"We had a great year this year and the selection committee saw that and wanted to reward us for that," point guard Jimmer Fredette said of playing fairly close to home. "This is the highest seed since I've been here and we have a good opportunity to do some things in the tournament with our talent and the confidence we have. I look forward to going out with a bang in my senior year."
Two weeks ago, the Cougars (30-4) harbored hopes of a No. 1 seed after climbing to a No. 3 ranking only to have leading rebounder Brandon Davies booted off the team for violating the school's honor code. They dropped two of their last five, including a 72-54 loss Saturday to San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference tournament finals.
"Obviously you would love to have a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, but no matter what seed, you have to beat teams to advance," BYU guard Jackson Emery said.
"I think it's good placement for us," forward Noah Hartsock added. "We have a great fan base out in Denver and I think that's really going to help with all the support."
Despite the double-digit loss to the Aztecs, a team BYU beat twice during the regular season, Fredette said the eighth-ranked Cougars' psyche isn't damaged.
"We've been good about when we lose a game, coming back and getting a win right afterward," said Fredette, the nation's leading scorer and Player of the Year candidate.
The key will be getting some rest after playing three physical games in three days.
Fredette admitted he was a "little sore," but promised it was nothing to worry about. Hartsock was still hoarse after taking a shot to his throat against San Diego State. And senior forward Logan Magnusson, one of the players asked to pick up the slack since Davies' departure, has a sore back.
"It's important now to settle into the routine of this week," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "We've got some guys that have been through this before. Monday and Tuesday practices will be important for us for preparation and also to recover from a tough game. The mindset first and foremost with our guys is while it's an NCAA tourney game, it's a bounce-back game for us. We need to get back on the winning track."
They face a Wofford team that is playing in its second straight NCAA tournament and riding an eight-game winning streak.
It can only help the Cougars that the game is in Denver, where the thin air of the Mile High City should help a team used to playing an uptempo style at high altitude.
If BYU gets past the Terriers (21-12), the Cougars will face the winner of the St. Johns-Gonzaga game on Saturday.
Many figure BYU will only go as far as Fredette can carry them.
Last year, Fredette scored 37 points as BYU upset Florida, 99-92, in double-overtime to advance to the NCAA's second round under the old format. It was the Cougars' first NCAA tournament win in 17 years, but they lost to No. 2 seed Kansas State, 84-72, in the second round when Fredette hit just 5 of 13 shots for 21 points.
This year he leads the nation, averaging 28.3 points.
He scored 52 in a payback win over New Mexico in the conference tourney semifinals on Friday but saw his shooting percentage drop as the Aztecs tried to make the rest of the Cougars beat them in the finals.
"We had good looks the other night, but for whatever reason we had a hard time getting them [to fall]," Rose said. "This can be a really consistent offensive rebounding team and when we're in the right mindset and playing with the right energy, we can get a lot of second and third possessions with how active we are."
Without Davies, the Cougars are just 3-2, and their lack of experience inside could hurt most if they advance deeper into the tourney.
Though Davies will not be allowed to play again this season, he was allowed to accompany the team to Las Vegas for the conference tournament. Rose said it has yet to be determined whether Davies will be allowed to travel with the team to Denver.
Fredette isn't worried about outside distractions, or the spotlight being on him.
"I'm pretty used to it and I don't worry about what other people's expectations are -- mine are usually bigger," he said.
Players said there was no animosity that San Diego State received the No. 2 seed in the West.
"I don't think there's an easy road in the tournament," Fredette said. "Even a No. 1 seed has got to play an 8 or 9 seed and some are ready to go."
This will be BYU's fifth straight NCAA tourney appearance, and the fourth for Fredette in four years.
"We advanced last year and hopefully we'll advance even further this year," Fredette said. "It's do or die. I just have to go out there and play with those type of expectations."
This will be BYU's 26th appearance in the NCAA tournament. The No. 3 seed matches the highest the Cougars have ever been seeded in the NCAAs. They were a No. 3 seed in 1980, when the Cougars earned a first-round bye then fell to No. 6 seed Clemson in the second round.