Editor’s note: Seventeenth and final article in a series examining how each BYU program will stack up against its new conference foes. Today’s program: men’s basketball.

The tradition of BYU men’s basketball is well-versed: the early glory days when Hall of Fame coach Stan Watts led BYU to two NIT titles; international sensation Kresimir Cosic; National Player of the Year Danny Ainge and a slew of All-Americans and NBA draft picks; then Dave Rose guiding the Cougars to multiple conference titles and annual NCAA tournaments, highlighted by another National Player of the Year, The Jimmer.

In all, the Cougars have won 27 conference championships and appeared in 30 NCAA tournaments.

As the 2023-24 season gets underway, BYU begins a new era, the Big 12 era. The program will play in a league that is at the peak of its powers, while the Cougars themselves have trended downward a bit the past few seasons.

During the last three seasons the overall win totals aren’t bad: 20 in 2021, 24 in 2022, and 19 in 2023, but BYU won fewer and fewer WCC games year over year, including a 7-9 total last season. Postseason appearances have worsened as well, from NCAA Tournament to NIT quarterfinals to nothing a year ago.

This year’s team has three seniors, seven juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen. Rudi Williams and Gideon George are the main two departures from last year’s squad, so there’s a core of consistency coming into the year along with some new transfers.

Last year’s leading scorer and rebounder, junior Fousseyni Traore, averaged 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last year. He’ll be joined down low by 6-foot-10 junior Atiki Ally Atiki and 6-foot-11 junior Aly Khalifa, who averaged 11.7 ppg a season ago for Charlotte. Senior Noah Waterman is also 6-foot-11 but seems more content shooting from the outside.

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The wings will be led by senior Spencer Johnson, who averaged 11.1 ppg and shot 46% from three, and junior Jaxson Robinson, who showed more confidence and more brilliance as last year went on.

Sophomore Richie Saunders made up for some mission rust with hustle last year; now with a full offseason he should be even better. Trevin Knell is finally back from injury and will look to be the Cougars’ go-to sharpshooter from outside. Dawson Baker, a junior coming over from UC Irvine, is an All-Big West honoree who averaged 15.3 ppg in 2023.

Last but not least is starting point guard Dallin Hall, who last year as a freshman hit multiple game-winners and showed he could be the Cougars’ point guard all four years of his career.

Big 12 men’s basketball

Much has been said about how the Big 12 is the best men’s basketball conference in the nation, top to bottom. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

In last year’s NCAA Tournament, Big 12 teams finished:

  • 1-seed Houston: Sweet 16.
  • 1-seed Kansas: Second round.
  • 2-seed Texas: Elite Eight.
  • 3-seed Baylor: Second round.
  • 3-seed Kansas State: Elite Eight.
  • 6-seed Iowa State: First round.
  • 6-seed TCU: Second round.
  • 9-seed West Virginia: First round.

Seventy percent of Big 12 programs have advanced to a Sweet 16 within the last five seasons (2018-23) postseason play was conducted — Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, K-State, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

In ESPN’s latest — and way, way too early — NCAA Tournament predictions published on Aug. 8, Kansas is a 1-seed, Houston a 2-seed, Texas a 3-seed, Baylor a 5-seed, TCU a 7-seed, Iowa State a 9-seed, Kansas State an 11-seed and Texas Tech is among the first four teams left out of the bracket.

For the second straight year, the Big 12 finished first in conference NET average with a 30.2. The next-lowest league was at 57.6. The Big 12 has led the nation in NET/RPI (prior to 2019) ratings in seven of the last 10 seasons.

The Big 12 was the only conference with all teams in the final 70 of the NET, including seven in the top 27. Every other league had a team at 180 or higher. The final Big 12 rankings were 7. Texas, 9. Kansas, 17. Baylor, 19. K-State, 24. West Virginia, 25. Iowa State, 27. TCU, 42. Oklahoma State, 62. Texas Tech and 70. Oklahoma.

