For one, it means the basketball is likely to get better, and stay better, even after the departures of Oklahoma and Texas.
So, which of the four new programs is the one that can win the Big 12 Championship the soonest? Let’s rank them.
This should come as no surprise. In fact, the Cougars may give the current Big 12 a run for its money in 2023-24. Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars have been to the NCAA Tournament four straight times, reached the Final Four in 2021 and the Elite Eight last season. Sampson is pulling Big 12 transfers, too, including former Kansas guard Quentin Grimes (now in the NBA) and a new transfer in Mylik Wilson from Texas Tech. The Cougars signed a five-star player in Jarace Walker, a forward from IMG Academy who played with Baylor’s newest guard, Keyonte George. Houston also has a Top 100 commit for 2023 in Arlington (Martin), Texas, guard Kordelius Jefferson. Sampson doesn’t need to recruit off the back of the Big 12, but it certainly won’t hurt.
Mark Pope has built a quality program in three years at BYU. He’s won at least 20 games in each of his three seasons, taken the Cougars to the NCAA Tournament and helped them to the NIT quarterfinals last season. But the Cougars don’t get to the NCAA Tournament that often, and that’s because, right now, they have the misfortune of being in the same league as Gonzaga. Once the Cougars join the Big 12, that should help their NET rating and their at-large chances. But the night-in, night-out competition in the Big 12 is going to be a big step up and the Cougars aren’t as well-equipped right now as Houston. But, they’re building for it. The Cougars signed their highest-rated 247Sports.com recruit ever in guard Collin Chandler, who is part of the 2022 class.
The Bearcats were the first Group of 5 team to make the College Football Playoff. That’s made Cincinnati a destination for football recruits. It’s raised the profile of the entire school, but the basketball program has, historically, been the more productive program. While the program is not what it was under current West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, the Bearcats appear to have the right coach in Wes Miller, the former head coach at UNC-Greensboro. The Bearcats won 18 games in Miller’s first season, and he’s pounding the recruiting trail hard. He already has a commitment from a Top 100 player in local product Rayvon Griffith, a guard from Taft High School. Miller won 20 or more games five straight seasons at UNC-G. He has the ability to work the same magic at Cincinnati, and it could turn the Bearcats into a Big 12 contender in the next few years.
Like Houston, putting the Knights last was a relatively easy decision. The Knights went to the NCAA Tournament in 2019, led by Tacko Fall, but it was just the program’s fifth in its history. But, it’s not that UCF isn’t a good program. The Knights won 18 games last season under Johnny Dawkins. It’s just that the Knights have the longest way to go of these four teams. But, the Knights are getting a head start going into the Big 12. The Knights have been active in the transfer portal and Dawkins landed the program’s highest-rated recruit in history, forward/center Taylor Hendricks, a Top 60 recruit as rated by ESPN.
Matthew Postins can be found on Twitter @PostinsPostcard