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PROVO — The NCAA Tournament selection committee rewarded BYU for its body of work during an outstanding regular season, bestowing a No. 3 seed on the Cougars Sunday, and assigning them to nearby Denver.
That's where BYU (30-4) will open NCAA Tournament play, Thursday at the Pepsi Center, against No. 14 seed Wofford (21-12), which won the Southern Conference Tournament championship.
"We were very excited to get a No. 3 seed, in Denver, which is close," said guard Jimmer Fredette. "We should have a good amount of fans there. We've had a great year and the selection committee saw that and wanted to reward us for that. I knew we were going to be somewhere between a three and a five (seed). I didn't think we'd be over five. We didn't see our name called until the very last part of the show. I'm extremely excited. We have a great team here. It's the highest seed since I've been here. We have a good opportunity to do some things in the tournament with our talent and the confidence we have."
"It's what we expected — right there in Denver," said forward Noah Hartsock. "We're really pleased with what we got. Hopefully it works out well for us. I think it's a great placement for us. We have a great fan base out in Denver. That support will help us play well in the tournament."
It marks the best seed BYU has received since being a No. 3 in 1980. The Cougars were a No. 4 seed in 1988. Since then, BYU has never been seeded higher than a No. 7. The Cougars were a No. 7 a year ago, when they beat Florida for their first NCAA Tournament victory in 17 years.
"We're excited to be in the tournament. Being a No. 3 seed is very deserving for these players," said coach Dave Rose. "They've played consistent all year long and have been able to win a regular-season Mountain West Conference championship in a league that is ranked No. 4 in the RPI in the country. We're really pleased to play in Denver. Hopefully our fans will be able to travel with us."
As recently as two weeks ago, BYU was projected as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament after knocking off top-10 ranked San Diego State on the road. But two days later, sophomore forward Brandon Davies was suspended for the rest of the season. Without Davies in the lineup, the Cougars have posted a 3-2 record, including a 72-54 loss to the Aztecs in the MWC Tournament title game on Saturday.
San Diego State received a No. 2 seed and will face No. 15 seed Northern Colorado. Another MWC team, UNLV, is a No. 8 seed. The Runnin' Rebels will take on Illinois.
BYU has been placed in the Southeast Region, where Big East regular-season champ Pittsburgh is the No. 1 seed and Florida is No. 2.
Should the Cougars defeat Wofford, they would play the winner of No. 6 St. John's and No. 11 Gonzaga.
St. John's is based in Fredette's home state of New York, and Gonzaga belongs to the conference in which BYU will start playing in next season — the West Coast Conference.
"It would be a fun game, for sure," Fredette said of the chance of playing St. John's. "But we can't look forward to that because we have a good team ahead of us first. If St. John's is the matchup, it would be fun, just being from New York and having that team really play well this season, and bringing New York City basketball back, would be fun."
Should BYU win two games and reach the Sweet 16, it would travel to New Orleans, where it could possibly play No. 7 seed UCLA, which is the only non-MWC team to beat the Cougars this season, or Florida, the team BYU defeated in the NCAA Tournament last year.
This marks the second straight season Wofford has been in the Big Dance. The Terriers, from Spartanburg, S.C., have won eight consecutive games.
Last season, Wofford went in as a No. 13 seed and lost a close first-round matchup with Wisconsin, 53-49.
"They've gone to the NCAA Tournament two years in a row," Fredette said. "They've been there before. We're looking forward to being able to play them and advance."
Cougars on the air
No. 3 BYU (30-4) vs. No. 14 Wofford (21-12)
5:15 p.m., Thursday, March 17
TV: CBS Radio: 1160AM 102.7 FM