Keeping the Big 12 Expansion Doors Open

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 20th, 2016

For a little while on Monday, it seemed like the Big 12 might actually expand after months of indecisiveness. As we all know now, the league’s press conference ended up being a whole lot of nothing as commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced an extension of the status quo (until it comes up again this winter and we do this dance all over again). The will-they/won’t-they is frustrating enough for college football fans with their sport driving the decisions (or lack thereof), but it’s also exasperating on the basketball side as we’re merely along for the ride. If there’s any solace we can take from the seemingly seasonal Big 12 expansion talks, it is that the programs mentioned most frequently each have considerable basketball juice to bring to the table. Football may steer the ship in terms of overall revenue potential, but the hoops programs at BYU, Cincinnati and Connecticut would certainly make basketball even more competitive than it already is, with invested fan bases and strong histories in tow. Let’s take a closer look at each.


Jimmer Fredette Was a Household Name at BYU Several Years Ago (Jack Dempsey/AP)

Jimmer Fredette Was a Household Name at BYU Several Years Ago (Jack Dempsey/AP)

  • The Lowdown: The Cougars may not be as nationally relevant as they were when NPOY Jimmer Fredette was rewriting the school’s record books twice a week, but there’s still a lot to like about this program. Head coach Dave Rose has led BYU to NCAA Tournament appearances in eight of his 11 seasons at the helm, although they’ve only advanced to the Round of 32 twice and the Sweet Sixteen once in those chances. They play a very entertaining brand of offensive basketball, pushing tempo, valuing possessions, and knocking down threes. That might suggest a finesse style in the vein of Hoiberg-era Iowa State, but they also crash the defensive glass with complete abandon, ranking among the upper echelon in defensive rebounding rate on an annual basis.


With such a high level of success and an entertaining blueprint to match, the Cougars have transformed the Marriott Center into a fortress, losing just four conference games there over the last three seasons. BYU regularly ranks among the top 15 schools in attendance, topping every current Big 12 program other than Kansas.

  • Recent Big 12 Meetings: The Cougars are incredibly tough to beat at home, but Iowa State did just that in November 2014, winning a 90-88 thriller in Provo. Just five days later, though, BYU exacted revenge on the Big 12 with an 86-82 win over Texas in Kansas City. Going back even further than that, BYU also lost to Iowa State in Ames in 2013 and dropped a pair of games to Baylor that same year — once in Waco and then in New York in the NIT semifinals.


Mick Cronin and the Bearcats would make for a welcome addition to the Big 12, if the opportunity would only present itself. (John Minchillo/AP)

Mick Cronin and the Bearcats would make a welcome addition to the Big 12, if only the opportunity would present itself. (John Minchillo/AP)

  • The Lowdown: The Bearcats have done this dance a few times before, having been longtime members of Conference USA before joining the Big East with four other schools in 2005. After the Big East broke apart earlier this decade, Cincinnati was left to form the AAC with the rest of the football-playing remnants. While the American has certainly been competitive enough with the likes of UConn, Temple and a rejuvenated SMU program joining the Bearcats, it remains a far cry from the talent and depth of the power conferences. One of the common benefits mentioned about bringing the Bearcats aboard is their relative geographic connection with West Virginia, but the basketball ties between the two schools add another layer to the scenario. Head coach Mick Cronin began his career as an assistant to Bob Huggins at Cincinnati in the late 1990s before setting out on his own and ultimately returning when Huggins left for Kansas State in 2005. Like Huggins’ old West Virginia and Cincinnati teams, Cronin’s Bearcats pride themselves on playing at a deliberate tempo, crashing the offensive glass, defending inside the perimeter and blocking shots.


It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing style of play, but it’s tough to argue with the results as Cincinnati has won an average of 24 games over its last six seasons (and suffering more gut-wrenching losses than any team should have to endure).

  • Recent Big 12 Meetings: Cincinnati has gotten to know Iowa State over the last few years. The Bearcats were done in by a three-pointer from Abdel Nader in the closing seconds of a game last year, but they got the better of the Cyclones in November 2012 at the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas, winning 78-70. The two schools are also set to wrap up a home-and-home series on December 1 in Ames.


Kevin Ollie (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

Kevin Ollie and UConn in the Big 12? Stranger things have happened. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

  • The Lowdown: The Huskies don’t seem like very realistic candidates to jump to the Big 12 because of the high fees involved in leaving the AAC as well as the geographic distance, but any opportunity to add one of the game’s most accomplished programs warrants discussion. The Huskies have of course won four national titles in the last 17 years, but oddly enough, they haven’t won a conference title since 2006, when they were still members of the old Big East. They’ve also missed the NCAA Tournament outright in five of those seasons, so you could say that they’ve had a bit of a hot-and-cold thing going on. It’s always fascinating when a team can be so up-and-down for such an extended stretch of time. Kevin Ollie has only been the head coach in Storrs for four seasons now, but he’s already forged an identity as a coach whose teams play excellent defense. The Huskies finished 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency last season and 10th in 2014, and have finished in the top 20 in effective field goal percentage defense in each of the last three seasons.
  • Recent Big 12 Meetings: The Huskies were a trendy pick to beat Kansas in the Round of 32 last season, but couldn’t pull it off in falling 73-61. They recently split a home-and-home with Texas, winning in Austin last season but falling in Storrs the year before. The 2014-15 campaign also included a loss to West Virginia in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Like BYU and Cincinnati, the Huskies have also crossed paths with Iowa State, beating them 81-76 in the 2014 Sweet Sixteen on their way to the National Championship.
Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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