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BYU Basketball Remains Confident Of Bounce Back In NCAA Tournament

Mar 17, 2024, 2:00 AM

PROVO, Utah – The loss BYU basketball suffered in the Big 12 Tournament had a theme.

Many of the BYU players who played in the 81-67 loss to Texas Tech referred to that performance as getting “punked” by the Red Raiders.

They weren’t wrong.

That was a humbling performance for a BYU team that has rarely suffered wire-to-wire losses this season.

The good news for BYU is that it’s easy to turn the page forward with the NCAA Tournament taking place this week.

Next stop for BYU basketball: The NCAA Tournament

BYU is projected to be a 5-seed in many bracketology forecasts. They will find out officially on Sunday where they land in the field of 68. But it will be the first time BYU is in the NCAA Tournament since the 2021 season.

It will be the first time since 2014 that BYU plays on Thursday’s Round of 64 opening. BYU’s last NCAA appearance was during the COVID year in Indianapolis, and before that, it was a First Four bid on Tuesday night in Dayton in 2015.

“It’s the first time for many of these guys to go to the NCAA Tournament, and it’s the first time for me in terms of not playing in a COVID year,” said BYU guard Trevin Knell. “So I think that’s going to be exciting for a lot of guys. We’re fortunate enough to be able to play in the postseason. A lot of teams are losing their conference tournament or going home, and their season is done. But we’re really fortunate to put ourselves in a position to have a great seed.”

Knell isn’t kidding about conference tournaments potentially ending seasons.

The bubble is evaporating as bid thieves emerged from the Pac-12, ACC, and AAC.

For BYU, they aren’t worried about that. Being in the Big 12 Conference and an advanced metrics darling all season has BYU comfortably in the tournament.

“We’re excited to see what [that seed] is on Selection Sunday,” said Knell. “But again, the [Texas Tech loss] was a wake-up call. We’re going to fix some things. And like I said, it’s not going to happen again.”

Where does BYU basketball make fixes?

Where BYU fixes things will be interesting.

BYU hasn’t tinkered much with its starting five. But slow starts have been an issue for BYU in the past few weeks. Do they shake up the starting five?

Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Jaxson Robinson has started six games this season for BYU. But the Cougars were only 3-3 in those games that he started in while Trevin Knell was dealing with a foot injury.

Does Fousseyni Traore go into the starting lineup? That might be another tricky move as starting center Aly Khalifa is instrumental in how BYU operates its offense. BYU basketball coach Mark Pope views Khalifa as one of the primary ballhandlers after point guard Dallin Hall.

“We always bounce back,” Khalifa told KSL Sports after the loss to Texas Tech. We’ve beaten really good teams, and we showed what we got [this season]. I feel like this loss; we’re gonna learn a lot from it. But I think it’s really good for us moving forward in the long term.”

BYU’s most successful starting five

BYU’s starting five of Dallin Hall, Spencer Johnson, Trevin Knell, Noah Waterman, and Aly Khalifa have been its most successful lineup this season. The Cougars are 14-6 this year with that starting lineup.

Plus, it set Jaxson Robinson up for some Big 12 hardware as the Sixth Man of the Year.

But in an NCAA Tournament game, the leash should probably be quick for potential changes if a slow start takes place against what will likely be a double-digit seed team.

“We’ve been humbled and now we go to work,” said BYU reserve Richie Saunders. “We will have lots of film and work on the things we need to. You know, this is what will help us get back out there next Thursday.”

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and hosts the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Basketball Remains Confident Of Bounce Back In NCAA Tournament