BYU is in the Big 12. Say it with me. Doesn’t that sound great?
While football is the biggest revenue driver and makes the top headlines, BYU men’s basketball may be the biggest beneficiary of all. The WCC has been good to BYU since the Cougars made the jump in 2011. BYU has made the NCAA Tournament 5 times and is with one college basketball’s giants in Gonzaga. BYU has watched the Zags go from a really good program to one of the top teams annually in college basketball. Many fans thought BYU would consistently trade blows with the Zags when Jimmer took them down in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, but BYU hasn’t taken that step while the Zags have blown by them.
There have been memorable matches with Gonzaga and St Mary’s, but forgettable losses to Portland, San Diego, Pepperdine, LMU, Pacific, and others. Those teams haven’t slowed down Gonzaga at all, but BYU hasn’t had the consistent success many fans have hoped for. As fun as it is to take over a small gym on the west coast, that pales in comparison to the passion BYU will see when they travel to Kansas, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia, and many others.
My passion for BYU basketball hasn’t dwindled, but there is a segment of the fanbase that isn’t as invested in BYU hoops as they once were. Late night games to Pacific, LMU, and Portland don’t get the blood pressure up for many. I believe the Big 12 will reinvigorate that and take the BYU basketball program to new heights.
Below are what I see the biggest benefits BYU will see once they join the Big 12.
The Big 12 is a Top Two Basketball Conference
According to KenPom, the Big 12 has been a top two college basketball conference every year since 2013-2014. They had a 5-season stretch from 2013-2019 when they were the top league every year. Losing in OU and Texas will hurt, but that is a bigger deal in football than basketball. The four teams joining should keep the conference right at the same level. Houston made the final four last season, BYU is a consistent tournament team, Cincinnati made the NCAA Tournament every year from 2011-2019, and UCF is on an upward trajectory since hiring Johnny Dawkins and made the tourney in 2019.
Baylor is the defending national champions and Kansas in a blueblood and a top three or four program. Oklahoma State just had Cade Cunningham go number 1. West Virginia is a consistent Sweet 16 team. Texas Tech made the national title game two years ago. Even recent bottom dweller Kansas State made the Elite 8 three years ago! Iowa State has a good basketball following and will rebound, and TCU is a step up from the Portlands and Pacifics of the world.
Literally every week BYU is just about guaranteed to have at least a Quad two game, and more likely than not a Quad One game. BYU averaged around 8 Quad One games in the WCC. In the Big 12, they will get somewhere between 16-20 in a given season! I think the Big 12 will eventually go to 20 conference games, which will increase the SOS. BYU can afford to go .500 or less in conference and still go dancing. The margin of error just got sooooo much bigger. Two losses to a non-Gonzaga or St Mary’s team doesn’t doom BYU’s at large chances anymore. BYU could lose 10 conference games and still have 6 or more Quad one wins and get a 10 seed.
Marriott Center Magic Consistently
BYU’s home arena consistently leads the West in attendance with a WCC schedule. BYU’s 19k capacity will be the largest in the Big 12, ahead of Kansas at 16.3k. When I was a student, I remember students would camp for a Thursday night game versus Pepperdine. What is the atmosphere going to be like when Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State and others come to town? EVERY game will be a great atmosphere. Even games against TCU, Iowa State, Cincinnati, Kansas State are better than most BYU has had in the last decade.
I think BYU will be legitimately have a top 10 home court advantage in college basketball, and maybe the second best in the Big 12 after Kansas. Every game will be a sellout or close to it. The home atmosphere will be bananas.
Mark Pope Is More Likely To Stick Around
Mark Pope is quickly establishing himself as a rising coach in just two seasons at BYU. His first BYU team led the nation in 3-point percentage and would have received a top 6 seed, and last year’s team got a 6 seed after losing their best 3 players.
Arizona and other schools have already snooped around, and in the WCC it’s only a matter of time before Pope would leave. I believe Pope likes BYU and the community, but with his personality he wants to be at the highest stage. He went to medical school in Columbia and wanted to be a doctor in New York under the bright lights. He played college ball at Kentucky and won a national title. He played in the NBA for 6 seasons. Pope wants to be at the highest level he can possibly be.
In the Big 12, he can do that. BYU can pay him to keep him around. The Honor Code will limit who BYU can get, but being in the Big 12 will launch BYU to it’s ceiling, whatever that may be. Pope would leave to Kentucky if they ever called, but outside of that BYU may be able to keep Pope around for a long time.
Recruiting Will Improve
BYU’s recruiting has been fine in the WCC. They landed the Lone Peak 3, they got Yoeli Childs, and Mark Pope was able to lure Matt Haarms over Kentucky and Texas Tech. If Pope can get top transfers in the WCC, what will he be able to do in the Big 12? I talked to one source close to BYU’s program on the impact the Big 12 move will have on recruiting and this is what he told me.
“It’s gonna really help a ton. Still have to find the right guys who understand BYU & our honor code. But I think we land guys we’ve missed on now we are in B12, the best basketball conference in college.”
One thing I will keep a close eye on is Wasatch Academy. BYU has already gotten players from there like Caleb Lohner, Richie Saunders, and Fousseyni Traore, but now I think BYU can steal an occasional 4-star player they wouldn’t normally get. One guy that comes to mind is Mady Sissoko. The big man originally from Mali, Africa who prepped at Wasatch had BYU among his final schools before he signed with Michigan State. Pope even travelled to Africa to visit his family. If BYU is in the Big 12, does he go to BYU? Maybe not, but there would have been a greater possibility.
I believe Mark Pope to be a top recruiter, and the Big 12 move will only help him with high school recruits and transfers.
If you expect BYU to come in right away and compete for a Big 12 title, your expectations are too high. Honestly, BYU may never win a Big 12 title in the next 20 years. And you know what? That’s ok. BYU doesn’t need to win a Big 12 title to improve it’s basketball program and reach new heights. BYU can be a team that gets to a Sweet 16 every five years or so in the Big 12. BYU has never been to a final four — could this BYU what gets BYU to that? It will be difficult, but it will help.
I am incredibly excited for BYU hoops in the Big 12. Every week will have good matchups. We will play Kansas and Baylor two times most seasons, maybe even three times. The Marriott Center will be rocking. We are entering a new era of BYU Basketball that I believe will be unprecedented in BYU Basketball’s history.