Is BYU basketball coach Mark Pope a Swiftie? Why he’s shaking off low expectations

The BYU Cougars have been picked to finish 13th in their first Big 12 season — and their coach has his own reasons for being OK with that.

(Charlie Riedel | AP) BYU coach Mark Pope addresses the media during the NCAA college Big 12 men's basketball media day Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo.

BYU men’s basketball coach Mark Pope is summoning the power of Taylor Swift.

The Cougars have been picked to finish 13th, near the bottom of their new conference. Asked at Big 12 media day this week how he felt about that, Pope referenced the pop star who has taken the world by storm.

“I was super excited about the 13th pick,” Pope said. “I have four daughters and we managed to make it to a couple of the Taylor Swift concerts this year. Her (Swift’s) favorite number is 13, and I think that bodes well for BYU basketball this season. We’re really excited about that.”

Pope is known for his playful sarcasm with reporters — but he knows the Cougars have their work cut for them in what many characterize as the best college basketball conference in the country.

Still, taking cues from Swift during the Eras Tour might not be a bad idea. The Cougars will need all the luck they can get at this point of their Big 12 era. But maybe Pope and BYU will surprise prognosticators so much that they can say “I forgot that you existed” sooner rather than later.

BYU at Big 12 media day

• The Marriott Center already draws a crowd, but Pope expects even bigger things during the school’s first Big 12 season.

“Playing a much different schedule, a much less nationwide league in the WCC, a great basketball league,” he said. “We’re still 16,000 strong every single game, and we expect that to bump up to 18 or 19 a game this year.”

Said forward Fousseyni Traore: “They just don’t know yet. It’s one of the crazy places. I’m so excited for them to walk into that gym.”

• Senior guard Spencer Johnson thinks the Cougars, a 34 percent 3-point shooting team a year ago, can be better this year.

“We are together. We’re confident. We’re resilient and we shoot the lights out of the ball,” he said. “I anticipate we’re going to play up-tempo again. It’s a real strength for us when we can get out in transition and spread the floor that way. Last year we had such a new team and new guys. We’ve had a year of experience playing together and we’ve grown a lot together. In that sense, expect a big step forward from us.”

• The Cougars, meanwhile, have high hopes for transfers Aly Khalifa and Dawson Baker.

“Aly comes in with a lot of experience. He’s a super-skilled big man, unlike anyone I’ve ever seen before,” said guard Dallin Hall. “He can pass the ball and get it to places like I never thought possible. I got hit in the face by a backdoor pass from him the other day. I don’t know how he got it there. He can really shoot too. We’re learning to play with him. He’s going to make us a very different team that’s hard to guard.”

Johnson believes Baker will also be a weapon for the Cougars.

“He’s an efficient scorer,” Johnson said. “He’s brought a nice element to our team. He’s a guy we can turn to when we need a bucket. He plays low to the ground and in control. He’s smooth. He will bring a nice scoring element to our team and be someone the defense really has to pay attention to.”