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What Bill Self, Bob Huggins and Scott Drew think about BYU joining ‘toughest league in America’

Other Big 12 coaches also chime in about BYU joining the club at the league’s annual media day in Kansas City

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Kansas coach Bill Self waits for group photo during Big 12 basketball media day Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas coach Bill Self waits for group photo during Big 12 basketball media day Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

KANSAS CITY — When Big 12 basketball puts on a production, it does it the right way.

That makes sense, since the conference is widely considered the premier basketball league in the country.

Wednesday at the T-Mobile Center in downtown Kansas City, the same venue where the Big 12 Tournament will be held next March, there were big-time vibes everywhere, including numerous national writers and broadcasters in attendance, asking questions, and star-studded coaches fielding them. Much of it was televised live on ESPNU.

This is the Big 12 — the league BYU will be joining in 2023. 

What’s it like to be a member of this hoops-crazed conference? Let’s see, where to begin? 

Well, for starters, Big 12 basketball boasts the reigning national champion, Baylor. The Bears were predicted to finish third in the Big 12’s 2021-22 preseason poll and there are three Big 12 teams ranked in the top eight of The Associated Press preseason poll with Kansas (3), Texas (5) and Baylor (8).

The Big 12 has had 131 NBA draft selections since 1997, including Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, who was the No. 1 pick of the 2021 draft. 

Six current Big 12 coaches have taken a team to the Final Four. 

Last season, the Big 12 placed seven teams, 70% of its membership, in the NCAA Tournament — Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. And it’s produced the most NCAA Tournament teams since 2014. 

Wednesday, Baylor coach Scott Drew said he thinks this year’s league is good enough to send three teams to the Final Four.

Ahem.

Yes, this is the Big 12 conference that BYU will be joining in a couple of years. Soon thereafter, so will Houston — which also reached the Final Four last March — along with Cincinnati and Central Florida.

Expansion was one of the prominent storylines of Big 12 media day. 

The league’s coaches are eager to welcome coach Mark Pope and BYU into the fray and they say the Cougars are a worthy adversary. 

“Mark will be a star in our profession. He knows what he’s doing. He’s got personality. BYU to me is, a sleeping giant is probably not the right word because it makes it sound like they haven’t done it yet. But they’re a team that could be really good for a long time. Certainly as long as Mark’s there. It’s an NCAA Tournament team year in and year out. I think he’ll do a great job. ... I think that they’re a great add to our league.” — Kansas coach Bill Self

“Mark will be a star in our profession. He knows what he’s doing. He’s got personality,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, one of the nation’s coaching stars. “BYU to me is, a sleeping giant is probably not the right word because it makes it sound like they haven’t done it yet. But they’re a team that could be really good for a long time. Certainly as long as Mark’s there. It’s an NCAA Tournament team year in and year out. I think he’ll do a great job. ... I think that they’re a great add to our league.”

And Self is well aware of the Marriott Center, too.

“What people in our league that have never been there don’t know is, that’s one of the best home courts in the country,” he said. “There will be 19,000 packed in for every Big 12 game. They’ll be excited to be a part of it. And you’re playing in altitude. That’s a great home court.”

In July, Texas and Oklahoma announced they will be leaving the league to join the SEC in 2025, opening the door for BYU and the other three schools.

According to Kenpom.com, the Big 12 is the No. 1 conference in the country. Even without Texas and Oklahoma — and adding BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida in their place — the Big 12 is still the nation’s top-rated league. 

“Well, it’s definitely four schools with tradition,” Drew said. “When you join the Big 12, I think they’re just going to get stronger. Basketball-wise, BYU has great fan support, great following, has been very successful on the court.”

Drew’s Baylor team, of course, defeated BYU’s West Coast Conference rival, Gonzaga, in the national championship game last spring. He lost four key players from that squad, including Utah Jazz rookie Jared Butler. But the Bears have reloaded. 

Looking to the future, Drew said the conference made the right move with expansion.

“The new people, the new blood, give you different ideas, different excitement,” he said. “Hopefully we just continue to get better and better with the additions.

“It’s exciting for the Big 12. We’re back to 12 teams again. But I know this is my 19th season in the Big 12,” Drew added. “There’s a lot of pride and accomplishment in just what we’ve accomplished as far as programs being consistent since 2014 as we’ve been. To me, the next step would be to get three teams in the Final Four. We’ve had two teams in the  Final Four together. The nation can see just what great basketball the Big 12 has.”

Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger, the former coach at UNLV, agrees that BYU will make a great addition to the league.  

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Big 12 mens basketball coaches from left, Scott Drew, Baylor, Bill Self, Kansas, Mark Adams, Texas Tech, and T.J. Otzelberger from Iowa State pose for a photo during Big 12 media day Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Kansas City.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

“BYU is certainly a program and a school with a rich basketball history and tradition,” he said. “Recently they’ve had some really good teams and seasons. Passionate fan base. This league is made up of a bunch of programs that have that history, tradition and fan base. It will be exciting to see what they bring to the table in the years to come.”

“For expansion, I’m happy for our league,” said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber. “I’m happy for K-State, all the teams that stayed together.” 

Weber said for years, when the coaches have their spring meetings, they would always ask commissioner Bob Bowlsby when expansion was going to happen. 

“Everybody felt we were at a pretty big place, winning, money-wise. Obviously things change. We had to figure it out. Now we’re back to 12. We had to get media markets, we had to get population base for TV for the future,” Weber said. “I think we accomplished that. You look at the success of BYU in football right now and Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida. On paper, it looks like it’s pretty good. I don’t know if we’re going to be stronger but in basketball and football, I think we got great additions. I think the future is bright for the Big 12.” 

“BYU is certainly a program and a school with a rich basketball history and tradition. Recently they’ve had some really good teams and seasons. Passionate fan base. This league is made up of a bunch of programs that have that history, tradition and fan base. It will be exciting to see what they bring to the table in the years to come.” — Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger

The last time the Big 12 expanded, in 2012, it added TCU and West Virginia. 

BYU and TCU enjoyed quite a rivalry when they were both members of the Mountain West Conference from 2005-11.

TCU coach Jamie Dixon, who has been at the helm since 2016, likes that the Cougars will be part of the new Big 12.

“As far as adding the teams, BYU included in those four teams, we’ve certainly got four great programs, both football and basketball,” he said. “I think there’s no way we could have done any better, and BYU is a big part of that. They’ll always be good in basketball. It’s a tough place to play. I’ve been there many times. Haven’t won there many times.” 

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins knows all about transitioning into the Big 12. He guided the Mountaineers into this league from the Big East almost a decade ago. 

All BYU needs to know, Huggins said, is that it will be a big adjustment jumping into the Big 12. 

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West Virginia coach Bob Huggins speaks to the media during Big 12 NCAA college basketball media day Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

“It’s a great, great league. It’s a great players’ league and it’s an even better coaches’ league,” Huggins said. “The guys in this league can really, really coach. Sometimes I’ve been in leagues where you look down there and you think you can outsmart (the coach) sitting down there a little bit. I’ve never felt that way in this league ever.”

“We talk about it being the best conference, but I think it’s proven by data as well as being the toughest in America over the last six or seven years,” Self said. “This year has a feel that I don’t know that we’ve ever had. Have we ever had three in the preseason top eight in the AP in the country? Maybe we have but I don’t know.”

This is the conference BYU will join in two years.

Brace yourself, Cougars.