Mark Pope cheers on his team from the sideline. (Decker Westenburg)

BYU men’s basketball returns to familiar territory with NIT bid, extra home game

The BYU men’s basketball team was not selected on Sunday to the 68-team field of the NCAA Tournament, much to the dismay of fans, coaches and players.

The silver lining? The Cougars’ season is not over.

BYU accepted a bid to play in the NIT and compete against other teams denied a chance to win the “Big Dance” in what has been nicknamed the “Little Dance.”

BYU will enter the NIT as a 2-seed this year, facing Long Beach State on Wednesday at 7 p.m. MDT in the Marriott Center. Seniors Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas get on last chance to play at home in front of BYU fans.

LBSU has a 20-12 record and won the Big West regular-season championship. LBSU has some good size in its frontcourt, which could be a challenge for BYU’s undersized bigs to handle. Their offensive attack is balanced, with three players averaging double-digit points on the season. 

BYU’s offense has been the primary concern of the team throughout the year. When asked about BYU’s offensive strategy this season, head coach Mark Pope said, “Our foundation that we keep coming back to is, ‘Are we getting more shots and better shots, and are we giving up less shots and giving up worse shots?’” 

While the stakes might not be as high, there is still pride and bragging rights to be had by the Cougars, as winning the tournament would end the season on a high note with a trophy in hand.

The “Little Dance” used to be a much bigger deal, with many teams participating in it due to the NCAA Tournament having a smaller field. The NIT was instituted before the NCAA Tournament was, getting its start in 1938, a year before the “Big Dance.”

BYU has won the NIT twice, in 1959 and 1966. While a lot of time has passed since BYU won the tournament, the Cougars made it to the semifinals in New York as recently as 2016. The last time BYU played in the NIT was in 2018, with Dave Rose at the helm as head coach.

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