If the Beatles were writing songs for college basketball, their hit “The Long and Winding Road” would be a perfect tune to capture the duration of a season. For No. 21 BYU, the march to Omaha began with a late-summer trip to Italy and Croatia and was followed by a 33-game slate as a new member of the Big 12.

Getting to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2021 and for only the second since a 2015 First Four appearance required a little bit from everybody on the roster. But as the scene shifts to the Big Dance, the spotlight shifts to one key position — guard play.

March is for guards just as much as Virginia is for lovers.

Dallin Hall, a sophomore from Fremont, Utah, and Jaxson Robinson, a senior from Ada, Oklahoma, will have more to do with the direction BYU goes this week than any other Cougars on the roster. It might not seem fair, but in a tournament of elimination, it is what it is and guards are the kings.

Hall runs the team at point guard. When he hits his averages of nine points, five assists, 3.6 rebounds and plays 29.1 minutes, BYU (23-10) typically wins. When he exceeds those numbers, the Cougars win big. On those nights when foul trouble keeps Hall off the floor, all bets are off.

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Robinson runs the point when Hall is on the bench. At 6-foot-7, the taller, lankier guard is out of his normal position, but he has proven capable of holding things together in short spurts. The Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year honoree averages 13.8 points, 1.3 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game.

Junior Trey Stewart can also provide temporary relief at the point, but BYU is at its best when Hall is distributing the ball and Robinson is shooting 3-pointers. At the other end of the floor, the Cougars also fare well when Hall is defending, and Robinson is swatting shots.

The challenge Thursday against Duquesne (10:40 a.m. MDT, TruTV) is that neither guard has played in an NCAA Tournament game. The two guys who are tasked with calming everybody else down will be just as jacked up.

Ask anybody who has played in the tournament, and they will tell you it’s a different beast.

“You can’t explain it,” former Cougar Craig Cusick told the “Y’s Guys” podcast. “For anyone who has played sports, you get amped up for special games like when you go play Utah, you get amped. March Madness is four times that. You are amped on another level. You realize this might be the only chance in your life to play in this tournament.”

Cusick’s Cougars rallied to defeat Iona 78-72 in the 2012 First Four before being defeated by Marquette in the first round. BYU Radio analyst Mark Durrant played in three NCAA Tournaments between 1990 and 1995.

“There is nothing like the NCAA Tournament. It’s so great,” Durrant told the “Y’s Guys” podcast. “It has such a great feeling. Just the environment. It’s really special to be a part of. To be able to go to the tournament with good expectations with a team that’s really good, after a really nice year, that’s what it’s all about.”

In the days or weeks ahead, Hall and Robinson will sound like experts when it comes to playing in the NCAA Tournament. They will have “been there” and “done that.” But for now, the learning experience is still up ahead. It’s safe to say, outside of their schoolwork, Omaha is where Hall and Robinson are going to get their education.

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Can you think of a better place to earn a degree of advancement? For a college basketball player, this is it. This is the big time, and these two guards have a chance to do something no BYU guards have ever done — win and advance beyond the opening weekend as a newcomer.

Only two Cougar teams have even gone beyond the second round since the tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1975, and each did it with a pair of guards who had been there before.

Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery led BYU to the Sweet 16 in 2011. Twelve months earlier, they were eliminated by Kansas State in the second round. Before them, it was Danny Ainge and Steve Craig who took BYU into the Elite Eight in 1981. Both guards experienced a first-round loss to Clemson the year before.

Getting out of the opening weekend requires two wins, beginning Thursday against Duquesne (24-11). Should BYU prevail, the Cougars will face the winner of Morehead State (26-8) and Illinois (26-8) on Saturday.

So where can Hall and Robinson look to for “guard line” wisdom when the plot thickens and the pressure mounts against the Dukes? They only need to go toward the head of the bench and find Nick Robinson.

The BYU assistant coach was a guard at Stanford (2001-2005) and played in the NCAA Tournament four times. He knows the thrill of victory (three games) and the agony of defeat (four games). He has felt the extra weight that comes to that position this time of year, because March is for guards.

Robinson’s advice will be golden for both Hall and Robinson who can extend this “long and winding road” of a season by how they play.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.

BYU guard Jaxson Robinson drives against a Baylor defender during game Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, in Provo, Utah. | Rick Bowmer