BYU basketball notebook: Tournament upsets could leave Cougars out to dry

Published: Wednesday, March 7 2012 5:38 p.m. MST

PROVO — After being eliminated in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament last weekend, all BYU can do now is wait nervously until Sunday.

That's when NCAA Tournament pairings are unveiled.

The Cougars are hoping for an at-large berth. And while they boast 25 wins and a top-50 RPI, their chances of making the field of 68 are tenuous. Ongoing conference tournaments around the country could produce upsets that could squeeze BYU out of an NCAA berth on Selection Sunday.

Since Jan. 28 the Cougars have lost three games, one to WCC champion Saint Mary's, and two to runner-up Gonzaga, including a 19-point setback to the 'Zags in the WCC Tournament semifinals. Overall, BYU has a lackluster 3-6 record against teams with an RPI in the top 50.

The Cougars' pre-NCAA Tournament record is equal to Saint Mary's a year ago — and the Gaels failed to receive an invitation. They ended up a No. 2 seed in the National Invitation Tournament.

If BYU doesn't go to the NCAA Tournament, its streak of five consecutive NCAA Tournaments will come to an end and the Cougars will be headed to the NIT for the first time since 2006.

However, several prominent bracketologists project — for now — that BYU will be part of the Big Dance.

As of Wednesday, ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi had the Cougars slotted as a No. 12 seed, playing No. 5 Temple in Portland.

CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm has the Cougars receiving a No. 10 seed, facing No. 7 Notre Dame in Louisville.

If the Cougars go to the NCAA Tournament, they will be placed in one of four Thursday-Saturday sites. This year, those sites are Albuquerque, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Portland.

Last year marked the addition of the "First Four" in the NCAA Tournament, as it expanded from 64 teams to 68 teams. Eight teams will play the first four games of the tournament in Dayton, Ohio. The First Four features the lowest four at-large qualifying teams and the lowest four automatic bid teams.

Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner has listed BYU as his last team in the NCAA Tournament. He has the Cougars seeded No. 11, playing No. 11 Northwestern in Dayton, Ohio, as part of the First Four in a matchup next Tuesday. Glockner's bracket has the winner of that game facing No. 6 seed Murray State, the Ohio Valley Conference champions, in Albuquerque.

THANKS, BYU: Prior to Monday's WCC championship game between Saint Mary's and Gonzaga, which the Gaels won in overtime, Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett expressed his appreciation for BYU.

With the Cougars joining the conference this season, the WCC made Sunday a "day of rest" during the tournament, in keeping with BYU's school policy of not playing on Sundays.

"First of all, thank you BYU, I like this new format — Sunday day off — it gives you a chance to prepare, makes for a better game," Bennett said. "You're more fresh."

ALL-TIME WINNERS: The Cougars' victory over San Diego in the WCC Tournament quarterfinals last Friday meant that senior Charles Abouo has tied Jimmer Fredette as the all-time leader in school history in most wins.

Abouo has played in 112 victories during his BYU career, the same amount of Fredette, last year's consensus national player of the year.

Meanwhile, senior Noah Hartsock now has 106 wins, tying him with former Cougar Jackson Emery for third place.

email: jeffc@desnews.com

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