BOZICH | How would Mark Pope fare as Kentucky’s basketball coach? | Louisville Sports

BOZICH | How would Mark Pope fare as Kentucky’s basketball coach? | Louisville Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Sources say that the University of Kentucky has focused on Brigham Young coach (and former UK basketball captain) Mark Pope as its next men’s basketball coach.

Sources also say more than one or two UK fans have gone to social media to proclaim that athletic director Mitch Barnhart just launched a colossal err ball.

Another source, (OK, it’s me) says that some Kentucky fans would sneer at the idea of hiring Gregg Popovich, Tom Izzo, Steve Kerr, Matt Painter or anybody not named Danny Hurley.

Reports are saying BYU’s Mark Pope might be Kentucky’s next head coach.

And, finally, a source who I consider the most knowledgable source about Big 12 basketball believes that if Pope is indeed the pick to follow John Calipari, Kentucky will have a smart, thoroughly-modern, upbeat and doggedly competitive new basketball coach.

That source is ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who unlike some analysts on social media, actually puts his name and thoughtful observation behind his opinions.

“The more I think about it, I think it’s a great choice,” Fraschilla said Thursday night, minutes after reports started percolating that Pope was a leading candidate for the job.

“Mark’s got a great disposition, he’s a very positive, upbeat, high energy guy. He knows the ins and outs of Kentucky basketball. He was captain (and the starting center) of a national championship team there for a Hall of Fame coach (Rick Pitino in 1996).

“Offensively his teams play with a lot of freedom, a lot of flow, a lot of 5 (players) out, basketball with the freedom to take three-point shots. If you prove that you can shoot the ball, he’ll turn you loose. It’s structured but it’s an entertaining offense to watch.

“To put it in terms that Kentucky fans will appreciate, I would compare it to the style that Nate Oats plays at Alabama.”

I’ll take a timeout here to discuss questions that are certain to ignite the skeptics and even some proponents of a possible Pope hire.

Mark Pope, 51, has never won an NCAA Tournament game.

Pope has taken two teams to the tournament in nine seasons as a head coach — four at Utah Valley State and five at Brigham Young.

Neither one of those progams recruits from the same pool that Kentucky typically visits.

This is no sure thing.

Fair questions, all of them.

Calipari came to Kentucky after making Final Four trips at Massachusetts and Memphis. Tubby Smith went to three Sweet Sixteens at Tulsa and Georgia. Rick Pitino coached Providence to the Final Four and the New York Knicks to the NBA playoffs.

The track record is not as extensive.

Pope and BYU, a 6-seed, lost to Duquesne, an 11-seed, by four points in the first round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

Pope and BYU, also a 6-seed, lost to UCLA, an 11-seed, by 11 points in the Cougars’ opening game in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

“I would compare hiring Mark to the equivalent of having a lottery pick in the NBA Draft,” Fraschilla said. “He has shown great potential, now he has to show that he can do it at Kentucky’s level.”

Utah Valley had only been a Division I program for 11 years when Pope took over in 2015. After an initial losing season, his teams won 17, 23 and 25 games.

That positioned Pope to get the job at BYU, where he has won better than 68% of his games, averaging 22 wins per season.

Three of his teams have ranked in the top 25 in the nation in offensive efficiency at Ken Pomeroy’s analytics site, including the 2024 Cougars who ranked 14th while making nearly 58% of their 2-point field goal attempts.

This was also the season BYU stepped forward into the Big 12 Conference, a league that put eight teams in the NCAA Tournament and was ranked the toughest in America by several analytics formulas.

BYU finished tied for fifth with Self and Kansas, only one game behind Baylor and Scott Drew, who reportedly turned down the Kentucky job Thursday morning.

BYU won non-league games against San Diego State, which played in the Final Four last season, and North Carolina State, which made the Final Four last weekend. 

In the Big 12, the Cougars won at Kansas and also defeated Baylor, Iowa State, Texas and TCU, all NCAA Tournament teams. 

BYU finished the season ranked 18th in Ken Pom, five spots ahead of Kentucky. The Cougars were 12th in the NCAA Net formula and No. 24 at Bart Torvik. Both of those rankings were also better than Calipari’s final UK team.

“He’s a very talented up and coming coach,” Fraschilla said. “He knows the ins and out of Kentucky basketball. He’s confident in his philosophies and what he wants his teams to do.

“From what I saw at BYU, I think Kentucky fans would love his style of basketball.”

Now we’ll wait to see if Pope is the choice to follow John Calipari at Kentucky.

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