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Midnight Madness promises big things in 2021-22 for Cougar hoops

By Darnell Dickson - | Oct 24, 2021
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BYU basketball player Paisley Harding descends from the ceiling of the Marriott Center during the Midnight Madness event on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)
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BYU senior Alex Barcello greets fans during the Midnight Madness event at the Marriott Center on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)
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BYU fans storm the court during the Midnight Madness event at the Marriott Center on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)
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BYU women's basketball players Paisley Harding (front) and Tegan Graham address the crowd during the Midnight Madness event at the Marriott Center on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)
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A BYU student wins a scooter during the Midnight Madness event at the Marriott Center on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

The hype train for BYU basketball is running full steam in the preseason.

Toot, toot: All throttle, no brakes.

One day after universally agreeing that the goals for 2021-22 are championships and a Final Four berth, the Cougars hosted a Midnight Madness event on Friday. A crowd of mostly BYU students filled three-quarters of the lower bowl of the Marriott Center armed with glow sticks and a Wikipedia-sharp knowledge of the words to the world’s most popular pop songs.

Seriously. A bunch of college students singing ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” at the top of their lungs? That song was released 45 years ago.

It is indeed a strange new world for Cougar fans, spoiled by a pair of Top 25 finishes under the ever-enthusiastic hype conductor himself, Mark Pope.

Pope told the fans his team was hungry for another stellar season and they responded with “Let’s eat!” So Pope produced his credit card and said dinner at Chom Burger was on him. The line wound a block down University Avenue from the front doors in downtown Provo at one o’clock in the morning.

You can understand the renewed enthusiasm for BYU basketball. Last season the pandemic limited attendance at the Marriott Center and the Cougars missed the ROC (Roar of Cougars). The ROC missed them, too, which was apparent in the two-hour love affair event on Friday night.

Fans participated in contests and raffles while a DJ spun Flo Rida and Justin Bieber through the arena. One student wound up winning a scooter, another took home a $150 gas card. There were lip sync contests and dance cams, a frantic rock-paper-scissors relay game and something called “The Human Claw,” where a student was lowered into a kiddie pool full of prizes and treats with the purpose of grabbing as much as they could.

The ROC was well informed: Four-star recruit Collin Chandler is making his official visit this weekend and they chanted his name at one point during the event.

Later, there was a “Bachelorette” themed dunk contest. Sophomore forward Caleb Lohner ended up with the rose and a date with a BYU coed.

We’ll try to let you know how it goes.

The main event was the introduction of players that included the women’s basketball team, which was picked to win the West Coast Conference last week. Senior Paisley Harding had the entrance of the night, rappelling from the ceiling of the Marriott Center. Somebody better check on BYU coach Jeff Judkins, because he was probably having a full on panic attack with one of his star players dangling 100 feet in the air.

Speaking of the women, they are going to be really, really good this season. All five starters return — including WCC co-Player of the Year Shaylee Gonzales — from a team that upset Rutgers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and nearly knocked off Arizona in the second round. The Wildcats made it all the way to the title game, by the way.

Harding and Kiwi import Tegan Graham pleaded for the ROC to show up to their games this season. In 2019-20 — the last full season before the pandemic — the Cougars average attendance was just 1,204 in the 19,000-seat Marriott Center.

Clearly, the ROC can do better.

When it was time to introduce the men’s basketball seniors, the Cougars went full Hollywood. Alex Barcello, Richard (not “Big Rich” anymore, just Richard) Harward and grad transfer Te’Jon Lucas arrived at the Marriott Center in expensive sports cars, wearing full Miami Vice threads and sunglasses as shown on the big screens in the arena. They trotted down the stairs taking selfies with fans on their way to the floor.

Pope had the fans storm the floor at the end, just as he did two years ago at Midnight Madness. It proved to be a foreshadowing of the pinnacle of Pope’s tenure so far: A thrilling victory against top-ranked Gonzaga in the Marriott Center in 2020 just before the pandemic shut everything down.

Former Cougar Kevin Nixon tweeted: “BYU Basketball has come a long way since I played. Our “Midnight Madness” was practicing in the RB at 11:30, gettin kicked out cuz the science club reserved it for a project, then hittin the Betos drive-thru b4 the O-Line guys bought em out.”

Hype is hype. This year’s Cougars haven’t done anything yet and setting a goal for a Final Four is bold, since BYU has never advanced that far in the NCAA Tournament. There is certainly talent — probably more than has ever been assembled in Provo — but a difficult preseason plus games with the top-ranked ‘Zags awaits.

As Pope told the ROC, you have to practice winning games before you can win them. Friday’s Midnight Madness was all about that.

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