As the regular season nears its end, there's plenty of talk about who deserves the Big 12 Player of the Year Award... However, let's go a step beyond and discuss who deserves the Big 12 Coach of the Year. There are plenty of teams this year who blew our expectations out of the water, and some who seemingly underachieved based on their potential. Granted, the season isn't over.
But, let's say, for argument's sake, the season ends today. Which Big 12 Coach is the most deserving of this award?
As of now, here are the standings in the Big 12 race:
**source Big 12 Conference website
I'll go through each team and coach with a few thoughts of my own. Please participate in the poll below and comment on your choice. (Note: I excluded Bill Self from the poll, not because he does not have a strong case to win this year's COY, but because I want people's unbiased opinions.) Also, note, the 2012 Big 12 COY Award was shared between Bill Self and Fred Hoiberg, so it is possible for two coaches to win the award in the same year.
Bill Self (Kansas)
Having secured his program's 10th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, Bill Self is yet again a strong candidate for COY. He has taken a very young, but talented team -- after losing all but two major bench players from last season -- and has turned them into winners. Despite a very rigorous non-con and conference schedule, the Jayhawk Dynasty remains intact, where others believed it would fail. Blah, blah, blah, Bill Self is the best. I'm sure you know the drill, so I won't beat the dead horse too much in this post. But, as always, he is a strong candidate for COY. [Kansas' last three games are at OSU, vs. Texas Tech, and at WVU.]
Fred Hoiberg (Iowa State)
Hoiberg co-won the award with Self in 2012, and his Iowa State Cyclones have won their last four games -- which is on equal footing with Kansas' current conference win streak -- and are currently second in the country's toughest league. The Cyclones will get a NCAA bid, no doubt, as they are currently No. 15 in the AP poll -- one of only three Big 12 schools ranked in that poll. Their 10-5 record, with two of those losses to Kansas, speaks for itself. Their only other losses up to this point are at Oklahoma, at Texas, and at WV. Overall, I would say that ISU has not over- or underachieved, but has done as well as they were expected to do. [Iowa State's final three games are at K-State, at Baylor, and vs. OSU.]
Rick Barnes (Texas)
Thus far, Rick Barnes' Texas seems to have overachieved. While Oklahoma State and Baylor were expected to give Kansas a run for its money, Rick Barnes has rallied his team, and has lead them to the third spot in the league, with impressive wins against Kansas and Iowa State (both at home). They are tied with Iowa State as the second-place team in the conference, but have only won one of their last three games. The Longhorns are currently ranked No. 24 in the AP poll, and also will likely get a bid to the NCAA tournament. Overall, I would say that Texas has overachieved, which is good news for Barnes, and many were unsatisfied with his performance the past few seasons. [Texas' last three games are at Oklahoma, vs. TCU, and at Texas Tech.]
Lon Kruger (Oklahoma)
Like Rick Barnes and Texas, Kruger and his Sooners have overachieved, I would argue. Last year, when OU beat Kansas at home, it was a warning to the league that Oklahoma was ready to play hardball in a very hardball league. Oklahoma has a 9-6 Big 12 record, and -- after Kansas -- has the second-best road record in the league thus far (4-4). Depending on how the remaining three games plays out, I would pick Kruger as a strong contender for Big 12 COY, after Self. Kruger has put together a team that can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the best league. They have shown no fear, even while playing at the league's premiere venue, AFH. For a school that three years ago seemed like a cake-walk, that's very impressive; also no OU coach has won the Big 12 COY in the award's history, so the panel could take that into account. Oklahoma has come out of nowhere, seemingly, now to be ranked No. 25 in the USA Today poll (and receive votes in the AP poll). The Sooners also will likely get an at-large bid to the Big Dance. Overall, I would say that Kruger deserves strong consideration in this year's COY discussion. [OU's last three games are vs. Texas, vs. WVU, and at TCU.]
Bruce Weber (K-State)
Despite having the second-best home record in the league, after Kansas, I would say Bruce Weber and K-State have slightly underachieved. Weber won the Big 12 COY last year, after K-State shared the regular season title with Kansas. Although K-State went on a 10-game winning streak through the end of their non-con and into their conference schedule, including beating then-No. 6 OSU, the Wildcats have dropped games at Baylor and at WVU. They have dropped six road games, which is tied for the second-worst road record in the league. K-State's at-large bid and/or seed could depend on how it does in the Big 12 tournament. However, the team does have impressive back-to-back wins against Texas and Kansas, both of which were ranked in the top 15 at the time. It is unlikely that Weber will repeat as COY, considering the strength of the other candidates' resumes this season. [KSU's last three games will be vs. ISU, at OSU, and vs. Baylor.]
