DAYTON, Ohio — A couple of years ago, when the NCAA announced that it was expanding the NCAA Tournament field from 65 to 68 teams, including a "First Four" in Dayton, BYU coach Dave Rose was a proponent of the move.
"I was asked a lot of questions that year when they introduced that," he said. "My response was that it's a great idea for more student-athletes to experience the tournament because I think the tournament is such a special thing."
Now, Rose and his Cougars are part of the "First Four," which refers to the first four games of the NCAA Tournament.
"I feel even more excited about that today," Rose said. "I'm glad (the NCAA) did that."
In the inaugural season of the "First Four," VCU ended up advancing all the way to the Final Four. Both BYU and Iona are well-aware of that fact.
"It was a magical year for VCU last year, the fact that they were here, and went from here to there," said Iona coach Tim Cluess. "Means anything's possible. That's the great thing about mid-majors, low majors to get this opportunity, is that we can all dream. The question is, why not us?"
NOAH'S KNEE: BYU senior forward Noah Hartsock, who has been battling a knee sprain and an ankle injury for the past few weeks, said he's ready to go for Tuesday night's game against Iona.
"Noah was a lot better (Saturday)," Rose said. "The best he's looked in three weeks. That's a really good sign."
"The leg's feeling pretty good right now," Hartsock said. "The only thing that's really bothering me is maybe my ankle."
As for injured Stephen Rogers, Rose said that the junior forward has had a setback with his ailing knee.
THE BERTH THAT KEEPS ON GIVING: The Cougars have now earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament for six consecutive seasons. Rose said that tournament streak has numerous benefits.
"There are so many positive things about this. … A lot of it is about our young players getting the chance to experience the bright lights of this tournament. A lot of it is about the tradition of our program and the players that are coming in and our recruiting. Every year you have a lot of goals for your team. The ultimate goal is to get into the tournament and try to advance. And we have a chance."
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: BYU sat on the NCAA Tournament bubble after falling to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals.
It made for a nerve-wracking week for the Cougars. BYU had just one victory over a team, Gonzaga, with an RPI in the top 50.
Looking back on the season as a whole, the Cougars clearly missed an opportunity to enhance their status had they beaten Baylor at the Marriott Center in December. The Cougars lost, 86-83, to the Bears, who are a No. 3 seed.
"If we would have won that, it would have given us a more secure lock in the tournament," Hartsock said. "That would have been really big for us. We couldn't do anything this week, so we just had to watch."
Losing to Gonzaga in the semifinals by 19 points didn't help, either.
"We didn't necessarily play well in our last game. I'm sure the committee saw that," Hartsock said. "We deserve to be in the tournament. I'm really glad with the spot we have right now. There are a lot of teams that were left out. We're really glad to be in it."
BYU IN THE BIG APPLE: BYU will play in next season's Coaches vs. Cancer Classic to be played at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., the school announced Monday.
The Cougars will be part of a field that also features Florida State, Notre Dame and Saint Joseph's on Nov. 16-17. Those games will be broadcast on TruTV.
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