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BYU Basketball Playing With Little Margin For Error

NCAA Tournament hopes are still alive for a reeling BYU basketball team. However, gone is any room for further slip-ups.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Brigham Young Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

BYU entered last week with still some room for error even after dropping two straight to Santa Clara and Pacific. Most bracket experts still had the Cougars still squarely in the NCAA Tournament field.

This is likely due to the fact that BYU currently has seven “Quad 1” games on its resume, including four wins. That is more Quad 1 wins than NET No. 3 Houston and as many as No. 10 Tennessee.

However, losing by 14 to San Francisco at home and getting squashed by Gonzaga, any wiggle room BYU previously had is now gone.

ESPN’s bracket guru Joe Lunardi has BYU clinging to life as a No. 12 seed and playing in the dreaded First Four play-in round. He lists BYU as among the last four teams in. This means, according to him, another slip-up and the Cougars may have to kiss their hopes of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid goodbye.

College basketball’s NET rankings still hold BYU in somewhat high regard, at No. 46, ahead of the likes of Michigan, Florida and Oregon.

However, the bill will come due if BYU were to lose another game to an inferior opponent. The Cougars have five games left — including three road games against LMU, Pepperdine and Saint Mary’s. They will host LMU and Pepperdine to close out the regular season. Any loss aside from on the road at Saint Mary’s may spell doom for BYU. SMC is considered a “Quad 1” opponent on the road, so BYU would not be harshly penalized for losing a close game to the Gaels. However, BYU could certainly make things easy on the experts and tournament committee by winning out through the end of the regular season — easier said than done.

What is a slip-up exactly? For now, it appears to be any loss that isn’t against Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s on the road or neutral site. It’s fairly simple: do not lose to Pepperdine or LMU, who both rank worse than 200th in NET, over the next two weeks.

Even then, they also cannot afford a one-and-done trip to Las Vegas in the WCC tournament, especially if it’s against one of the lesser WCC foes.

Mark Pope and the Cougars’ main focus right now should be beating LMU on Thursday night. They have won their last three matchups at Gersten Pavilion and five straight against the Lions.

TeamRankings.com now gives BYU just a 23 percent chance to make The Dance. CBS’ Jerry Palm slates BYU as a No. 12 seed.

This will be the toughest test yet of Mark Pope’s tenure at BYU. The team will find out a lot about itself Thursday night at LMU. If they drop that game, serious soul-searching must take place in what could be a tournament-less season. The road to the tourney starts this weekend in Southern California, where two wins would allow BYU to catch its breath a bit.