Why BYU basketball just experienced ‘a slice of how it’s going to feel’ when it joins the Big 12
What does coach Mark Pope think about the possible North and South Divisions for the Big 12?
In the span of one week, BYU played the other top teams in the West Coast Conference all in a row.
The Cougars beat Saint Mary’s at home, fell on the road at No. 1 Gonzaga, and edged San Francisco on the road.
It was quite a gauntlet to get through but BYU coach Mark Pope understands that pretty much every game will feel that way when the Cougars join the Big 12 — regarded by many as the best college basketball conference in the nation — in 2023-24.
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Currently, the Big 12 has five teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll — No. 5 Baylor, No. 7 Kansas, No. 15 Iowa State, No. 18 Texas Tech and No. 23 Texas. Another future member, Houston, checked in at No. 10. BYU came in two spots outside of the Top 25 this week.
Not surprisingly, Pope was paying close attention when CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reported Tuesday that the Big 12 is “engaged in plans” to split into two divisions when the Cougars, Houston, Cincinnati and Central Florida join the conference in 2023-24
“You play those three teams back-to-back-to-back and they’re really good teams,” Pope said of the three WCC games his squad just played. “We played No. 36, No. 1 and No. 35 (in the NET rankings). And if you look at the way they’re going to break up the Big 12, maybe with the North, which we would be in, No. 36, No. 1, No. 35 is probably as hard as we’ll have in division right now based on the standings back-to-back-to-back. So it’s a little kind a slice of how it’s going to feel — it’s just going to be back-to-back-to-back for all 18 games. I think we feel some urgency to get better.”
In 2023-24, the Big 12 would have 14 schools because Oklahoma and Texas aren’t scheduled to bolt for the Southeastern Conference until after the 2025 season.
Each division would have seven teams for the seasons that the Sooners and Longhorns are in the league, according to Dodd, and Oklahoma and Texas would be in separate divisions so that the divisions can remain intact at six when Oklahoma and Texas depart.
In regard to basketball, Dodd reported that the league wants to maintain its 18-game league schedule and the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The division structure could be finalized by May, Dodd reported.
BYU would be part of the Big 12 North, according to the proposal, along with Cincinnati, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
The Big 12 South would be comprised of Baylor, Houston, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, UCF and West Virginia.
Pope said he didn’t know if BYU would actually end up in the North division.
“I just heard there’s speculation out there so I don’t know for sure. It’s fun to prognosticate and speculate,” he said. “We use all that stuff to recruit. We spent a lot of time doing that today.”
Does Pope have a preference about the conference being split among North-South or East-West lines?
“The most important thing is that we’re in a division,” he said. “I’m happy with that. Let’s go.”