Houston won a program-best 33 games and the American Athletic Conference title on the way to its No. 1 seed in the postseason. The red Cougars have finished the season ranked in the top 25 each of the past six seasons.

Kansas clinched its 21st Big 12 regular-season title and an NCAA record 64th conference championship. Since 2005 it has won all but two regular-season championships.

However, Texas claimed the trophy at the Big 12 championship. The postseason title was UT’s second in the last three years. Either Kansas, Texas or Iowa State has won the tournament every year since 2013.

How will BYU fare?

So after diving into each team (see the summaries below) I can confirm that the pundits aren’t lying — the Big 12 is really good at basketball. Even with lots of talent off to the NBA, these teams instantly reload, whether through highly ranked recruiting classes or nabbing the top players from mid-major programs.

BYU’s scrappiness, the Marriott Center, and the ability to match up with big men under the basket will help the Cougars compete in many Big 12 games. It also really helps that BYU plays the four teams I think will be at the top of the league only once each, with three of those four games in Provo. So perhaps the sky won’t fall as low and as fast as many people think.

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And yet it’s just hard to see a way BYU stays out of the lower half of the conference. The Cougars may have a good team, but the Big 12 is largely made of great teams. I predict BYU to finish tied for 11th with West Virginia in conference play.

Big 12 teams at a glance

Here’s a look at the Cougars’ conference competition listed in my predicted order of finish:

 Kansas

  • Overview: Even before you look at the roster you just put Kansas No. 1 — that’s how dominant they’ve been for decades. But then you look at the roster and … yeah, they’re No. 1 in the conference and probably in the country until proven otherwise. Gradey Dick and Julian Wilson are now in the NBA, but big 7-foot-2 center Hunter Dickinson transferred from Michigan, McDonald’s All-American Elmarko Jackson is a top freshman — even former Santa Clara guard Parker Braun is now on the roster. Junior Dajuan Harris Jr. was last year’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and is back to help Kansas compete for another title.
  • Last season finish: 11th nationally, 1st in the Big 12 at 13-5, 28-8 overall.
  • Top players: Hunter Dickinson (Sr., C, All-America Second Team, Three-time All-Big Ten), Dajuan Harris Jr. (Jr., G, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year).
  • Conference titles: 64 (1908-12, ’14-15, ’22-27, ’31-34, ’36-38, ’40-43, ’46, ’50, ’52-54, ’57, ’60, ’66-67, ’71, ’74-75, ’78, ’86, ’91-93, ’95-98, ’02-03, ’05-18, ’20, ’22-23).
  • NCAA tourneys: 51 (1940, ’42, ’52-53, ’57, ’60, ’66-67, ’71, ’74-75, ’78, ’81, ’84-88, ’90-23).
  • Famous alumni: Wilt Chamberlain (2-time NBA champion, 4-time NBA MVP, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee), Paul Pierce (NBA champion, 10-time NBA All-Star, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee), Greg Ostertag (11-year NBA veteran, Utah Jazz legend).
  • BYU and Kansas history: BYU has one win in five tries against Kansas, with the lone victory coming in Provo in 1960. Kansas has won the last three games, including the most recent contest at the 2019 Maui Invitational.
  • Plays BYU: in Lawrence.

