Big 12 Basketball Know the Foe Wrap-up

When coach Mark Pope’s inaugural Big 12 team opened its season on Nov. 6, the expectations for most outside of the program were low. The Cougars were coming off of a 19-15 campaign that included a 6th place finish in the West Coast Conference and zero postseason opportunities. The prognostication for the BYU basketball team’s first season in what is widely considered America’s premier college basketball league was bleak. Of the 14 schools, the Cougars were projected to finish 13th. Most fans would have settled for an NIT berth and a couple of notable upsets.

However, Pope’s squad decided not to pay heed to the talking heads and media pundits of the college basketball world. Instead the Cougars turned in a season that shocked the nation and BYU fans alike. In the toughest conference in America, the Cougars finished eight spots ahead of their projection and are viewed as some as a NCAA Tournament dark horse capable of making a deep run as a No. 6 seed in the East Region.

Prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament we at the Daily Universe saw it prudent to summarize BYU basketball’s first season in the Big 12. Here is an in depth look at how the Cougars stacked up against their Big 12 foes.

Continued Big 12 Dominance

When it comes to analyzing how tough the Big 12 was in the 2023-2024 season the numbers speak for themselves. The Big 12 has eight teams in the NCAA Tournament field. Six of these team finished inside the final AP Top 25 poll. Ten Big 12 schools finished in the top 50 of NET rankings. Both Houston and Iowa State finished the season ranked No. 2 and No. 4 respectively. Yet despite this, the top six teams all finished within five games of the conference lead.

With the expansion of the Big 12, the league has only become stronger as a whole. All four of the new programs won at least seven conference games and winning records overall. All four programs earned post season bids with Houston and BYU securing No. 1 and No. 6 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and Cincinnati and UCF earning No. 2 and No. 4 seeds in the NIT.

Looking ahead to the future fans can expect an even deeper conference next season as the Big 12 expands again. Of the incoming teams, Arizona and Colorado earned a No. 2 seed and a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, respectively. Utah is a No. 2 seed in the NIT.

BYU’s impressive numbers

Many felt that coming into the 2024 Big 12 season, BYU would heavily outmatched and that the numbers and metrics would reflect that.

Instead we witnessed a BYU team that became the premier offensive team in the Big 12. The Cougars led the Big 12 in points per game with an average of 81.8 per contest. They were the 2nd best 3-point shooting team in the country averaging 11.2 makes per game and had a points differential of +11.5 to end the season. This is a vast improvement for a team that last season finished 8th in the WCC in points per game with 75.5. As a team they were 3rd nationally in average assists per game with 18.6 behind only Kansas and Arizona.

Defensively, the Cougars held their own in a league known for its excellent defense. BYU was ranked 8th in the Big 12 in points allowed with an average of 69.9 per game. However, they led the league in rebounds with an average of 39.6 per contest. This is good for 21st in the country.

A show of depth

BYU’s impressive numbers were in large part due to the teams incredible depth. BYU had nine players that have averaged 10 or more minutes this year. Seven of these players average nine points or more per game. The Cougars have had seven different players who have scored at least 20 points in a game this year, which has caused headaches for opponents all season.

Jaxson Robinson is BYU’s leading scorer this season averaging 13.8 points per contest. He does this as the Big 12’s Sixth Man of the Year. Fousseyni Traore, Trevin Knell, and Spencer Johnson all average double digits as well. Sophomore energizer bunny Ritchie Saunders has been incredible for the Cougars, averaging 9.8 points and shooting 53% from the field off the bench. Dallin Hall has been fantastic from the point guard position averaging 9.0 points and a team high 5 assists per game.

Big man Aly Khalifa has taken the nation by storm with his dynamic passing and ability to stretch the floor. The Egyptian Magician is second nationally in assist to turnover ratio at 3.80. He is the only non-guard in the top 90 in this category.

Conclusion

What this BYU Cougars squad has done in its first Big 12 season is remarkable. After a 12-1 non-conference performance fans were nervous to see how BYU would stack up against its Big 12 counterparts. Not only did the Cougars exceed expectations, but they managed to finish 10-8 in their conference schedule. This included wins against five of the Big 12’s eight NCAA Tournament teams. Pope’s team not only has proved that it belongs in the Big 12, but it is a force to be reckoned with.

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