PROVO — Last year, Selection Sunday for BYU meant waiting into the evening for an NIT assignment. After six straight years in the NCAA tournament, it was a bit of a shock to the system for the Cougars.
In 2014, BYU's post-WCC tournament wait was rewarded with a 10 seed and a trip to Milwaukee to face the Oregon Ducks in the NCAA tournament's West Region. Dave Rose has led his team back to the Big Dance, for a seventh time in his nine seasons as the Cougars' head coach.
"We're thrilled," said Rose on Sunday, only a couple of hours after the team gathered at his house to watch the annual selection show. "It's a good day."
"We all went crazy," said junior guard Matt Carlino, on the team seeing BYU's name pop up in the brackets. "It was just an exciting moment for us. Especially being familiar with the team that we've played and had a good chance to beat at their place; it's an exciting thing."
"I almost passed out," freshman center Eric Mika recounted. "We were jumping around and the room got really hot, really fast. I'm not kidding…I had to sit down after a little bit--but it was fun, it was exciting."
Describing the celebration, Rose noted that his players "are really close together, but they're not afraid to show their emotions to each other. I think that has helped our team grow. What I wanted was just to be together as a group at (my) house, and however it went, that they could experience those emotions with the players themselves, and I really like the way it felt."
"It's been a really good couple of hours," Rose told reporters assembled for a Marriott Center press conference on Sunday evening. "Guys are really excited, and so is the staff. You never want to act too excited, because you've got to go and play the game, and the game is going to be a real challenge, but I think the feel of everybody is 'we're up for it; let's go do it.'"
Most high-profile bracketologists had BYU as one of the very last at-large teams in the field, but the seeding and the NCAA Selection Committee's overall ranking of 39 for the Cougars showed that the team was safely in the tournament--comfortably clear of the "bubble."
BYU's non-confernce and overall strength-of-schedule numbers were in the top five and top 25, respectively, while the RPI was in the low 30s, with many other major metrics services ranking BYU in the top 50. A 23-11 record with such credentials was more than enough to secure the Cougars' placement in the field.
Rose and his players felt that the team was worthy of an at-large invitation, but after bowing out to Gonzaga in the WCC tourney title game on Tuesday, it was a long wait until the weekend.
"I've never actually really been through this, as far as studying what everybody has to say, and watching games, but this year, I got pretty involved," Rose said. "I thought our numbers were good. Thursday was a good day, Friday was an even better day, and Saturday was a great day, as far as the rest of the teams played out.
"I actually felt pretty good that we had a chance, then you listen to everybody, and it kind of seemed pretty consistent that we were going to be the last team in, and end up in Dayton, and I was really just hoping that was true. To see how it turned out; we were really excited when we saw the committee's decision."
"It's kinda been a crazy few days," junior guard Tyler Haws said. "You're just waiting, not knowing what's going to happen. But we were pretty confident that we were gonna get in and we're just really excited and looking forward to a great opportunity."
Asked to reflect on his program's most recent NCAA tournament bid in comparison to previous berths, Rose said that "they're all just so exciting. This is the seventh invitation for us, and they've all been invitations, because we haven't been able to win the conference tournament, but I know from the reaction of our guys...there's no regrets at all--they are just so excited about the opportunity."
BYU's meeting with Oregon is a rematch of a game won by the Ducks, 100-96 (OT), in late December at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene.
Rose says that "once you get past the emotion and excitement of being in the tournament, you get hit pretty hard with your opponent."
"We're familiar with our opponent," noted Rose "and I can remember that locker room in Eugene, right before Christmas, the disappointment in our guys...so for a lot of reasons, I think our guys will be really excited to play in this tournament against Oregon.
"We look forward to the next couple of days of practice, and then getting out to Milwaukee and going through the process of getting ready for the first game. Our coaching staff is excited, our players are thrilled, and we look forward to the next few days."
"There's no surprises coming in," said junior guard Anson Winder of facing Oregon in a rematch. "You know the guys you're gonna face…you know what you're going to get. A con is…they're going to try and do different things to cause us problems now, so that's one thing we're gonna have to overcome and try to get ready for that battle."
"We do like this matchup," said Haws. "They play a fun style, an up-tempo style that we like…we had our chances to beat them up at their place and so yeah, we do like this challenge."
BYU and Oregon will tip off at approximately 1:10 p.m. MDT on Thursday, from the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee. The game can be heard on KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM and 1160 AM, and seen live on truTV.
You can hear interviews with Rose, Haws, Carlino, Winder and Mika in "Cougar Cuts," above left.