Houston

  • Overview: Say what you will about the new programs joining the Big 12, but no one is talking Houston men’s basketball down. In 2023-24, Houston returns five letterwinners and two starters from last year’s team, which finished 33-4 to tie the school single-season record in wins, and competed in the NCAA Sweet 16, the fourth straight season the Cougars have at least reached the tournament’s second weekend. Kelvin Sampson & Co. are real contenders for the Big 12 crown in Year One.
  • Last season finish: 6th nationally, 1st in the AAC at 17-1, 33-4 overall.
  • Top players: LJ Cryer (Sr., G, All-Big 12 Third Team at Baylor), Jamal Shead (Sr., G, All-Region).
  • Conference titles: 11 (1946-47, ’50, ’56, ’83-84, ’92, ’19-20, ’22-23).
  • NCAA tourneys: 24 (1956, ’61, ’65-68, ’70-73, ’78, ’81-84, ’87, ’90, ’92, ’10, ’18-23).
  • Famous alumni: Elvin Hayes (No. 1 pick in the 1968 NBA draft, 12-time All-Star, NBA champion, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee), Clyde Drexler (10-time All-Star, NBA champion, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee), Hakeem Olajuwon (No. 1 pick in the 1984 NBA draft, 12-time All-NBA, 2-time NBA champion, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee).
  • BYU and Houston history: Red holds a current 5-3 advantage over blue in the series that began in 1965. The most recent game was a memorable 72-71 BYU victory in 2019 in Huston when TJ Haws hit a fadeaway buzzer beater for the win, the blue Cougars’ first over the red Cougars since 1978.
  • Plays BYU: in Provo.

 Texas

  • Overview: A lot of last year’s scorers are gone (including my favorite name in basketball, Sir’Jabari Rice), but three starters do return from a team that was the first Longhorns squad to reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 15 years. After leading the team as interim head coach most of last year, Rodney Terry will enter his first full year as the head coach; he was previously the top guy at Fresno State and UTEP and was named National Coach of the Year by multiple organizations in 2023. 
  • Last season finish: 7th nationally, 2nd in the Big 12 at 12-6, 29-9 overall.
  • Top players: Tyrese Hunter (Jr., G, 2022 Big 12 Freshman of the Year), Max Abmas (Sr., G, All-America honorable mention at Oral Roberts).
  • Conference titles: 22 (1917, ’19, ’24, ’33, ’39, ’43, ’47, ’51, ’54, ’60, ’63, ’65, ’72, ’74, ’78-79, ’86, ’94-95, ’99, ’06, ‘08).
  • NCAA tourneys: 37 (1939, ’43, ’47, ’60, ’63, ’72, ’74, ’79, ’89-92, ’94-97, ’99-12, ’14-16, ’18, ’21-23).
  • Famous alumni: Kevin Durant (2-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, 13-time NBA All-Star, 10-time All-NBA), LaMarcus Aldridge (7-time NBA All-Star, 5-time All-NBA).
  • BYU and Texas history: The Longhorns hold a 4-2 lead with all but one game occurring between 1967-78. The latest was an 86-82 BYU win in 2013 when Tyler Haws led five Cougars in double figures in the semifinals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.
  • Plays BYU: in Provo.

TCU

  • Overview: The TCU program BYU used to roll through every time when the pair were MWC foes is no more. Jamie Dixon has turned TCU respectable, guiding the Horned Frogs to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in 70 seasons and win their opening-round game of the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. In both the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons, TCU finished a program-best tied for fifth place in the Big 12. The Frogs will be good again this year, too.
  • Last season finish: 5th in the Big 12 at 9-9, 19-14 overall.
  • Top players: Emanuel Miller (Sr., F, All-Big 12 honorable mention), Jameer Nelson Jr. (Sr., G, All-CAA First Team at Delaware).
  • Conference titles: 11 (1931, ’34, ’51-53, ’59, ’68, ’71, ’86-87, ‘98).
  • NCAA tourneys: 10 (1952-53, ’59, ’68, ’71, ’87, ’98, ’18, ’22-23).
  • Famous alumni: Desmond Bane (current guard for the Memphis Grizzlies), Kurt Thomas (18-year NBA veteran).
  • BYU and TCU history: BYU has a commanding 19-3 series lead and has won the last 16 games against the Horned Frogs dating back to 1999. The two teams last played three times in the 2010-11 season — in Provo, in Fort Worth and in Las Vegas for the MWC tournament.
  • Plays BYU: in Provo.

