To hear both No. 11 seeds BYU and Ole Miss tell it, they are just happy to be in the NCAA tournament this year. Each earned an at-large bid from the selection committee Sunday, with the Rebels the last team revealed and set to join the Cougars in one of the two-play in games.
"The way our season has gone," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, "that was an appropriate ending."
The Cougars (25-9, 13-5 WCC) and top scorer Tyler Haws also went through a gut-wrenching experience before they were named.
“Yeah. It was terrible. The tension was pretty high in that room,” Haws told Deseret News after the bid was announced. “We were confident going into today. Then when you see all these other teams getting (their) name called before you, it can be nerve-wracking. We’re just really happy our name got called, and we’re excited to play.”
But the players and coaches will have to put aside the jubilation and focus on their West Region first-round matchup Tuesday at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio. The winner moves on to the second round to face No. 6 Xavier Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida.
Each team is coming off a loss, but they also put together solid campaigns this season.
BYU, led by Haws’ 21.9 points per game, possess the second-highest scoring offense in the country at 83.6 points per game, while junior guard Kyle Collinsworth and his 5.8 assists per contest have the Cougars ranked fifth in the nation in assists.
The Cougars split their regular season matchups with nationally ranked Gonzaga, with each side winning on the other’s home floor, and they played ranked opponents San Diego State and Utah very tight, forcing the former into double overtime before a loss and narrowly falling to the latter by four points.
BYU had a chance to upend Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference championship game last week, but struggled to keep up with the Bulldogs ceaseless attack and succumbed to a 91-75 loss. But there were plenty of positives from that game, with Collinsworth pouring in a season-high 28 points and reserve senior guard Skyler Halford notching 13 points off the bench while Haws was limited with four fouls.
The Rebels (20-12, 11-7 SEC) earned their first at-large bid since 2002 while running a gauntlet through the SEC, and did enough early in the regular season to get in before losing four of their last five games.
It was presumed Ole Miss needed a couple victories in the SEC tournament to clinch an at-large bid, but the 60-58 loss to South Carolina in their opening round, thanks to a freak last second play, put their postseason hopes in jeopardy.
But to start the year, Ole miss dropped then-No. 23 Creighton 75-68 and nearly upended top ranked Kentucky’s perfect season with an 89-86 loss in overtime. They would follow up with a 96-82 blasting of Arkansas on the road, and largely beat up on the conference’s lesser teams before struggling in the final month of the regular season.
Like BYU, the Rebels are led by an excellent upperclassmen backcourt in senior Jarvis Summers and junior Stefan Moody. Summers was second in the SEC with 4.6 assists per game this season, recording a season-high eight assists to go along with 16 points in a 72-71 victory over Florida on Feb. 12.
Moody has dropped 20 or more points in nine games this year, ranking fourth in the SEC in scoring with 16.3 points per game, and is a major contributor on the defensive end as well, swiping 1.8 steals per contest.
Start Time: 9:10 p.m. ET
Betting Odds: BYU -3.5
Over/Under: 157 points
Prediction: BYU over Ole Miss, 75-69