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After missing out on the NCAA Tournament, BYU basketball looks forward to the NIT

SHARE After missing out on the NCAA Tournament, BYU basketball looks forward to the NIT
BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope reacts as the Brigham Young Cougars play the Loyola Marymount Lions in the second round of the 2022 West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope reacts as the Brigham Young Cougars play the Loyola Marymount Lions in the second round of the 2022 West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Friday, March 4, 2022. BYU won 85-60.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

As expected, BYU is headed to the National Invitation Tournament.

The Cougars are a No. 2 seed in the NIT and will face No. 7 seed Long Beach State, the regular-season champions of the Big West Conference.

BYU and Long Beach State (20-12) meet Wednesday (7 p.m., MST, ESPN+) at the Marriott Center. 

For weeks, BYU (22-10) sat on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and that bubble officially burst Sunday afternoon. The Cougars weren’t even part of the “Last Four Out.”

Was coach Mark Pope surprised by that?

“I don’t know. I mean, once you get into the bubble, it’s just a big mosh of teams that are all really good and have a bunch of blemishes. I don’t put a lot of stock in it either way,” he said.

Three West Coast Conference teams were selected to the Big Dance — Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and San Francisco. 

The Cougars fell to the Dons in the WCC Tournament quarterfinals on March 5 in Las Vegas. 

This is BYU’s 15th appearance in the NIT. The Cougars fell at Stanford in 2018 in its most recent appearance. 

When asked, Pope said there was no consideration of turning down the opportunity to play in the NIT in the wake of the disappointment of not being invited to NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t understand that. I don’t understand the concept of not competing,” he said. “It’s what we live for. I think that’s how our guys are built. We have unbelievable leadership on this team.

“You think about a guy like Alex Barcello. The reason why he’s going to be such a good pro is because he’s built that way ... We have a special group that loves to compete.”

Pope said his team will be challenged by Long Beach State.

“They’re a really good team,” he said. “They won their conference championship, so they’re a championship-pedigree team. They play really hard and they pressure all game long. They’re proven.”

Second round NIT games will take place on March 19-20, and the quarterfinals will be on March 22-23, both at campus sites.

The semifinals on March 29 and the championship game on March 31 will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York City.