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Mark Pope makes his case for BYU getting into the NCAA Tournament

The Cougars remain on the bubble with Selection Sunday a week away.

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BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope yells as the Brigham Young Cougars play the San Francisco Dons.

BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope yells as the Brigham Young Cougars play the San Francisco Dons in the 2022 West Coast Conference men’s basketball quarterfinals at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 5, 2022. BYU lost 63-75.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

LAS VEGAS — With a week until Selection Sunday, BYU’s postseason fate remains somewhat uncertain.

After the Cougars’ 75-63 setback to San Francisco in the West Coast Conference quarterfinals Saturday night at Orleans Arena, they remain on the NCAA Tournament bubble. 

For now, it appears that BYU (22-10) is more likely to end up in the National Invitation Tournament than the NCAA Tournament. 

As of Sunday, BYU (22-10) was among the “First Four Out” by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.

 Meanwhile, CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm has the Cougars in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed — and not part of the First Four. 

As disappointing as the loss to the Dons was, coach Mark Pope knows the season isn’t over yet.

“We’re excited to keep playing. It’s a special group. The guys are really together. These guys still have really good basketball in front of them. We’ll be hopeful,” he said.

“Our goal all season long is to find a way to get into the NCAA Tournament. It will be fun when people start breaking down the numbers to see where we fit … We’re squarely on the bubble. All we can do right now is hope.”

“We’ve got some competitive guys,” said guard Spencer Johnson. “We’ll go play anybody. anytime, anywhere. Obviously, we’d love to play in March Madness. We hope that happens. We’re going to be excited for it if it does.” 

Here’s what ESPN.com had to say about BYU’s current status on the bubble: “It will be said that BYU’s at-large case is hopeless now that the Cougars have lost to San Francisco in the West Coast Conference semifinals. That may indeed turn out to be the case. One thing to remember, however, is that inaction can be a good thing, particularly when the competing bubble teams around you are all losing.

“The very Dons that defeated Mark Pope’s team hadn’t played a game for seven days before meeting up with BYU. In that time of no new resume-building, San Francisco actually rose in at least one team-sheet metric by nine spots. The Cougars have to hope something similar now occurs in their case.”

Most of the conference tournaments begin play this week, and a lot can happen between now and Selection Sunday. 

Pope was asked to make a case for his team going to the NCAA Tournament, and he highlighted BYU’s strong non-conference performance. 

In the preseason, the Cougars beat Horizon League regular-season winner Cleveland State; San Diego State; Oregon; Texas Southern; Utah; Missouri State; Utah State; Weber State; South Florida; and Liberty, which won its division in the ASUN.

BYU lost to Utah Valley, Creighton and Vanderbilt.

“We played a top-30 toughest schedule in the country. I think there’s four teams ranked ahead of us that have played a tougher schedule in the non-conference. That matters, or it doesn’t. That takes a toll also on a team. That would be my first thing,” Pope said.

Are we encouraging teams to go out and play the hardest schedule they possibly can in the non-conference? Or are we encouraging teams to play a light non-conference schedule? That’s a question that I would ask. That’s a pretty significant number if you think about it …

There’s 49 teams ranked ahead of us, and only three have played a harder non-conference schedule. I think that’s significant … We took on every NCAA Tournament team we could possibly find. We took on every conference champion we could possibly find. These guys put together an unbelievable run of success against great teams.

“With that said, we stumbled a little bit,” Pope added. “Maybe a little bit as a result of the difficulty of the schedule. It’s a good team. We have star players and young guys that are exciting. We’re hopeful. We’ll see.”

On Sunday, BYU was ranked No. 55 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, with a 4-6 record in Quad 1 games; a 3-3 record in Quad 2 games; a 3-0 record in Quad 3 games and a 10-1 record in Quad 4 games.

Meanwhile, dratings.com, which produces NIT projections, has the Cougars as a No. 1 seed in that tournament. Another website that analyzes the NIT, thebarkingcrow.com, projects BYU as a No. 2 seed.

For now, all the Cougars can do is wait.

“Unfortunately, for us, for the next eight days, we don’t have anything to do but (introspection),” Pope said. “We’ll lift up our guys. We’ll re-establish our locker room and infuse all the hope that’s required to move onto postseason play. We’ll continue to analyze ways that we can get better.”

With no games to play, how will his team spend this upcoming week?

“We’ve got guys that are super banged up,” Pope said. “We’ll try to use early in the week for emotional recovery and lifting guys up, trying to find answers mentally and schematically and try to help bodies get as healthy and fresh as they can.

“Probably later in the week, we’ll ratchet it up and start getting back to the edge and competitiveness of the situation.”

BYU is simply hopeful for a positive outcome on Selection Sunday.