Now that BYU is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015, the Cougars are also back in the national spotlight. 

A No. 6 seed, BYU plays either No. 11 Michigan State or No. 11 UCLA Saturday (7:40 p.m. MST, CBS) in the first round at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.  

Here’s what a handful of national pundits and experts are saying about the Cougars going into the tournament. 

Seth Davis, CBS Sports/The Athletic

“When they hand me the super secret bracket in the CBS studio before the Selection Show, the first thing I do is look to the First Four games,” Davis wrote. “My jaw hit the desk when I saw Michigan State and UCLA matched up. I would have had both teams on the 10 line. That said, I definitely like the Spartans in this one. They are better defensively, tougher and have been surging the last month while UCLA has been hanging on for dear life. I think it’s fair to say this will be the highest-rated First Four games in history. That will make Thursday fun, but it doesn’t mean the committee got it right.”

Davis picks BYU to lose in the first round to Michigan State.

“BYU runs a top-30 offense and defense, per KenPom, shooting 37.8% on 3-point attempts. One of the country’s best shooting teams, the Cougars have at times been susceptible to turnovers, and they don’t rack up a ton of steals,” Davis continued. “But their 16.6 assists per game is testament to how well they move the ball, set up shooters and work to generate quality shots. When in rhythm, they can be dangerous.”

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Jay Bilas, ESPN

“The Cougars are good, but seeded too high and not quite as good as last year’s BYU team. Matt Haarms is the headliner. The 7-3 transfer from Purdue has been a very good rim protector, rebounder and finisher. BYU has some versatile wings who can slash and rebound, and guards Brandon Averette and Alex Barcello can both score and distribute. Averette started his career at Oklahoma State and averages over 11 points and almost four assists. Barcello started his career at Arizona and averages almost 16 points and five assists, hitting just about 50% from deep. BYU does a great job of passing, cutting and moving the ball, although it can turn it over a little too much. Michigan State has been a puzzle all season long. Different issues at different times, but Michigan State could never seem to stabilize things. Rather, it was a roller coaster ride. The ‘ups’ were wins over two No. 1 seeds and a No. 2 seed, plus victories over Duke, Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan. The assist rate has been exemplary. Aaron Henry has emerged as a consistent All-Big Ten performer. Joshua Langford has been healthy and productive. The ‘downs’ were too numerous to mention, but whether turnovers, point-guard issues, shooting woes, defensive inconsistencies or player inconsistencies, Michigan State had very little to suggest an identity resembling anything we had come to know in the past. Can Michigan State beat UCLA? Yes. The keys will be the guard spot and Joey Hauser. UCLA runs a good offense but does not defend as well as Mick Cronin would like. That is the difference between the first weekend and the second in the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins need to stand their ground, fight for position and avoid late clock breakdowns. Tyger Campbell, an All-Pac-12 selection, is the strong, tough point guard who runs the show. Jaime Jaquez is a hard-playing wing who can really shoot it. Johnny Juzang has blossomed after transferring from Kentucky. If UCLA gets stops, the Bruins can win.

Winner: Michigan State beats UCLA and then beats BYU.”

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Pat Forde, Sports Illustrated

Forde picks BYU to win its first-round game before losing to No. 3 seed Texas. He ranks the Cougars No. 20 in his list ranking all 68 NCAA Tournament teams.

“No. 20 BYU. I was looking forward to seeing the high-octane Cougars potentially making a run in last year’s Big Dance before it was canceled. This year’s team might not be quite as good, but BYU is still potent and capable of winning games. Guard Alex Barcello (15.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists) has risen into the alpha role while a new cast of teammates has coalesced around him: Purdue transfer Matt Haarms, Utah Valley transfer Brandon Averette, freshman forward Caleb Lohner (whose blond Goldilocks curls will generate much discussion). This is the only team to legitimately make Gonzaga sweat in the last several months; will they be ready for the first-round blueblood that comes their way out of the First Four, either Michigan State or UCLA?”

Jon Rothstein, CBS

Mark Pope drew the short straw: This guy has been masterful during his first two years in Provo, accumulating a combined record of 44-14 while also putting BYU in position to be a single digit seed in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. His reward this year for being a six seed? A first round meeting with the winner of Thursday’s First Four showdown between UCLA and Michigan State. Yikes.”

Matt Norlander, CBS

Norlander lists BYU at No. 25 in his 1-68 rankings of NCAA Tournament teams.

“Curious as to how much love BYU gets after pushing Gonzaga for almost 40 minutes in the WCC title game,” he wrote. “The Cougars’ most recognizable player is 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms, formerly of Purdue. Alex Barcello is ‘The Guy,’ though. He shoots 48% from 3 and plays the most minutes. Mark Pope’s squad does everything at a good-to-great level except forcing teams to turn the ball over.”