Playing through the Big 12 basketball schedule can be a gauntlet each season.
On top of the travel, playing each team twice and the more defensive style of play, the Big 12 is also home to some of the best coaches in America.
“To think you’re going to come in and trick somebody, you’re not. You think you’re going to come in and out-coach somebody, you’re not,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said after defeating Iowa State Tuesday evening. “Every game you play you…go shake hands before the game starts and you walk away saying, ‘damn, I have to coach against him? He’s really good’.”
Five of the Big 12’s 10 coaches have more than 500 career wins. Oklahoma State’s Mike Boynton, who has only been a head coach for three seasons, is the only coach in the conference with less than 190 career victories.
After coaching against ISU’s Steve Prohm Tuesday, Huggins said there is never a break in conference play.
“Steve’s a really good coach,” Huggins said. “Conceptually what they do offensively is really good, his kids play with a lot of confidence, he recruits guys that play the style of play that he wants to play.”
Even with their best player, Tyrese Haliburton, suffering a season-ending injury earlier this month, the Cyclones are still the second-highest scoring team (72.3 points per game )in the conference and the third-best shooting team (44%).
“We’re coming off, a couple days ago, (Oklahoma coach) Lon (Kruger) is down on the other end,” Huggins continued. “Then you’ve got (Baylor coach) Scott (Drew) and (Kansas coach) Bill (Self) and so forth and so on.”
The quality of coaches in the conference gives weight to the old adage that any team can win on any given night.
Drew and No. 4 Baylor (26-3) lost to Jamie Dixon and TCU (16-13) on Saturday. West Virginia (20-10) lost to last-place Kansas State (9-20) and head coach Bruce Weber early in conference play.
After rumors surfaced that he might get fired, Shaka Smart has the Texas Longhorns (19-11) on a five-game winning streak and back on the bubble to make the NCAA tournament. Kruger’s Sooners (18-12) have also been playing themselves into the tournament, beating both Texas Tech (18-12) and WVU last week.
Huggins said with so many good coaches, it is the players that set Big 12 teams apart.
“I think, to a great deal, this is really a player’s league because I think the coaches cancel each other out.”