Huggins: Big 12 Hoops a Grind
Mountaineer football fans got a hard lesson in what life is going to be like in the Big 12 Conference – a weekly grind.
The second leg of West Virginia’s tour of Texas last Saturday at Texas Tech didn’t turn out as well as the first leg, and that is something men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins says he will pay close attention to this winter. Having once coached in the Big 12 for a year at Kansas State, Huggins is fully aware of the challenges the league presents - specifically, the travel issues the Mountaineers will have, especially following night road games.
For instance, West Virginia is scheduled to play a 9 p.m. night game at Texas on Wednesday, Jan. 9 and then must turn around and face Kansas State at the Coliseum for a 1:30 p.m. game on Saturday afternoon. That means his players will arrive home in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, get up for class, and then have to be ready to go for practice later that day.
“What are you going to do?” asked Huggins. “When you get back here at 4:30 in the morning I ought to get you guys (media) out here and stand in front of the bus and tell them to get their ass to class at eight o’clock now. And hey, by the way, we practice at 1:30, so make sure you are ready to go. It’s hard, but it is what it is.”
Huggins said he was a big fan of the Big East – at full strength it was considered by many to be the best college basketball league ever assembled - but the veteran coach believes the Big 12 will be just as difficult because there are not as many schools to dilute the conference.
“In the Big East there were 10 teams as good as anybody,” he said. “But there were also some teams … when you look at it there were five or six teams that never made the NCAA tournament in the five years I was there. Honestly, you looked at the schedule and you think, ‘well, maybe we ought to win that one.’ I think the difference is in the Big 12 you don’t have that.”
Plus, the Big 12 plays a full round-robin schedule with each school facing each other twice during the season, which makes for a true league champion.
“In the Big East, the better you were the harder your conference schedule was (for television purposes) and the worse you were the worse your conference schedule was,” Huggins said. “Now, it is a true championship. When I was in the Big 12 (in 2007) it wasn’t. We had a north and a south division and we played everybody in our division twice and the others once.
“We finished fourth the year I was in the league,” he continued. “It was probably top heavy then. We finished fourth because we were in the north and the north wasn’t near as hard as the south was. Now, you are playing everybody twice. You are going to find out who the best teams are one through 10.”
Does it make things more difficult playing each team twice? Huggins says he is not sure.
“I would rather play people on the road first,” he said. “(Later in the year) things kind of get bogged down because people are so aware of what you’re doing and they have seen so much of you that you don’t trick anybody. You can’t throw something out there that people haven’t seen.”
According to Huggins, the Big 12 for the most part is an elite coaches’ conference.
“The Big 12 is a great coaches’ league – not that the Big East wasn’t – but when you’ve got 10 teams and five of those coaches sitting around the table have been to the Final Four then you’ve got a pretty good coaches’ league. You are playing 18 games and you don’t have a night off.
“Honestly, we could not play real well at home sometimes and beat some of those teams (when West Virginia was in the Big East). You can’t do that in the Big 12. There are not teams like that. I think (the Mountaineer players’) preparation will be great because of the coaching.”
If you are still skeptical, just check out the Big 12 preseason media poll that has the Mountaineers pegged for a sixth place finish this season.
“Where did they pick us, sixth?” Huggins asked. “If we are the sixth-best team in that league then it’s one hell of a league.”
He’s probably right.