Bob Huggins (WVU)
Huggins has taken his Mountaineers, who finished second-to-last in the Big 12 last year (IIRC), and has made them a dark horse, wild-card sort of team; while the team has struggled on the road, going 3-5, they have impressive home wins against Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Iowa State. WVU is the kind of team that could surprise people in the Big 12 tournament, if they hadn't been paying attention to the Big 12 much this season. Whether the Mountaineers will get an at-large bid is unknown, but -- at this point -- they have a stronger case than some. Huggins will continue to build a strong program out east, and it wouldn't surprise me if WVU became the third-best team in the league within the next two seasons. Overall, Huggins and his Mountaineers have overachieved, as they continue to navigate the ridiculous minefield that is the Big 12. [WVU's last games are vs. TCU, at OU, and vs. KU.]
Scott Drew (Baylor)
Baylor seemed to be a team that could give Bill Self's Jayhawks a run for their money in Kansas' quest for 10 Straight. After losing only once in the non-con -- and to Syracuse, no less -- Baylor was set to make a play for the conference title. Baylor went 2-8 in its first 10 games of the conference season, so Scott Drew seems to be out of the conversation for Big 12 COY. However, Baylor is a still a wild card, and not to be underestimated. The Bears have gone 5-1 in their last six games -- the only loss to ranked Texas. That run includes two impressive overtime wins against K-State and Ok-State; but both were at home, and OSU was Smart-less. Baylor's at-large bid -- if they get one -- will depend on how it performs in its last three games and the Big 12 tournament. Overall, Scott Drew and Baylor have underachieved, but are still quite dangerous as a team. [Baylor's last three will be vs. Tech, vs. ISU, and at K-State.]
Travis Ford (OSU)
Do I really have to write this section?? Gaah! If you follow Kansas and/or Big 12 basketball at all, you know that Travis Ford has underachieved with his Cowboys this season. Ok-State was supposed to wipe the floor with Kansas, after returning Marcus Smart and other dangerous players this season, while Kansas returned two bench players. Ford seems to have trouble getting his team on track, reining in Smart during his antics, and other various things. Some in the Ok-State community want him gone. I say, whatever. If Ford and the Cowboys get a win Saturday -- knock on wood!!!! -- it could reignite the OSU fanbase's hope, and the lukewarmness toward him might be forgotten. Pundits say OSU is still likely to get an at-large to the Big Dance, which I don't know why. The Cowboys have a horrible road record, having only won at WVU and TCU thus far. Granted, that's not saying much in this league. If the Cowboys win their last three, or even two of their last three, I bet they're inside the bubble. Anyway, Ford likely won't win COY for aforementioned reasons. But, like Baylor, this team is not to be underestimated in the long run. [Oklahoma State's last games are vs. Kansas, vs. K-State, and at Iowa State.]
Tubby Smith (Texas Tech)
Even though they're the second-to-the-bottom-of-the-barrel, I wouldn't underestimate Tubby Smith's chances of winning the Big 12 COY. IMO, he's the third best candidate after Self and Kruger. There were little to no expectations for Texas Tech this season. But, they have impressive home wins against then-No. 12 Baylor and then-No. 19 OSU; they're only other team aside from Kansas that has won at Oklahoma. They have lost the last four in a row, but three of those losses were by less than 10 points (including the nail-biter against Kansas). Of their 5-10 record, the Red Raiders lost six of those 10 games to then-ranked teams. And, TTU didn't shy away from a somewhat difficult non-con either, playing Pitt, Arizona, LSU, and ASU. This team is getting progressively better, as well as this program. TTU has a good chance of winning one or two of its last three games -- although 0% chance it wins at Kansas on Senior Night. However, even if they don't win, they will likely keep their games close and not be intimidated by ranked foes. So, anyway, I think if Tubby Smith doesn't win it this year -- and he has a good case to do so -- he will likely win it in the next two years. [Tech's last games are at Baylor, at Kansas, and vs. Texas.]
Trent Johnson (TCU)
Poor Trent Johnson. He won't win it -- I'm sorry TCU fans. I think he has the potential to build up that program to be a middle-of-the-road in the league in the next few years. But, TCU has lost all their games thus far. They have a 15-game losing streak, which must be pretty demoralizing when you think about it (*cough* Kansas football *cough*). Perhaps after all the renovations to their arena next season, they'll have an intimidating atmosphere where they can crush their opponents with ease. Look to TCU to keep building and recruiting in the years to come. Maybe in five years, Trent Johnson will be the one winning the COY. But, until then, the Horn Frogs have to keep dreaming. [TCU's remaining games are at WVU, at Texas, and vs. Oklahoma -- so it is unlikely they'll win a conference game this year.]
So, who do you think deserves to win the Big 12 Coach of the Year Award?
Please take the poll below and comment. (I excluded Self from the poll, because -- while he has a good case -- I wonder if TPTB will award it to him for the fifth time. If he does win it, it would be his third in four years.)