The BYU Cougars fought all season to get to the NCAA Tournament, not the NIT. Competing in the Big Dance was one of the reasons senior Alex Barcello returned to BYU.
Still, coach Mark Pope believes there is plenty to play for as the Cougars start their 2022 NIT run Wednesday at 7 p.m. against Long Beach State at the Marriott Center.
“You get a chance to go compete right and see if you can win more games and win a championship,” Pope said Sunday. “So any time you have the opportunity to do that is pretty special. There’s not that many teams that have a chance to do it.”
One would have to go all the way back to 2013 to find the last time the BYU men’s basketball team won a game in the National Invitation Tournament.
Sure, a scan of the record books would reveal that in 2016 the Cougars won in the first three rounds before falling to Valparaiso. But those wins were vacated by the NCAA as punishment for benefits BYU’s boosters gave to former player Nick Emery.
And one would have to go back even further, to 1966, to find the last time the Cougars won the NIT championship. That year, the tournament had only three rounds.
What will this trip to the NIT bring for the Cougars?
Other than Seneca Knight, who had surgery on his hand, every Cougars player is theoretically available to play. Many of them, however, are nursing nagging injuries. Pope mentioned Caleb Lohner, Te’Jon Lucas, Fousseyni Traore and Atiki Ally Atiki as players who are not 100%.
BYU will face a Long Beach State (20-12) team that won the Big West Conference championship and lost by just one point in the conference tournament championship game. At one point in the regular season, Long Beach State ran off 11 straight wins.
“They’re a championship-pedigree team,” Pope said. “They play really hard. They pressure all game long. They are a drive-and-kick team that is playing essentially four guards. They’re a good team. They’re proven.”
How to watch BYU vs. Long Beach State
TV: ESPN+ and BYU Sports Network
Radio: BYU Radio — Sirius XM 143/89.1 FM HD2 and KSL 102.7 FM/1160 AM.