Mark Pope
Screenshot via Twitter ([@CoachMarkPope)](

SALT LAKE CITY — Both Utah State men’s basketball coach Craig Smith and first-year BYU coach Mark Pope are on an upswing in their careers.

Smith took the Aggies to the NCAA tournament in his first season in Logan last year while taking home the Mountain West Conference tournament title and a piece of the league's regular-season crown.

Pope earned his most high profile coaching position this offseason in Provo, just down the road from where he took Utah Valley's program to unprecedented heights the past four seasons.

The pair got more good news this week, as USU's Neemias Queta and BYU's Yoeli Childs both chose to withdraw their names from the NBA draft and return to school, Queta for his sophomore year and Childs for his senior season.

That kind of victory landed both Smith and Pope on Stadium national college basketball expert Jeff Goodman's list of the top 10 winners of the NBA draft decision deadline.

"Has anyone had a better year than Craig Smith? He gets the Utah State gig, is expected to finish towards the bottom of the Mountain West and then takes the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament after a regular-season and tourney title," Goodman wrote. "Neemias Queta declared for the draft, but struggled at the NBA combine and opted to return for his sophomore campaign. Now the duo of Sam Merrill and Queta will make Utah State a clear-cut preseason top-25 team."

Expectations are indeed high in Logan after USU finished with a 28-7 record last season and returns its two best players in Merrill and now Queta, along with a strong supporting cast.

BYU may be coming off its first season where it didn't go to a national postseason tournament in 14 years, but Pope's Cougars received a major boost from the Childs news.

"The Cougars' new coach got the surprising news that Yoeli Childs — who said he was gone — would be returning to Provo. He's the best player on the team and could be the best player in the WCC. This could help get BYU back to the NCAA tourney after a four-year hiatus," Goodman wrote.

Cheer for the Cougars?

BYU could play a role in the Pac-12's chances at one of its top teams landing a spot in the College Football Playoff this season, or in how the conference's New Year's Six bowl opportunities play out. In September, the Cougars host two of the league's top teams — Washington and Utah, who met in last year's Pac-12 championship game — as well as tradition rich USC.

For the sake of the Pac-12, it would be good if BYU ended up being a positive mark on these teams' strength of schedule this season, as Mercury News reporter Jon Wilner explained Thursday after the league released start times and TV info for early-season games.

"An eight- or nine-win season from BYU could elevate Pac-12 resumes, just as a face plant in Provo could undermine those resumes," Wilner wrote.

"That's particularly true of the Utes and Huskies. Neither has a marquee non-conference game to power its SOS."

Other links

Former Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky is impressing at 49ers offseason workouts (NBC Sports' Matt Maiocco)

The Runnin' Utes will face San Diego State in a doubleheader at the Staples Center on Dec. 21 (CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein)

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Find out why former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill says "the Saints are kind of the glue to the city" in New Orleans (Daily Comet)

And finally ...

The state of Utah has been experiencing its share of crazy weather the past couple weeks, as evidenced by the routinely postponed high school baseball and softball tournaments this spring. Still, that has nothing on this video from MaxPreps that shows these high school baseball players casually moving about while a tornado forms in the background in Iowa.