In the not-too-distant future, BYU basketball will be changed forever.

For example, the decadeslong struggle to schedule top-flight opponents for games at the Marriott Center will not be as big of a concern. 

When the Cougars join the Big 12 for the 2023-24 season, they won’t have to worry so much about scheduling Quad 1 and Quad 2 games — necessary to enhance their NCAA Tournament resume — for their nonconference slate.

That’s because BYU’s conference schedule will feature plenty of those with Big 12 games against Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Houston and Cincinnati. 

“This is the No. 1 conference in the country. Find me a metric that says anything different. (Scheduling is) clearly going to change,” said coach Mark Pope. “We’re probably not going to have to hunt and peck and search and fight so hard to get Quad 1 games. Maybe every (conference) game is going to be a Quad 1 game.”

Last season, seven Big 12 teams received bids to the NCAA Tournament, including seventh-place Oklahoma, which posted a 9-8 conference record and a 16-11 overall mark. The Sooners earned a No. 8 seed. 

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But until the Cougars officially join the Big 12 in time for the 2023-24 season, they will continue working hard to create a challenging nonconference schedule that will put them in a position to qualify for an NCAA Tournament berth.

BYU released its nonconference schedule last week, which features neutral-site games against Oregon and Creighton. 

Cleveland State, San Diego State and Utah State are the most prominent opponents that will visit the Marriott Center this season. 

“We’re super simple,” Pope said. “We’re trying to find every Quad 1 game that we can get.”

For decades, BYU coaches like Roger Reid, Steve Cleveland, Dave Rose and Pope have tried, with mixed results, attracting big-time opponents to Provo. 

But the Cougars’ winning percentage at the Marriott Center has discouraged teams from agreeing to travel to Provo.

In 2018, the NCAA proclaimed that BYU had the sixth-toughest home-court advantage in the nation. From 2000 to 2017, the Cougars won 88% of their home games.

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Under Pope, BYU has posted a 25-3 record at the Marriott Center.

There have been a few teams venture to Provo, like North Carolina State (2004), Wake Forest (2009), Baylor (2011) and Stanford (2014). 

The Cougars’ upset of West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga, ranked No. 2 in the nation at the time, served as another deterrent to opposing teams.

“It’s been a real challenge,” said BYU assistant coach Nick Robinson, who is in charge of putting together the nonconference schedule. “As the team has proven that we can compete with anybody in the country and finish in the top 25 the last two seasons, and the desire for teams to come to the Marriott Center, especially with the ROC and the 19,000 fans that we have, it’s a really challenging place to play.

“We continue to have that challenge. But we’re also excited about the opportunity to have the Big 12 slate in a couple of years. Clearly, Gonzaga and some of the other teams in the WCC right now are getting a lot better. We’re doing everything possible to get great teams here to the Marriott Center.”

Over the years, the Cougars have also managed to schedule high-profile games at a neutral site, in Salt Lake City, at Vivint Arena against programs like Oklahoma State, Michigan State and Arizona.

But those teams are leery of playing in Provo, for good reason. 

For now, the process of piecing together a formidable nonconference schedule requires a lot of good research, hard work and good fortune. 

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Pope’s staff examines potential opponents’ rosters and their projections according to KenPom.com. 

“You put the pieces together and make your best guesses. You’re always hoping it works out well. You never know for sure,” Pope said. “So much of it depends on the good fortunes of other teams, if they play as well as expected and stay healthy. Right now, we’re projected to have 10 Quad 1 games. That will be the most we’ve been able to play so far.” 

One underrated game that BYU will play is at Missouri State out the Missouri Valley Conference. 

“Playing at their place makes it a Quad 1. Normally, that’s probably not a game you’re going to chase,” Pope said. “But we’re trying to find anywhere we can to get Quad 1 games so we can put together a really positive resume by the end of the season.”

For the second consecutive season, BYU will play five in-state games, including road games at Utah, Weber State and Utah Valley University. 

“In-state games are hard. But they’re great. Really special. They’re good for our guys because they are so tough and so competitive,” Pope said. “Take any of those five games and it’s going to be a fight to the bitter end. We love to go compete.”

But when the Cougars are competing in the Big 12, their scheduling philosophy regarding nonconference games will need to change.

“In the Big 12, we’re already going to have 12 or 14 Quad 1 games built into our regular-season schedule,” Pope said. “So we’ll be able to be more meticulous about how we do things and make more sense of it.”

While the WCC plays just 16 conference games to allow for more nonconference contests, the Big 12 plays 18 games and, with the addition of four more teams, it could play as many as 20. 

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Pope wants to continue to play Utah every year. 

“This game with Utah is special,” he said. “We should always have it.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to scheduling, COVID has made an impact. Last season, games were either canceled or postponed. And games were played in front of either small crowds or no crowds at all. 

San Diego State played in Provo in 2019, and won, then lost to BYU at home in 2020. 

“If I’m San Diego State right now, for example, I played at the Marriott Center two years ago in front of an incredible crowd. Then last year I went home and played in front of nobody,” Pope said. “Then I’m coming back to BYU this year, playing in front of an incredible crowd. From that standpoint, some of those conversations come into play with COVID.”

Looking ahead, Pope is optimistic that he and his staff will be able to build a roster that can compete in the Big 12. 

“I like the direction we’re going. We’re trying to recruit the best players that we can and we’re trying to have a deep roster,” he said. We’re trying to have a locker room that’s really special. The DNA of what we’re doing is important.”

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Having that Big 12 and Power Five connection will loom large when it comes to recruiting. 

“I do think we have access to different players. The portal becomes even more interesting than it’s been and it’s been super interesting for us. I think our conversations with high school players are a little bit different,” Pope said. “You rarely go through a recruiting cycle with a prospect where there’s not some conversation about leagues.

“The best league in the country is actually not the answer for some prospects. It’s not what they want. We’re trying to find the ones where it is the right answer.”

Yes, soon, BYU basketball will never be the same.

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