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Revelatory: Losing BYU would be bad for the WCC

Of course it would.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-UCLA at BYU Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

We know why you come to this website. You want the cutting edge, the big reveal, the unearthing of something that makes you look at the (college basketball) world in a way like you never have before.

This post isn’t that.

Instead it’s about something you already know: losing BYU would be bad for the WCC. That seems on the table with increasing chatter about the Cougars being a serious target of a Big 12 that may be pivoting to survival rather than dispersal.

Our friends at Vanquish the Foe wrote about the potential move, pointing out that football would weigh heavily and that some clarity on the Big 12’s status as a power conference may be needed before stamping it as the right decision. From a basketball standpoint, the move would be a major blow to the WCC’s recent ascendence as arguably the strongest mid-major league in the country.

Mark Pope immediately brought the Cougars out of their slight walk in the wilderness in the final few years under Dave Rose, who left carrying a four-year NCAA Tournament drought that was uncharacteristic for the program. Pope cashed in on his charismatic potential right away, with a 24-8 (13-3) season in 2019-20 that would’ve landed BYU a great seed in the COVID-cancelled NCAA Tournament, and followed it up with a 20-7 (10-3) campaign that netted the Cougars a six seed this past year.

And he did it in a seemingly sustainable way.

He inherited a tremendous roster with Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws, and bolstered it on the transfer market with Alex Barcello and Jake Toolson. He then worked more transfer magic this past season, including beat out Kentucky for Matt Haarms, which helped the Cougars remain an NCAA Tournament contender despite losing Childs and Haws. Finding gold on second chances was his calling card at Utah Valley, and he’s proven so far he can continue that in Provo (even if several of his most important additions have been his former players at UVU).

The metrics have loved the Cougars in those two years, seeing them finish 13th and 20th, respectively, in KenPom with an elite offense both seasons. Those are numbers not seen for BYU since the Jimmer Fredette heyday from 2009-11, and coincided with the WCC as a whole moving up the overall league rankings.

The league has finished eighth in KenPom’s adjusted conference ratings the past three years, which put it first among mid-major leagues in each season, trailing only the power five, Big East and AAC. While admittedly the first of those years — 2018-19 — happened during Rose’s final season, BYU’s last two quality teams have been a major contributor to the high ratings. And it’s a place the WCC hadn’t been consistently before, with the league finishing on average 11th in that same metric in the 10 seasons prior.

Gonzaga’s electrifying numbers surely serve to drag the rest of the league up, and from a true depth perspective the A-10 and Mountain West are stronger in a given season. But with BYU in its current trajectory — and Saint Mary’s pedigree under Randy Bennett — the WCC is a virtual lock as a two-bid league, with three bids reasonable in many years. That also could give other programs in the league which have shown revolving flashes — Loyola Marymount being 2021-22’s most likely candidate — the competition to truly break into the WCC’s upper echelon.

In the end, it may make all the sense in the world for BYU to join a revamped Big 12, but it’ll surely be a loss for mid-major basketball out West.