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Why BYU’s nonconference schedule could be toughest it’s been during the Mark Pope era

The nonconference slate was released Tuesday and it features six teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last March

BYU basketball coach Mark Pope coaches up his team during practice at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. The Cougars will have their work cut out for them during the nonconference portion of their schedule.
Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

BYU coach Mark Pope doesn’t back down from challenges. He embraces them.

That’s evident once again in the nonconference schedule he and his staff put together for the 2021-22 season.

The nonconference slate was released Tuesday and it features six teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last March.

In fact, four of the first five games are against opponents that played in the Big Dance — Cleveland State, San Diego State, Oregon and Texas Southern.

The other opponents that also played in the 2021 NCAA Tournament are Utah State and Creighton.

“I’m super excited about the release of the schedule. It’s really daunting. The beginning and the middle are super difficult,” Pope said. “But we like to put ourselves in a good position. I like where we are with our scheduling quad 1s and quad 2s. It will be the most challenging schedule we’ve had here in our three years. It should be a platform for us to go and see what we’re made of and try to keep getting better every day.”

Quad 1 games are home games against top-30 opponents, neutral site games against top-50 teams and road games against top-75 foes.

“We’ve got a great nonconference schedule that’s going to prepare us for the (West Coast Conference) slate,” said assistant coach Nick Robinson, who is in charge of the scheduling. “We anticipate, projected right now, that we’ve got about 10 quad 1s with an additional slate of quad 2 games that builds a nice NCAA (Tournament) resume.

“Clearly, it’s a very challenging schedule but we like our leadership, we like the depth that we have and we feel like our guys are excited for the opportunity to play some teams that were in the NCAA Tournament last year and it will prepare us for the NCAA Tournament this year.”

BYU’s toughest nonconference game is expected to be against Oregon, which is ranked in the preseason top 15 in several polls. The game will be played in Portland as part of the Phil Knight Invitational.

“It’s awesome. Nike has been so good to BYU for so long. Any time you get a chance to be affiliated with an elite Nike event, it’s really exciting,” Pope said. “Getting to play against a terrific opponent in Oregon, and getting to do it in an NBA arena in Portland, is pretty great.”

One opponent that fans might not know much about is Missouri State, where BYU plays in early December.

“Having Missouri State on the road this year is a great, quality quadrant game for us,” Robinson said. “They’ll be in the Marriott Center the following season.”

The schedule also features a neutral-site showdown with Creighton in South Dakota and a multi-team event in Honolulu — the Diamond Head Classic.

Forward Seneca Knight, a transfer from LSU, can’t wait to tip off the season.

“It’s definitely going to be exciting playing teams like San Diego State, Oregon, playing at Utah. Really, every single game on the list I’m looking forward to playing,” he said. “I’ve never played for BYU before and I’m just excited to go to war with the guys on the team and the coaches and being able to rep the BYU jersey.”

Because it’s difficult to schedule teams to play at the Marriott Center, Pope can’t be too picky about certain aspects of the schedule, such as it being front-loaded with tough opponents.

But Pope said his team is built to handle the rigors of this schedule.

“I do think we have some veteran leaders on this team. We have some holes we have to fill and things we have to learn and places where we have to come together, for sure. Our agenda when we’re trying to put together a schedule is not complicated,” he said. “We’re just trying to find as many of the best games we can possibly get.

“Would I love to have a little break between San Diego State and Oregon? Yes, 100%. Would I love to not start the season with the first three, and four out of five, returning NCAA Tournament teams? Well, I’m not sure anybody would say that’s smart. We’ve got this middle part where we’re at Utah, at Utah Valley, at Missouri State, Utah State and essentially at Creighton.

“I don’t know how you’re getting a harder five games than that,” Pope continued. “We kind of start and try to make this the hardest possible schedule. When it’s done, we start full-time prayer and fasting hoping we can actually endure it.”

Like last season, BYU will play five games against in-state opponents — Utah, Utah State, Weber State, Utah Valley University and Westminster.

BYU’s 2021-22 schedule

Nov. 4 vs. Colorado Christian (exhibition)

Nov. 9 vs. Cleveland State

Nov. 12 vs. San Diego State

Nov. 16 at Oregon at the Phil Knight Invitational

Nov. 20 vs. Central Methodist

Nov. 24 vs. Texas Southern

Nov. 27 at Utah

Dec. 1 at Utah Valley

Dec. 4 at Missouri State

Dec. 8 vs. Utah State

Dec. 11 at Creighton in South Dakota

Dec. 18 at Weber State

Dec. 22 at South Florida at the Diamond Head Classic

Dec. 23 at Vanderbilt/Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic

Dec. 25 at TBD at the Diamond Head Classic

Dec. 29 vs. Westminster

Jan. 1 at Portland

Jan. 6 vs. Pacific

Jan. 8 vs. Saint Mary’s

Jan. 13 at Gonzaga

Jan. 15 at San Francisco

Jan. 20 vs. San Diego

Jan. 22 vs. Portland

Jan. 27 at Santa Clara

Jan. 29 at Pacific

Feb. 3 vs. San Francisco

Feb. 5 vs. Gonzaga

Feb. 10 at LMU

Feb. 12 at Pepperdine

Feb. 19 at Saint Mary’s

Feb. 24 vs. LMU

Feb. 26 vs. Pepperdine