Baylor

  • Overview: Baylor had three players average more than 15 ppg last season but lost two to the NBA and one to new conference foe Houston. Jalen Bridges is the only returning starter, but likely one-and-done freshman Ja’Kobe Walter will contribute right away. Former BYU forward Caleb Lohner is entering his senior year and will make a trip back to the Marriott Center this season.
  • Last season finish: 19th nationally, 3rd in the Big 12 at 11-7, 23-11 overall.
  • Top players: Jalen Bridges (Sr., F), RayJ Dennis (Sr., G, MAC Player of the Year at Toledo), Ja’Kobe Walter (Fr., F, No. 8 in ESPN 100, projected 1st-round draft pick in 2024).
  • Conference titles: 7 (1932, ’46, ’48-50, ’21-22).
  • NCAA tourneys: 15 (1946, ’48, ’50, ’88, ’08, ’10, ’12, ’14-17, ’19, ’21-23).
  • Famous alumni: Vinnie Johnson (2-time NBA champion), Royce O’Neale (current guard for the Brooklyn Nets).
  • BYU and Baylor history: Baylor and BYU are tied at five games apiece in their series. The two teams hadn’t met since 1979 when No. 6 Baylor came to Provo in 2011 and barely escaped with a three-point win. Brady Heslip, the assassin! The Bears also won twice during the 2012-13 season, including in the NIT semifinals.
  • Plays BYU: in Provo and Waco.

Kansas State

  • Overview: All-Americans Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell are gone from last year’s Elite Eight team and create a big hole. Cam Carter and Nae’Qwan Tomlin are returning starters while Ques Glover (former BYU signee) and R.J. Jones (Wasatch Academy graduate) have Utah connections. We’ll see the Wildcats back in the tourney but not at the top of standings.
  • Last season finish: 9th nationally, 3rd in the Big 12 at 11-7, 26-10 overall.
  • Top players: Cam Carter (Jr., G), Nae’Qwan Tomlin (Sr., F).
  • Conference titles: 19 (1917, ’19, ’48, ’50-51, ’56, ’58-61, ’63-64, ’68, ’70, ’72-73, ’77, ’13, ‘19).
  • NCAA tourneys: 32 (1948, ’51, ’56, ’58-59, ’61, ’64, ’68, ’70, ’72-73, ’75, ’77, ’80-82, ’87-90, ’93, ’96, ’08, ’10-14, ’17-19, ’23).
  • Famous alumni: Mitch Richmond (NBA champion, 5-time All-NBA, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee), Rolando Blackman (4-time NBA All-Star).
  • BYU and Kansas State history: The two teams have swapped wins every other game over the course of seven meetings. BYU fans will remember the last meeting in the second round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament when the No. 2-seed Wildcats beat the No. 7-seed Cougars, 84-72.
  • Plays BYU: in Provo and Manhattan.

Oklahoma

  • Overview: The Sooners are going to look very different from last year’s squad, but since OU had a losing record in 2023, that may be a positive. Returnee Milos Uzan is a potential draft pick and Kaden Cooper and Jacolb Cole are two of the top recruits in their class. Le’Tre Darthard, formerly of UVU, is also in Norman now. The Sooners will win more than last year’s five conference games but probably aren’t in this year’s top tier.
  • Last season finish: 9th in the Big 12 at 5-13, 15-17 overall.
  • Top players: Milos Uzan (G).
  • Conference titles: 14 (1928-29, ’39-40, ’42, ’44, ’47, ’49, ’79, ’84-85, ’88-89, ‘05).
  • NCAA tourneys: 33 (1939, ’43, ’47, ’79, ’83-90, ’92, ’95-03, ’05-06, ’08-09, ’13-16, ’18-19, ‘21).
  • Famous alumni: Blake Griffin (No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA draft, 6-time NBA All-Star), Trae Young (Current guard for the Atlanta Hawks, 2-time NBA All-Star).
  • BYU and Oklahoma history: The two squads are knotted at 2-2 with BYU winning the latest game 76-75 in 1992 at the Maui Invitational.
  • Plays BYU: in Norman.

