Should BYU be playing in Salt Lake City? Coach says Cougars were ‘not seeded correctly.’

Pope thought BYU should have been a five-seed with the chance to play an NCAA Tournament game at the Delta Center.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Pope as BYU hosts Baylor, NCAA basketball in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024.

Heading into Selection Sunday, BYU head coach Mark Pope hoped his team would be making a 40-minute drive north to play in Salt Lake City.

He thought his team was positioned for a five-seed, primed to get geographical preference in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Instead, the committee put BYU on the six-seed line, playing in Omaha, Neb.

BYU will play Duquesne on Thursday and, if it wins, either Illinois or Morehead State on Saturday. But when the committee released its 1-68 seed rankings, BYU came in at No. 17. Theoretically that would’ve been good enough for BYU to be a five-seed.

So what happened? On Sunday, Pope wasn’t sure.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get an explanation on that,” the coach said. “It seemed like a significant bump [down].”

Part of the seeding calculus for BYU is it cannot play on Sundays. That could limit where the committee placed them. Pope, however, was not buying that as a reason.

“If it was a no Sunday [reason], you would think there is going to be one or two Saturday five-seeds,” Pope theorized. “I think out of the top 36 teams, we were the only team not seeded correctly based on the NCAA selection committee’s list of how they rank teams. But again, guys, at some point maybe you’ll find an explanation for that. But the only thing that matters to us is we are in this thing.”

BYU went 23-10 this season. One of those wins came against San Diego State, which was given a five-seed in the tournament.

Did the Cougars deserve to be slotted ahead of the Aztecs?

“I think it is hard to just isolate it head-to-head,” Pope said. “You can kind of play that game and chase your tail forever. I am really proud. The NCAA selection committee put out their 1-through-68 list and we were 17. So we were the No. 1 five [seed]. So I’m super proud of that. That is an incredible accomplishment for our guys.

“The seeding worked how it did after that. Like I said, every single team you play in this NCAA tournament is going to be great. We are just excited to have a chance to go play in it.”

For most of the last month, BYU looked like it was on the cusp of playing in the Delta Center. Salt Lake is hosting the first and second rounds of the tournament next week. A five-seed might have gotten BYU a ticket there.

When discussing BYU getting a six-seed bump, geography was Pope’s biggest disappointment.

“I thought there would be a five-seed in [Salt Lake],” Pope said. “Like I said, we were the No. 1 five, according to the selection committee. Mostly I’m just disappointed for our fan base. I think it would have been really special for Cougar Nation to be able to be there in that gym. So certainly we kind of had hoped that is where we would have ended up.”

This is BYU’s first tournament appearance in three years. It is the second under Pope.

“Listen, it is so hard to get in this tournament and there are a million different factors,” Pope concluded. “The fact we have a chance to go play is what really, really matters to us. That is where our hearts are at right now.”