DAYTON, Ohio — Noah Hartsock should have a lot of support Tuesday, and not just a brace for that left knee.
The BYU senior forward's father, David, is expected to be at the "First Four" NCAA Tournament game. Hartsock's mother, Leslie, surprised her husband with a plane flight to central Ohio.
"I was still at church when the selection committee announced their results (Sunday)," Hartsock told the Daily Herald via e-mail on Monday, hours after the Cougars arrived in town by a private, direct flight from Provo to get ready as a pair of No. 14 seeds — BYU and Iona — will square off.
But it'll be more than one relative that could be cheering on Hartsock and his buddies at the 13,000-seat Dayton Arena. The elder Hartsock actually grew up 15 miles east of here, in Xenia.
"Leslie was already calling some of my friends there to make sure they knew Noah would be playing there, and that I would be coming," Hartsock said. "Noah didn't know this, but he does have a small fan base in the Dayton area, as some of the friends I grew up with follow him regularly on BYUtv."
Hartsock said he has to return to Oklahoma the next day because of work obligations, so he will not follow the Cougars to Louisville, Ky., if they win and advance to a game Thursday against No. 3 seed Marquette.
That happening may depend a lot on the son's health and productivity. He hasn't been nearly the same since injuring his knee Feb. 18 at Santa Clara, spraining his MCL.
BYU has gone 2-2 with him at limited capacity, beating the two overmatched teams and losing twice to Gonzaga, which received a No. 7 seed in the NCAA field.
Teammate Brandon Davies said Hartsock has been "doing fine. He's practiced with us all week" since the Cougars returned home following a March 3 loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals.
Hartsock's been battling a variety of issues, which is nothing new over the span of his iced-up career. It's an ankle that affects him more now than the knee. At the team's public 40-minute practice in Dayton, he still appeared to move gingerly.
"I've been able to hit a turnaround jumper for the first time in a few weeks without hurting. So I'm feeling pretty good," Hartsock said.
Coach Dave Rose said his leading scorer has looked his best in three weeks.
"That's a really good sign," Rose said.
The seventh-year coach thought last Saturday was the first time in a while that Hartsock got everyone on the team "a little bit excited" because he showed "some type of explosion, especially off that injured leg."
∫It could have been worse: True, getting ready for a game in two days — facing a team the Cougars didn't know hardly anything about — wasn't easy.
But it beats some alternatives. There were some "bracketology" guesses that had BYU playing in a "First Four" game Tuesday in Ohio, then being shipped to Portland, Ore., for a Thursday affair. The NCAA plots out all of the team travel (usually charter flights with no stops) but it would still have been taxing.
Now, if BYU wins it's a quick trip to Louisville, Ky., for a game a couple of days later against No. 3 seed Marquette. The team is apparently contemplating if it would bus over, or take another flight. But first it must beat Iona.
Last season was the initial run at the "First Four" idea, which expanded the field for the first time since 2001 from 65 to 68 teams.
There were a lot of critics, including the NCAA selection committee itself, that didn't like how Clemson had to travel to great lengths to play a pair of games. The Tigers won in Dayton, then played West Virginia less than 36 hours later at Tampa, Fla.
Because of BYU's rule of not playing Sundays, the team was limited to four of the eight first-round sites: Portland; familiar Albuquerque, N.M.; Pittsburgh and Louisville were the options.
Rose and his staff worked through the night Sunday to get ready for the Gaels, the process "sped up" by its first-game assignment time.
Still, though, it's a chance. And the mission is familiar.
"If we win, we get to keep playing. If we don't, we go home," Rose said.
∫Remembering the past: Recall how cool last year was for BYU's program? Well, a few of the teams the Cougars stomped on last year were a year away from their own magic, it turns out.
Mississippi Valley State earned a 16-seed, the school's first NCAA bid, after getting beat, 86-36, last season in Provo. The Delta Devils will play Western Kentucky in the game preceding BYU-Iona for the right to play top-seeded Kentucky on Thursday.
Creighton earned a No. 8 seed in the Midwest. The Bluejays had a new coach whose son, Doug McDermott, was a freshman when the Cougars went to Omaha, Neb. and won. McDermott has been a national player of the year candidate as a sophomore and his team won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, though it would have received a bid anyway. (Really, Creighton doing that — not letting Illinois State steal an at-large bid — helped out teams like BYU the most.)
Also, South Florida is playing Wednesday in Dayton against fellow 12-seed Cal in another play-in game. The Cougars won an overtime meeting two Thanksgivings ago in Texas.
Lastly, Vermont — you'll recall BYU played the Catamounts in Glens Falls, N.Y., last December to honor Jimmer Fredette's roots — won a conference tournament to get an automatic bid.
∫Looking ahead: BYU already filled a part of next year's schedule with some high-profile opponents. The National Association of Basketball Coaches and the American Cancer Society announced Monday that the four host schools of the 2012 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic to be played at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn have been set.
BYU, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Saint Joseph’s will meet in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The semifinal matchups will be held on Friday, November 16, and will be televised live on truTV. The finals will take place the following day.
Barclays is expected to open this September and seat 18,000 fans as well as be the home of the NBA's New Jersey Nets. Perhaps the most amazing feature: It sits atop one of the largest transportation hubs in New York City and will be accessible by 11 subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road.
It's unclear how the matchups will occur, but the winners and losers of Friday's games will meet Saturday.
FSU just got done winning the ACC tournament title, even beating blue bloods North Carolina and Duke twice each this year. Notre Dame has been consistently strong under coach Mike Brey. Considering his team's inexperience, he appeared to have an outside shot at some national coach of the year awards because of his team's viability in Big East play.
∫Seen in Dayton (besides gloomy skies and rain): Injured forward Chris Collinsworth in workout gear, helping the Cougars run some drills as their public practice. ...Stephen Rogers also in shorts and a jersey, but on the bench as he's still suffering from knee issues. ...BYU coach Dave Rose greeting Iona counterpart Tim Cluess for the first time with five minutes left in the Cougars' practice. BYU's staff watched Iona's session as well. ...CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz greeting Cheryl Rose, Dave's wife. The three were at the University of Houston around the same time in the early 1980's. ...The Cougars, as is tradition, wrapped up the 40-minute session with a team picture at center court.