With senior night looming, is BYU basketball adding another nonconference game?

Brigham Young Cougars guard Te'Jon Lucas (3) and Saint Mary's Gaels guard Augustas Marciulionis (3) compete for the ball in Provo on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

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PROVO — BYU basketball will celebrate the final week at home of the regular season when it welcomes conference foes Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine to the Marriott Center.

With it, the Cougars will celebrate their senior class — currently listed as Alex Barcello, Te'Jon Lucas, Gideon George, Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward, though only Barcello and Lucas are confirmed to be out of eligibility after this year.

But could BYU, which has lost five of its last seven games, add one last nonconference tip to try to bolster the Cougars' postseason resume?

Head coach Mark Pope isn't closing the door on the idea, which became a possibility when the West Coast Conference announced that a postponed game on Jan. 1 with Portland would not be made up and the league will look to winning percentage to decide seeding for the conference tournament in Las Vegas.

"We're just tip-toeing our way forward to see how things play out in the next 48 hours," Pope said Tuesday after practice.

The idea is simple enough: BYU (19-9, 7-6 WCC) can play up to 31 games in the regular season because it participated in a three-game multi-team event — that being the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii over Christmas break. When the Pilots postponed the conference opener as a result of COVID-19, it left the Cougars with a hole on their schedule.

San Francisco used a similar exemption when it scheduled Loyola Chicago (20-6) in a hastily constructed neutral-site game at Salt Lake Community College, a win that turned out to bolster the Ramblers' resume to No. 37 in the NET. The Dons (21-7) are currently rated 27th in the NCAA's official evaluation metric.

So could BYU do the same thing? It's complicated.

The Cougars only have so many days to find a game after Saturday's senior night; and in order for it to be a Quad 1 contest, it would almost assuredly have to be on the road. That means BYU, which already doesn't practice on Sunday, would look to practice and/or fly out Monday for a road or neutral-site game by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Pope said his staff has reached out to "about 20 schools" to gauge their interest, and most of them have responded that Wednesday would be a better day for a game. But that would also leave BYU with the dilemma of playing a road game Wednesday and flying to Las Vegas for the league tournament for a game that — if the regular season ended today — would tip next Friday night at the Orleans Arena.

Would such a packed schedule benefit the program? It depends on who they get.

"All of that is in limbo right now," said Pope, adding that a final decision likely won't be made until after the weekend. "We're really aggressively, actively pursuing potential opportunities. So much would have to come together to make it happen, but that is something we're talking about."

The Cougars' current losing pattern dropped them from a top-25 team in the NET rankings all the way to No. 55. And Pope said each of the schools they've contacted are in a similar area in the rankings — and squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, meaning a win would be beneficial for either school. ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently lists BYU among his "First Four Out," or roughly the 70th team in the 68-team field.

The third-year BYU coach added they've contacted schools from coast-to-coast, though for travel purposes, one can easily assume a game in the central or western part of the country makes the most sense.

Pope didn't specify the schools his staff has contacted. But that geographic context, plus teams that are currently in a similar spot in the most recent NET rankings, may offer some hints. They could include the following:

  • No. 48 Washington State (Pullman, Washington)
  • No. 51 UAB (Birmingham, Alabama)
  • No. 53 TCU (Fort Worth, Texas)
  • No. 54 Oklahoma State (Stillwater, Oklahoma)
  • No. 55 Belmont (Nashville, Tennessee)
  • No. 57 Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana)
  • No. 59 Saint Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
  • No. 60 Kansas State (Manhattan, Kansas)

So could BYU schedule an extra game before the postseason? It's possible, but also complicated, with relation to the other schools' schedule, forthcoming conference tournaments, and qualifying for that 31st game via a three-game MTE.

Brigham Young Cougars forward Fousseyni Traore (45) tries to grab a rebound over San Francisco Dons forward Patrick Tape (11) in Provo on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022.
Brigham Young Cougars forward Fousseyni Traore (45) tries to grab a rebound over San Francisco Dons forward Patrick Tape (11) in Provo on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

What's less complicated? Winning out conference play, and that starts Thursday night with LMU (6 p.m. MST, CBS Sports Network).

"I trust coach, and don't really get into all that stuff," Lucas said. "I'm pretty sure we're going to do what's best for us at the end of the day.

"A lot of the games that we played early on are still holding weight for us to get into the tournament. … If the game is going to help us, I'm sure coaches will try to help us get one. But if it's not gonna do anything for us, I'm pretty sure we won't play another one. … I'll leave that up to the coaches and let them figure that stuff out. I'll just be ready to play."

On the mend

Seneca Knight did not practice Tuesday, and Pope said the wing will have more tests and imaging done on an injured thumb suffered in the Cougars' 69-64 loss to Saint Mary's over the weekend. The status of Knight, who is also dealing with a minor ankle injury, for tipoff Thursday remains undetermined.

The good news? Fousseyni Traore practiced full each of the past two days as he recovers from a minor groin injury two weeks ago. The freshman from Mali started Saturday against Saint Mary's, but was held to just 4 points, five rebounds and two steals in 25 minutes.

"Fouss is doing good," Pope said. "He didn't miss a rep the last two days; we're still trying to be a little cautious, but I expect him to be a full-go (against LMU)."

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