Oklahoma State

  • Overview: Thank goodness for a strong recruiting class, because the Cowboys are thin this year, literally and figuratively. The class is in the top 10 of all the major recruiting rankings — but can they help OSU get back to their usual top form, or will inexperience rule?
  • Last season finish: 7th in the Big 12 at 8-10, 20-16 overall.
  • Top players: Bryce Thompson (Sr., G), Eric Dailey Jr. (Fr., F, USA Junior National Team).
  • Conference titles: 19 (1925, ’31, ’36-40, ’42, ’44-46, ’48-49, ’51, ’53-54, ’65, ’91, ‘04).
  • NCAA tourneys: 29 (1945-46, ’49, ’51, ’53-54, ’58, ’65, ’83, ’91-95, ’98-05, ’09-10, ’13-15, 17, ’21).
  • Famous alumni: John Starks (NBA All-Star), Marcus Smart (Current guard for the Memphis Grizzlies, 3-time NBA All-Defensive Team).
  • BYU and Oklahoma State history: BYU leads, 4-3, winning four of the last five. The most recent was a memorable 76-71 Cougars victory over the No. 25 Cowboys at the Delta Center behind 32 points and 17 rebounds from Rafael Araujo in 2003. The two teams have not played an on-campus game since a 1972 contest in Provo.
  • Plays BYU: in Provo and Stillwater.

 Iowa State

  • Overview: Like Oklahoma State, the Cyclones signed a great freshman class who will all get plenty of playing time on a young roster. One of six of ISU’s top scorers from last year returns — guard Tamin Lipsey, a Big 12 All-Freshman selection.
  • Last season finish: 5th in the Big 12 at 9-9, 19-14 overall.
  • Top players: Omaha Biliew (Fr., F, McDonald’s All-American), Tamin Lipsey (So., G, Big 12 All-Freshman Team).
  • Conference titles: 6 (1935, ’41, ’44-45, ’00, ‘01).
  • NCAA tourneys: 22 (1944, ’85-86, ’88-89, ’92-93, ’95-97, ’00-01, ’05, ’12-17, ’19, ’22-23).
  • Famous alumni: Jeff Hornacek (No. 14 retired by Utah Jazz, Two-time NBA 3-Point Contest champion), Tyrese Haliburton (current guard for the Indiana Pacers, NBA All-Star).
  • BYU and Iowa State history: The Cyclones are a perfect 6-0 against BYU in a series going back to 1931. No. 21 Iowa State edged BYU 90-88 in 2013 in Provo in the most recent meeting.
  • Plays BYU: in Provo and Ames.

Cincinnati

  • Overview: A storied program with the 14th-most wins in Division I history, the Bearcats have fallen on harder times recently without an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2019. They did win 23 games last year before ending the year in the NIT quarterfinals at UVU. In fact, UVU big man Aziz Bandaogo is now on Cincy’s team as one of seven newcomers. A good mix of top recruits and experience makes the Bearcats a team to watch this fall.
  • Last season finish: 4th in the AAC at 11-7, 23-13 overall.
  • Top players: Jizzle James (Fr., G, ESPN Top 100 recruit), Viktor Lahkin (Jr., F).
  • Conference titles: 29 (1926, ’28-30, ’47-51, ’58-63, ’66, ’92-93, ’96-02, ’04, ’14, ’18, ‘20).
  • NCAA tourneys: 33 (1958-63, ’66, ’75-77, ’92-05, ’11-19).
  • Famous alumni: Oscar Robertson (No. 1 pick in 1960 NBA draft, 14-year career, NBA champion, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee), Kenyon Martin (No. 1 pick in the 2000 NBA draft, 15-year career).
  • BYU and Cincinnati history: BYU is 2-1 against Cincy, but the No. 5 seed Bearcats defeated the No. 12 seed Cougars in the most recent meeting at the 2001 NCAA Tournament.
  • Plays BYU: in Provo.

