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Big 12’s NCAA Tournament Success Illustrates BYU’s Upcoming Challenges

The Big 12 Conference impressed during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. BYU will have their work cut out for them when they join the league in 2023.

Kansas v Brigham Young Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

When the NCAA Tournament begins, many fanbases not only wave the flags of their favorite college basketball team, but also start to flaunt their pride in the conference in which their favorite program resides. Big 12 fans have plenty of reason to puff their chests out with pride.

The Big 12 is tied with the Big 10 for the most tournament wins this season, with nine. Only the ACC has a better winning percentage at .800. With three teams in the Sweet 16, the Big 12 is tied with the ACC for the most remaining squads.

Kansas looks like one of the strongest teams remaining in the field, having won their two tournament games by an average margin of 17 points. Texas Tech staved off an upset-minded Notre Dame in the Round of 32. Iowa State has been the biggest surprise of the Big 12’s crop of tournament teams, beating No. 6 seed LSU and No. 3 seeded Wisconsin, both considered upsets by the Cyclones.

Defending champion Baylor lost to North Carolina in the second round.

Plus, consider Houston, who is also Big 12-bound with BYU. They too reached the Sweet 16 after beating UAB and Illinois.

BYU enters the Big 12 in the 2023-2024 season. Clearly, this is one of the premier basketball conferences in the nation. The Cougars will have a tall task in order to compete in such a deep conference.

Instead of playing in borderline high school-sized gyms against the bottom feeders of the WCC like Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, they will need to travel to places like West Virginia and Kansas State. Instead of having one big fish like Gonzaga in the small pond of the WCC, there are plenty of predators of all shapes and sizes up and down the deep waters of the Big 12.

The Big 12 sent six teams to the tournament. For comparison, the Mountain West sent four and the WCC, three. Gonzaga is the only team remaining from either of those two conferences. The Mountain West went 0-for-4.

In the history of the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 has sent over twice as many programs to the tournament as the Mountain West or WCC.

The Cougars will need to step up their game in recruiting, coaching and of course, execution on the court in order to remain competitive in that conference. KenPom ranks the Big 12 as the toughest basketball conference in the country.

Meanwhile, this season, BYU struggled down the stretch and finished 24-10, including 9-6 in conference play. Mark Pope’s squad will be routinely tested week after week during the Big 12’s grueling conference slate. Pope has acknowledged the challenges that await BYU.

The Big 12 has also sent a program to the NCAA Tournament championship game two years in a row, with Baylor winning it all last year, as they thrashed Gonzaga. Texas Tech lost to Virginia in the 2019 title game.

However, Cougar fans should not despair and dread the day the men’s basketball team enters the Big 12. This is a fantastic opportunity for BYU to bring their program to a whole new level. They will have the chance to play programs like Kansas, Baylor, and Texas Tech every single year, including hosting them at the Marriott Center. The conference as a whole is well-respected around the league. When it comes down to picking tournament teams, the fact that BYU is in the Big 12 will bolster their resume instead of being in the WCC, where they may not get the same benefit of the doubt from the committee.

As the NCAA Tournament enters its second week, the Big 12 has plenty of reason for optimism that one of its schools will raise the national championship trophy on April 4. The Cougars must contemplate how they will handle such a jump in competition in the coming seasons.