Having won seven of its last eight games, including last Saturday’s 78-65 victory over Portland, BYU is on the verge of cracking The Associated Press Top 25 poll again.

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BYU (17-4, 5-1)

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The Cougars (17-4, 5-1) moved up one place to No. 26, one spot outside the top 25 when the latest rankings were revealed Monday morning.

BYU rose as high as No. 12 in late November before losing to Utah Valley University and then dropped out of the rankings in mid-December following a loss to Creighton.

Meanwhile, the Cougars are currently No. 25 in the NCAA NET rankings, which have more impact on their NCAA Tournament status. 

According to the metrics, BYU is in great position relative to the Big Dance.

The Cougars are one of only four teams nationally with at least four Quad 1 wins and at least four Quad 2 wins, along with No. 1 Auburn, No. 5 Kansas and No. 11 Wisconsin. And they are one of just three teams with at least 16 wins, a top-50 KenPom top-25 adjusted offense and adjusted defense ranking, and a top-25 strength of schedule, along with Auburn and Kansas. 

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ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Cougars as a No. 8 seed in his latest projections. 

How much does being ranked in the AP poll, compared to other metrics, matter to coach Mark Pope?

“I do care about the top 25 personally because it’s the perception, the media/public driving perception of the program. It might not be factual and it might be biased, but I want people to be biased for BYU. I just do,” Pope said. “It is a component of your program. I want people to think about BYU, like, ‘That’s a real program.’

“There are some places where the AP Top 25 is so different from the metrics. That’s the difference between the numbers, the facts and the feeling,” he continued. “If I had to choose one, I would choose the facts every single time. But it’s also important to me that people think about this program the way it really is. This is a special place and what our guys are doing is really special. I do care about the public perception of this program a lot.”

If BYU finishes in the top 25 of the final AP poll this season, it would mark the Cougars’ third straight top-25 finish. That’s never happened in program history. 

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“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Pope said of the rankings. “We’re trying to do it consistently. It’s important.”

Guard Te’Jon Lucas appreciates the validation of being ranked in the top 25, but he also knows that’s not the focus. 

“We pay attention to it a little bit. Of course, you want to be ranked. It’s always a good thing to have that number by you when you’re playing,” he said. “It’s cool but it’s not something we can measure our success off of. The ultimate goal is to win games and get to the NCAA Tournament. But if we can get into that top 25, that just gives us another milestone that we’ve completed.

“Our guys know what it takes to be in the top 25 and that’s to continue to win games and everything else will take care of itself. … We don’t really care if we’re ranked or not. But at the end of the day, it’s definitely something that’s good for us. Our main goal is to win games.”

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