 West Virginia

  • Overview: Legendary but embattled head coach Bob Huggins resigned (or not, depending on who you ask) in June, with Josh Eilert stepping in as interim. Expectations were sky high for the Mountaineers, but Huggins’ departure led to departures off WVU’s roster as well. All-ACC honoree Jesse Edwards is staying after coming over from Syracuse, but cobbling together a roster late doesn’t bode well for Big 12 play.
  • Last season finish: 8th in the Big 12 at 7-11, 19-15 overall.
  • Top players: Jesse Edwards (Sr., C, All-ACC at Syracuse), Kerr Krissa (Jr., G).
  • Conference titles: 15 (1935, ’52, ’55-59, ’61-63, ’67, ’77, ’82, ’85, ‘89).
  • NCAA tourneys: 31 (1955-60, ’62-63, ’65, ’67, ’82-84, ’86-87, ’89, ‘92, ’98, ’05-06, ’08-12, ’15-18, ’21, ‘23).
  • Famous alumni: Jerry West (9-time NBA champion, 12-time All-NBA, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee), “Hot” Rod Hundley (No. 1 pick in the 1957 NBA draft, Long-time Utah Jazz play-by-play announcer).
  • BYU and West Virginia history: The two teams have each won one game, with the Mountaineers victorious in 1947 and the Cougars in 1973.
  • Plays BYU: in Morgantown.

Texas Tech

  • Overview: Grant McCasland is taking over at Texas Tech after a successful stint at North Texas. The Red Raiders missed the NCAA postseason for the first time since 2017 last season, then had their coach resign after allegedly making “racially insensitive” comments to a player. Looking down the roster I think TTU will be hard pressed to make the NCAA Tournament this year; they didn’t do much to improve on last year’s .500 team.
  • Last season finish: 9th in the Big 12 at 5-13, 16-16 overall.
  • Top players: Warren Washington (Sr., F, Pac-12 All-Defensive Team at ASU), Drew Steffe (Fr., F).
  • Conference titles: 12 (1933-35, ’54, ’56, ’61-62, ’73, ’85, ’95-96, ‘19).
  • NCAA tourneys: 19 (1954, ’56, ’61-62, ’73, ’76, ’85-86, ’93, ’96, ’02, ’04-05, ’07, ’16, ’18-22).
  • Famous alumni: Darvin Ham (Los Angeles Lakers head coach, 2-time NBA champion), Mac McClung (2023 NBA Slam Dunk Contest winner).
  • BYU and Texas Tech history: BYU has won three games to Tech’s one, but the Red Raiders have claimed victory most recently — a 81-71 decision in Lubbock in 1995.
  • Plays BYU: in Lubbock.

UCF

  • Overview: UCF lost a lot of last year’s offense, including new Utah Jazzman Taylor Hendricks, on a team that finished seventh in the AAC last year. The Knights don’t leave Florida during their entire nonconference slate, with their last seven games all at home. Enjoy the good times while they last, because a lot of Big 12 teams are going to enjoy Disney World and a win this season.
  • Last season finish: 7th in the AAC at 8-10, 19-15 overall.
  • Top players: Jaykwon Walton (Jr., G), CJ Kelly (Sr., G).
  • Conference titles: 7 (1976-78, ’81-82, ’84, ‘05).
  • NCAA tourneys: 5 (1994, ’96, ’04, ’05, ‘19).
  • Famous alumni: Taylor Hendricks (2023 NBA draft pick by the Utah Jazz), Tacko Fall (7-foot-6 fan favorite for Boston and Cleveland, 2019-22).
  • BYU and UCF history: None.
  • Plays BYU: in Provo and Orlando.
BYU players and coaches take a break during practice at the BYU Annex facility in Provo on Aug. 11, 2023. | Matthew Norton, BYU Photo