So much of our life is shaped by the calendar, where dates are supported by tradition. We take joy in their consistencies — celebrating the same events on the same days with the same people. But occasionally, some spice comes along to mix things up.

For BYU, this is one of those times where March has an entirely different look and feel.

Gone is the Orleans Arena and the attached dozen-year dose of disappointment from falling short in the West Coast Conference Tournament. Gone is the residue from underachieving against Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. Also absent is the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” malaise attached to a BYU-free Selection Sunday.

This March, as a member of the Big 12, everything is different.

For one, with two games still to play, the No. 20 Cougars (21-9, 9-7) can finish the regular season with a winning conference record and, with a little help, secure a double-bye for next week’s Big 12 tournament in Kansas City. This is significant considering the strength of the conference and the fact that BYU was picked to finish 13th among the 14 teams.

Second, no matter what happens during the next two weeks, BYU is already projected as a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Wins at No. 7 Kansas and home victories against Baylor, San Diego State and Iowa State has kept the Cougars NET ranking among the top 15 all season.

This is a March of promise, not a stagger to the finish, and it’s how it must have felt to be Gonzaga all those years at the WCC tourney. Their fans filled up the Orleans without a care in the world. They already knew where they were going, it was just a matter of how strong the Zags’ seeding would be.

BYU is far from being the Zags of the Big 12, but the Cougars will roll into Kansas City knowing that, come what may, getting their dance card doesn’t depend on the outcome. When the work is done, prior to the conference tournament, the team can relax, play loose, and go for broke — like an investor who is spending someone else’s money.

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The madness of March arrived centuries before James Naismith shot the first ball into a peach basket. Named after Mars, the god of war and guardian of agriculture, the Romans initially declared March as the first month on the calendar and celebrated New Year’s Day on March 1.

Fortunately for the Rose Bowl, the Roman calendar was reformed to begin in January. On this continent, the British American colonies accepted Jan. 1 as New Year’s Day in 1752. March was left to find something else to hang its hat on.

Naismith’s ball and peach basket morphed into the first NCAA Tournament in 1939. The eight-team competition started on March 17 and ended on March 27 with the Oregon Webfoots defeating Ohio State for the national title. “March Madness” wasn’t used to describe the tournament until 1982.

Later this month, a tournament field of 68 teams will be announced and BYU will be among them. The Cougars received an early dose of “madness” Saturday by turning a 17-point halftime deficit into a 12-point victory against TCU.

As those two very different halves indicate, BYU is a team capable of beating or losing to anyone on any given night. They are true wildcards that have brought pizzazz to Provo that is grossly appropriate for this time of year.

Who knows what’s going to happen Wednesday night at No. 6 Iowa State (7 p.m. MST, ESPN2) or Saturday against Oklahoma State? Or next week at the Big 12 tournament? Or the following week at the Big Dance?

No one knows.

That’s why we watch. The mystery is part of the surprise and it’s maddening — just as it should be this time of year — and BYU is right in the middle of it all in a March that’s unlike the others.

BYU head coach Mark Pope calls out a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley) | Colin E. Braley, Associated Press