ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—Brigham Young and Texas A&M have enviable football traditions.
That’s fitting, because they meet Thursday in the NCAA tournament’s version of a coin toss—the game between the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds.
The eighth-seeded Cougars (27-7) and ninth-seeded Aggies (24-10), who play in the opening round of the West Regional, have plenty in common.
The Cougars went 9-21 in 2004-05. The Aggies are four years removed from a 7-21 record.
Both teams have had rapid revivals. And both know that NCAA tournament success can raise a program’s national profile in a heartbeat, although they’d be wise not to look too far ahead. The winner likely will draw top-seeded UCLA in the second round.
“In today’s era of college basketball, media, fans, everyone starts talking about teams’ resumes in November for the national tournament,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “And so now that you are here, you want to seize that opportunity and do the best you can.”
The Aggies hope to build on last year’s run to the round of 16, which ended in a one-point loss to second-seeded Memphis.
“I just think that it goes to show that we can compete with other people on this level, even with the elite teams,” senior swingman Beau Muhlbach said.
That hasn’t always been the case. The Aggies have a total of six NCAA tournament victories—but half of them came in the last two postseasons under Billy Gillispie, who bolted for tradition-laden Kentucky. By chance, Gillispie and the Wildcats are also in the Honda Center this week, as a South Regional entry.
“BYU and Texas A&M will be a very fun matchup,” Gillispie said.
This is A&M’s third straight NCAA tourney appearance, the longest streak in school history.
Mark Turgeon replaced Gillispie and found that expectations had soared among fans who, a few years earlier, were probably content to beat Texas in football.
“We spoiled them quick in College Station,” Turgeon said.
The tournament comes at an emotionally difficult time for the Aggies. On Tuesday, they flew to Dallas as a team to attend the funeral for guard Donald Sloan’s mother, Sandra Sloan. Then they waited out a long weather delay before flying to the West Coast.
“Has it brought us closer together? I think it has,” Turgeon said. “Is it going to be the difference-maker in this tournament? I don’t know. We’ll see. We’ll see. But I do expect us to play well.
“I expect us to be pretty good tomorrow,” Turgeon said. “Whether it’s good enough to win, we’ll see.”
The Aggies will meet a BYU team that beat Louisville and has won 15 of its last 17. BYU is a perimeter-oriented team that hit a school-record 278 3-pointers this season.
“I really don’t think we’ve seen a team this season that can shoot the ball as well as BYU can,” Texas A&M forward Joseph Jones said.
Texas A&M will counter with a potent inside game that averages 31.1 points per game in the paint and is outrebounding opponents by 7.1 rebounds per game.
“The biggest key for us is to try to keep them away from the basket as much as we can,” Rose said.
The Cougars have won back-to-back Mountain West Conference regular-season titles, but they have bigger ambitions. To achieve them, they have to win in the NCAAs.
BYU has 11 NCAA tourney victories—but only two since 1988, when the Cougars rose to an school-high No. 3 ranking in The Associated Press Top 25.
The Cougars have had first-round exits in their last five NCAA tournaments, with their last victory coming over No. 10-seeded Southern Methodist in 1993. The Cougars want to reverse that trend.
“We’re hoping to build on what we’ve done the last two years, and hopefully make some waves in the tournament and get some wins,” senior guard Sam Burgess said.