Mens basketball: CU Buffs set to join nations premier conference in Big 12 The Denver Post

The move from the Pac-12 Conference to the Big 12 is a return home of sorts for Colorado, which competed in various incarnations of the league from 1948 through the 2010-11 academic year.

Among CU’s athletics staff, it is a return home for perhaps no one more than men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle.

Boyle played college basketball in the then-Big Eight at Kansas, and his first year as the head man at CU coincided with the Buffaloes’ final season in the Big 12. Of course, it isn’t the same league that saw the Buffs finish fifth in that final Big 12 season. Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Missouri were league rivals at the time but are long gone. Texas and Oklahoma were conference rivals too, but they will be part of the SEC when CU resumes play in the Big 12 in 2024-25.

In their place are TCU and West Virginia, with Houston, BYU, Central Florida and Cincinnati joining the Big 12 this season. More important than the roster of new and renewed rivalries, however, is that Boyle’s program is leaving a Pac-12 that struggled to gain traction nationally during the Buffs’ tenure in the conference and joining a Big 12 that was the toughest men’s basketball league in the nation in 2022-23.

“I remember thinking 12 years ago that we’re leaving a really good league and we’re going into a really good league. I would probably say the same thing now,” Boyle said. “It’s a great basketball league, the Big 12 is. So it’s exciting. The basketball job at Colorado got harder, but it got better.

“There’s a lot of things I miss about the Big 12, and that’s where our roots are. But I’m going to miss the Pac-12. I certainly enjoyed playing in that league and competing in that league. And I’m looking forward to doing it for one more year for sure. It’s a unique situation with us now and UCLA and USC being our last year.”

The Big 12 sent seven of its 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament last year. Among the three that fell short was Texas Tech, which was the national runner-up in 2019.

The Pac-12 has not won a national championship since Arizona in 1997, and in the 12 seasons CU has competed in the Pac-12 (encompassing 11 NCAA Tournaments, since the 2020 tourney was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic) the league has collected just two Final Four berths — Oregon in 2017 and UCLA in 2021. Neither team reached the title game.

In that same span, the Big 12 has earned six Final Four berths, including national championships for Baylor in 2021 and Kansas the following year. Kansas also reached the title game in 2012. In 2022-23, the Big 12 posted an average NET ranking of 30.2, with all 10 teams finishing in the top 70. The Pac-12 had only five teams in the top 70, posting an average NET of 97.4 thanks to dregs like Oregon State (225) and California (315).

While the Big 12 soon will lose Texas, which finished seventh in last season’s NET, the league is adding four quality programs in Houston (first in the NET), Cincinnati (63), UCF (66) and BYU (86), plus the Buffs, who finished 76th.

The conference shift likely will signal a change in focus on the recruiting front for Boyle and his staff, who have landed a number of productive prep players out of southern California, including Spencer Dinwiddie, Askia Booker, Xavier Johnson, Evan Battey and KJ Simpson. That focus likely will turn to Texas, where CU already has enjoyed some success with former standouts Andre Roberson, George King and Elijah Parquet.

“Since we’ve come into the Pac-12, we’ve made a lot of in-roads and have had a lot of success in southern California. Those relationships, they’re not going to go away,” Boyle said. “If USC and UCLA were staying in the Pac-12, I think it would hurt us recruiting in LA. Because one of the selling points is you’re going to get to come back and play at home at least twice a year. And Arizona isn’t too far away. But now, with UCLA and USC going to the Big Ten, we can still recruit LA.

“I think it brings Texas back to the forefront of our recruiting. Colorado is always going to be where we’re going to recruit the most. If there’s kids in the state, this is our number one recruiting priority.  But our secondary priority shifted from Texas to California once we left the Big 12. Now it will probably shift back to Texas.”

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