Mark Pope Wants BYU Basketball To Have Hardest Schedule They Can Possibly Play

Sep 17, 2020, 1:04 PM | Updated: 11:25 pm

PROVO, Utah – With a start date now set in stone for the BYU basketball season, second-year head coach Mark Pope turns his attention to piecing together a schedule.

Pope’s first year as head man of BYU hoops saw the Cougars rise to as high as No. 9 in the NET rankings because of a challenging non-conference schedule that featured wins over Houston, UCLA, Virginia Tech, Nevada, and Utah State. Pope wants a tough slate again in his sophomore year to get his team back to a position to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Something that was taken away last season due to COVID-19.

The start date for the season is November 25th, 15 days after the original start date. Games scheduled before the November 25th date included matchups with Pac-12 champion Oregon, preseason MWC favorite Boise State, and a trip to the Bahamas to play in a multiple-team event (MTE) called the Junkanoo Jam.

BYU also had matchups with Pac-12 foes that included trendy preseason Top 25 squad Arizona State at the Phoenix Suns arena and arch-rival Utah in Provo. The Pac-12 postponed all athletic events until January 1st leaving the status of those much-anticipated games up in the air. College basketball’s lone power conference out west could indicate a return to play before the January 1st date in the coming days.

“If you were gonna ask me a scheduling philosophy right now, I think we feel some pressure because of what we’re going through,” said Pope in a Zoom call with the media on Thursday. “Danny Gavitt (NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball) came out and said, hey, NCAA selection is probably going to be less fair than it ever is. Not on purpose. Just as a manifestation of the fact that we’re not going to have as much cross competition.

“Even if the season goes off without a glitch, we’re still missing four games of potential competition against people from different areas of the country. So I think the biggest pressure we’re feeling right now is we just want to play the hardest schedule we can possibly play. We want to play the best teams we can possibly play. If that means we’re flying to Florida and New York in a safe manner, to play games, we’ll do it. If it means we can do it by driving down the freeway [to play in-state games], we’ll do it.”

Piecing together the BYU Basketball schedule

The WCC plays 16 conference games, giving Pope and his program the chance to add up to eight non-conference games plus a multiple-team event (MTEs) in the preseason that allows for an additional three games. Bringing it all together on short notice poses some challenges for Pope and assistant Nick Robinson, who oversees the scheduling.

“It’s actually really interesting right now, super fun because it’s just madness and chaos. So our staff was in here late last night kind of just reaching out to everybody we can think of, and we’re trying to answer all kinds of questions,” Pope said.

The Junkanoo Jam field was scheduled to have Boston College, George Mason, and Tulsa in a tournament that would be played from November 17th to November 21st. If Junkanoo does stay intact, with the same four teams, the location won’t be the same. The four-team event would move to the continental United States.

“The most pressing thing right now is the loss of the MTE (Junkanoo Jam) or the rescheduling of the MTE. So the first thing we did last night [as a staff] we ran through all of the MTE’s that had dates affected, and we circled every high-major that was in those events, and we’re trying to call them all individually and see if we can get those games. I don’t know if that’s going to work. But it’s a little bit of a free for all right now, and just trying to figure it out. So it makes it fun.”

BYU has four games from the original non-conference schedule that could be played with the new start date. Those include in-state matchups against UVU Nov. 28, at San Diego State Dec. 1, and Weber State on Dec. 23.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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