Provo • Noah Hartsock did a little homework on Saturday night, but it had very little to do with the senior forward’s studies at BYU.
He pulled out the book on the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four that his mother gave him a few years ago, and re-read the chapter on the process the tournament’s selection committee goes through to pick an at-large team.
No word yet on whether BYU’s best player is sending them a thank-you note today.
BYU got into the Big Dance, the committee announced Sunday afternoon, but just barely. The Cougars (25-8) were given a 14 seed and will play another 14 seed, Iona, on Tuesday night (7 p.m. MDT, TruTv) in a “First Four” game in Dayton, Ohio. If the Cougars win, they will move down the road to Louisville, Ky., and take on No. 3 seed Marquette.
President Barack Obama and Great Britain Prime Minister David Cameron will attend the Tuesday games in Dayton, but the Cougars were more interested Sunday in learning about the Iona Gaels, who won the Metro Atlantic Conference but were upset in their conference tourney.
“Well, good. Hopefully we will play well for them,” BYU coach Dave Rose said.
The Cougars’ week on the bubble since they lost to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference semifinals on March 3 “has been kind of nerve-wracking,” Hartsock said. “I have probably checked it three times a day, you know, to see what [ESPN’s] Joe Lunardi had to say and everything.”
Lunardi told The Tribune on Wednesday that BYU was likely headed to a play-in game, and he was right. But nobody at the BYU Broadcast Building, where the Cougars viewed the selection show on Sunday, was complaining about the seeding when they emerged from a private gathering.
“It has been a stressful week,” Rose said. “It has been a long time since our game last Saturday, but it turned out great. We are excited to be in the tournament, we are excited to still be playing, and I am happy for our players.”
Asked if he had any complaints about the seeding or having to play a Tuesday game, Rose said, “We are really happy to just be in.”
Junior center Brandon Davies said there were some tense moments before BYU’s name was called.
“Just a sigh of relief that we got in. It kind of came down to the end there, being our last opportunity to get in,” he said of the players’ reaction. “They finally called our name, and it just kind of relieved some of the pressure. We didn’t care who we were [going to] play. We just wanted to be in there.”
Yes, this counts as an NCAA Tournament appearance. It will be BYU’s 27th appearance, which ties it for 21st place all-time, with Utah. The Cougars hold the record — which could be viewed as a good or bad thing, depending on perspective — for most tournament appearances without making the Final Four.
“I am just really glad and really grateful that we get another shot at the tournament,” Hartsock said. “It is really hard to sit out a week and not know what is going to happen and just watch other teams play. There are a lot of great teams out there. I am just really thankful that we are getting another chance to play in the tournament. No complaints here.”
Rose said “consistent play all season long” is what got BYU into the tournament for the sixth consecutive year, also a school record.
“It is a really good feeling when you know that the committee thinks you are one of the best teams in the country and wants you to be in their tournament,” Rose said. “So I am excited about that.”
Hartsock said he has some familiarity with Iona because he watched the Gaels beat Nevada in an ESPN BracketBusters game. Some of the Cougars played against Iona’s Lamont “MoMo” Jones before the guard transferred from Arizona.
“All we know is that they are a great team,” Davies said.
BYU vs. Iona
P Tuesday, 7 p.m. MDT
TV • truTV