COUGAR TRACKS

Mark Pope Lays Out BYU’s Expectations For Inaugural Big 12 Schedule

Jan 4, 2024, 12:49 AM | Updated: 12:49 am

BYU Basketball, Mark Pope, Big 12...

BYU basketball head coach Mark Pope laid out his expectations for the inaugural season in the Big 12. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – When BYU received its official invite to the Big 12 Conference in September 2021, head coach Mark Pope was inside the BYU Broadcasting building, being his usual enthusiastic self.

At the time, the idea of BYU playing basketball games in the toughest league in America was a distant thought.

With how much has changed for BYU basketball during the past 28 months, it does feel like a lifetime since that invite.

However, this Saturday against fellow newcomer Cincinnati, the moment has arrived for BYU basketball. It’s the beginning of their inaugural Big 12 season.

BYU, coming off 19 wins in the WCC a season ago, very few in the college basketball world were taking the Cougars seriously—advanced analytics gurus Ken Pomeroy and Evan Miyakawa being an exception.

Mark Pope, however, had a quiet confidence exiting Big 12 Media Days in Kansas City in October. He told KSL Sports inside the T-Mobile Center, “We’re going to make some noise in this conference. And we’re going to really grow into it.”

People should have been listening.

BYU is one of three teams in college basketball this season that have nine players who have scored career-highs of at least 20 points in a single game. The scouting report on BYU poses a variety of weapons for teams to face. More reinforcements could be coming, with star Fousseyni Traore working his way back from a hamstring injury since Black Friday.

Mark Pope’s expectations for BYU basketball in Big 12 play

The noise was made in nonconference as BYU rolled to a 12-1 record and is now at No. 12 in the AP Top 25 poll.

Now that BYU is in the thick of the national conversation and suddenly boasts the 10th-best odds to win the National Title. What are Mark Pope’s expectations now for this first Big 12 season?

“I expect that we’re going to learn a lot. I expect that we’re going to be stretched to the point of barely being able to exist on the planet Earth,” Pope said to KSL Sports earlier this week. “I have huge expectations for this. This is why you do it.”

From the moment Pope arrived at BYU, he’s made it his goal to take the program to their first-ever Final Four. The former National Champion at Kentucky and NBA big man for Larry Bird and George Karl loves being part of the big-time.

Being in the Big 12 gives BYU a taste of the greatest stage college basketball offers.

“My expectations are that this is going to feel like when you go play at the most elite level available to you in college basketball. That’s where we’re going and that’s what you live for as an athlete and is what you live for as a coach,” Pope said. “You’re not looking for easy. You’re looking for the absolute most challenging, terrifying, daunting, scary road. And that’s what we’ve got right now.”

BYU basketball enters Big 12 play at No. 12 in the AP Top 25

BYU’s first month in the Big 12 includes a Top-40 opponent in Cincinnati, then five consecutive Quad 1 games starting with Baylor in the new $212 million Foster Pavilion next Tuesday.

Then, a cross-country trip to Top-70 UCF, a home matchup with Iowa State, who is No. 8 in the NET rankings and boasts one of the nation’s best defenses. A road game at one of the Big 12’s toughest venues in Texas Tech, then the undefeated Houston Cougars.

It’s a Quad Two game against a Top 25 Texas team in Provo for the first time since the 1970s to close out January.

Yeah, this isn’t the WCC anymore. Losses will happen. That’s OK. None of these Big 12 games are landmines, as in the WCC.

Last year, Iowa State lost seven of its last ten games and still received a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

BYU’s last appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2021 produced a 6-seed for the Cougars. They had six losses in total that season, and all of those setbacks were against Top-90 teams in KenPom ratings.

The resume-killing horror stories of Firestone Fieldhouse or the Chiles Center don’t apply in the Big 12.

Quad Three opportunities in the Big 12 are games against teams like West Virginia.

The Mountaineers continue to work in some of the best midseason additions you’ll find in the sport with Kerr Kriisa and RaeQuan Battle.

Oklahoma State, also near the bottom of the standings entering league play, boasts a five-star freshman in their frontcourt.

There are no nights off in the Big 12.

“A good life is full of adversity”

With that comes many opportunities to get signature victories that BYU could only dream of when they were in a mid-major league for the past decade.

The style of play that BYU wants to be a thrust team that sets wedge screens, crashes the glass on defense and fires off at least 30 threes a night. If they do that consistently, Pope feels pretty good about his team’s opportunity to win ball games.

But it will be an 18-game schedule that will be unlike anything BYU basketball has ever experienced in its history.

“There’s gonna be a lot of pain, trials, and turmoil that are associated with it,” said Pope. “A good life is not absent of adversity; a good life is full of adversity. That’s what makes a life good. And that’s what makes an athletic experience great. So we can’t wait.

“I feel like our guys have worked hard. I feel like we’re prepared. I feel like we have an identity. So it’s time, it’s the right time for us now to take our first foray into this and start building on the next level. Can’t wait to get there.”

BYU Basketball 2024 Big 12 Schedule

January 6 – vs. Cincinnati (38 – NET ranking)

January 9 – at Baylor (20)

January 13 – at UCF (70)

January 16 – vs. Iowa State (8)

January 20 – at Texas Tech (51)

January 23 – vs. Houston (1)

January 27 – vs. Texas (47)

February 3 – at West Virginia (169)

February 6 – at Oklahoma (29)

February 10 – vs. Kansas State (96)

February 13 – vs. UCF (70)

February 17 – at Oklahoma State (134)

February 20 – vs. Baylor (20)

February 24 – at Kansas State (96)

February 27 – at Kansas (12)

March 2 – vs. TCU (43)

March 6 – at Iowa State (8)

March 9 – vs. Oklahoma State (134)

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 X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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Mark Pope Lays Out BYU’s Expectations For Inaugural Big 12 Schedule