The Kentucky basketball program is going through a major change in leadership after the departure of John Calipari. The Wildcats have begun a deep search for their next head coach, and BYU basketball's Mark Pope has emerged as a candidate, CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein reports. Pope comes to light after Scott Drew dropped out of the sweepstakes to remain with Baylor.

Is Mark Pope the answer Kentucky basketball is looking for?

John Calipari stunned the college basketball world when he left Kentucky for Arkansas after 15 years with the Wildcats. He set a high standard for the program that will be hard to replace. Nevertheless, the Wildcats believe they have a suitor in Mark Pope.

Pope was a member of Kentucky's national title team from 1996 and has become one of the NCAA's most respected coaches. He joined the BYU basketball program in 2019 and helped the team reach great heights. Pope has achieved a 110-51 record as Head Coach of the Cougars, including a 66-12 home record at the Marriott Center.

Moreover, BYU has had two NCAA Tournament appearances during Pope's tenure. In 2021, the Cougars earned the No. 6 seed in the East region but lost 73-62 to a talented UCLA team in the first round. Later, Pope helped lead the team to another sixth-seeded showing in the 2024 March Madness bracket. His squad fought hard but lost 71-67 to Duquesne in another first-round exit.

Pope's coaching efforts have not gone without recognition. He was named to the Naismith Coach of the Late Season Watchlist in 2023-24 after leading the Cougars to a 23-11 record and the program's 31st total NCAA Tournament showing.

BYU navigated the challenges that came with changing conferences in 2023. After spending several years in the West Coast Conference, the program joined the ranks of the Big 12, where they competed respectably. Pope's squad finished fifth in the conference standings. They also earned notable wins against previously ranked No. 7 Kansas, No. 11 Baylor, and No. 24 Iowa.

It is clear Mark Pope can lead a team to great heights, but can he compete to rival the legacy John Calipari left?

Kentucky basketball has tough shoes to fill

The Wildcats' 2023-24 season did not go how they imagined. They finished at 23-10 and earned a No. 3 seed in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament. Yet, the team shockingly lost 80-76 to Oakland in the first round.

This raised questions about John Calipari's future with the team. He originally wanted to come back and help the team move toward an improved showing. However, things changed when he got to go to Arkansas after Eric Musselman's departure.

Nevertheless, Calipari left behind an incredible legacy in Lexington. He helped the Wildcats to 12 NCAA Tournament appearances including a championship in 2011-12.

Now, Kentucky is looking for a new coach to help the program get back to the top of college basketball. Mark Pope could be next in line to help continue the team's blue-blood dominance. His candidacy emerged just after Scott Drew elected to stay with Baylor.

All in all, it will be interesting to see who ends up getting the coveted Wildcats head coaching job.