BYU men’s basketball will host Long Beach State in the NIT

The Cougars grabbed the No. 2 seed in the NIT after missing out on an NCAA invitation

BYU coach Mark Pope speaks with players during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The BYU men’s basketball team will not be going dancing this year.

The Cougars did not earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament as the 68-team field was announced Sunday on CBS. Later in the evening, they earned the No. 2 seed in the National Invitation Tournament. They’ll host Long Beach State on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Coach Mark Pope said there is still an opportunity to make an imprint on BYU history if the Cougars make a deep run in the NIT.

“Our job is to find every which way we can to make history,” Pope said. “There’s only two teams in the country that are going to hang up postseason banners — it’s going to be NCAA and it’s going to be NIT. We sure would like to get one of those. That would be something, wouldn’t it?”

The Cougars finished the season 22-10 after losing in the West Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals to the San Francisco Dons. Despite not going as far as they wanted in the tournament, they remained hopeful they’d get selected to compete in the Big Dance while also keeping the door open to accepting an invite to the NIT.

Going into Selection Sunday, BYU ranked No. 54 in the NCAA NET rankings, one of the main measures used by the selection committee to determine seeding. It was also ranked No. 51 in the KenPom rankings.

BYU appears in the 68-team field in only two bracketology projections, per Bracket Matrix. Neither ESPN or CBS had the Cougars in their projections.

Pope said there’s no player on the team who has opted out of participating in the tournament. Seneca Knight is the only one who won’t play, but that’s because he recently had surgery on his hand.

Pope also said at no point was there a conversation that the Cougars would not play in the NIT.

“I just don’t understand the concept of not wanting to go compete,” Pope said. “That’s what we live for. I think that’s how our guys are built.”

The Cougars had an up-and-down season. They started already missing senior center Richard Harward as he recovered from a heart condition, but still managed to win their first seven nonconference games — including a blowout over then-No. 12 Oregon.

An upset loss to Utah Valley also brought the end of senior Gavin Baxter’s season after he tore the ACL in one of his knees. Not long afterward, Harward announced his heart condition forced him to take a step back from basketball. Both players appeared for one possession in BYU’s final home game of the season, but only as a celebratory gesture.

Those two injuries forced the Cougars to change their playing identity on a couple of occasions. They didn’t win more than four consecutive games for the remainder of the regular season — including the WCC Tournament — and suffered a four-game losing streak from which they never seemed to bounce back.

Elsewhere in the state, the Utah State Aggies earned the No. 4 seed in the NIT and will host Oregon on Tuesday at 8 p.m.