantage the Cougars would have to additional games would be finishing in the top-16, as those teams host the first two rounds of the tournament. The AP Poll currently has BYU at No. 17, but the NET, the primary seeding tool, has BYU at No. 8.

As for its path in Las Vegas, BYU could face Portland in the semifinal, generating a Quad Two matchup and potentially avenging their only conference loss. The Cougars also might face Gonzaga in the championship game, providing a Quad One opponent.

The men’s team starts tournament play on Friday and the women will begin on Monday. Selection Sunday for both teams is on March 13.

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