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BYU Basketball Excited For Pac-12 Schools To Join Big 12

Aug 14, 2023, 3:49 PM

PROVO, Utah – BYU basketball was already staring down a gauntlet in the 14-team Big 12 that awaits them in their inaugural season.

BYU’s life in the Big 12 will only get more demanding now that basketball blueblood Arizona is set to join the league in 2024. The Wildcats won’t be coming alone to the Big 12. BYU’s top rival Utah and Arizona State and Colorado will join them.

Fifth-year head coach Mark Pope has never been shy about the challenge that faces his BYU program being in the toughest basketball league in America. But he can also see the good of bringing in new members.

Mark Pope on the latest round of Big 12 expansion

“I’m so excited,” Mark Pope said. “It makes this conference so stable. I think that’s what you’re really searching for in this conference realignment is stability. I love the fact that we have this little region, just kind of a corner of the conference.”

Pope has made it a point of emphasis to play the Utah game during his tenure. Even in the move to the Big 12, Pope wanted to continue scheduling Utah. The same can be said for Utah head coach Craig Smith. Both coaches have made the rivalry a priority by scheduling nonconference tilts. But they don’t have to worry about that now, as they will likely see each other twice a year in league play.

Back to how it was in the old WAC and Mountain West days for the two in-state schools.

BYU/Utah reunited in conference play

“This rivalry with Utah is so fantastic. It’s outdated all of us and existed before all of us were here, and it will exist long after we’re all gone. Those are part of the things that make sports special,” said Pope. “And the fact that a lot of people are torn up about [Utah joining the Big 12] and a lot of people are celebrating is exactly why we should be in the same conference.”

The saga of whether PAC schools were going to leave for the Big 12 or not spanned more than a year. There was a lot of misinformation from the Pac-12 side of things after USC and UCLA announced they were leaving for the Big Ten. But Arizona always looked like a potential threat to bolt for the Big 12.

A big reason for that idea was Arizona’s storied basketball program. The Wildcats are one of the premier basketball brands out west and have rabid fan support. Now Arizona gets ready to join a Big 12 that has been rated the No. 1 league in America by the KenPom metrics in eight of the last ten seasons.

“I’m really excited to have Arizona in this conference,” said Pope. “That’s been an incredible program for a long time. They’ve been the standard bearer of the Pac-12 for a long time and now having them in the Big 12 is super exciting.”

BYU basketball looks to level up in a 16-team Big 12

When the four Pac-12 additions join the Big 12 on August 2, 2024, and then Texas and Oklahoma officially bolt for the SEC one month earlier, league membership in the Big 12 will be at 16 teams. It will be a conference that spans four time zones, depending on whether it’s Daylight Savings time or not regarding Arizona.

The Big 12 doesn’t appear to be slowing down with the vision of being the best basketball league. Kansas won a national title in 2022 and Baylor the year before. Kansas State has a rising star in the coaching ranks in Jerome Tang. TCU is experiencing an excellent run with Jamie Dixon at the helm. Then teams like Texas Tech and Iowa State have all shown the ability to make runs deep in the NCAA Tournament.

 

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It’s a loaded league that doesn’t have many comparables on the hardwood now or in the past.

“I don’t know if there’s ever been anything like it. Maybe the first couple of years of the ACC when they expanded (2005),” Pope said. “The ACC never had the football presence that the Big 12 has. What’s happening here in basketball is incredible.”

Best basketball conference “by miles”

The makeup of the conference is something Mark Pope likes in this future 16-team iteration. He noted some ideas in coach’s meetings with the Big 12 this past spring that he was “personally, selfishly super excited about.” Maybe UConn? Considering Pope has strong ties to New York City.

Regardless, he finds this future Big 12 structure a strength for the league and his BYU basketball program.

“The teams in this conference, for the most part, really fit this conference. It’s the best basketball conference in the country by miles right now. And that’s super exciting for us.”

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on Twitter/X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Basketball Excited For Pac-12 Schools To Join Big 12