COMMENTARY

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — We’re three games away from the regular-season finish line and about 36 hours from a showdown in Waco that should determine the Big 12 coach of the year.

Bob Huggins, perceived as a relic after two subpar seasons that sent transfers scurrying, has West Virginia one game back of first-place Kansas. (Hold the coronation!) Scott Drew, faced with replacing four top performers from Baylor’s Sweet 16 team, sees his Bears sitting at No. 11 in the RPI. (Not exactly the backslide for which some of his peers pined.)

Recall, ladies and gentlemen, that West Virginia and Baylor shared a sixth-place pick in the Big 12 preseason poll. And before faulting the media for yet another set of wrong-minded predictions, remember this poll originated from Big 12 coaches.

Based on October’s expectations, Saturday’s game should carry all the buzz of an NIT play-in, not a top-20 matchup of teams locked-and-loaded for the NCAA tournament. Both schools are securely in the field and positioned to stick around for a while. Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology lists Baylor as a No. 4 seed and the Mountaineers a fifth seed.

If he composed a bracket of coach of the year candidates, Huggins and Drew would be pushing for a No. 1. Until Calipari’s Cats actually lose, he’s at the top, with Mark Few, Tony Bennett and Jay Wright huddled close. But have any of those coaches over-delivered this season to the extent of Drew at Baylor (21-7, 9-6) or Huggs at West Virginia (22-6, 10-5)?

From my perspective, they’re obvious frontrunners for the Big 12 award, with the Kruger-Hoiberg-Self consortium bringing up the next tier. Yes, there’s still room for maneuvering—I’ve always detested the organizers who want your MVP ballot completed with 4 minutes left in a tied game—but it will take serious work over the final week to surpass Drew and Huggins, each of whom dealt with varying forms of roster turnover last spring.

When Eron Harris bolted for Michigan State and fellow sophomore Terry Henderson left for N.C. State last May—removing two double-digit scorers approaching their prime—Huggins was spurred to stage an impromptu news conference. During it he tried, only half-convincingly, to assure fans the program wouldn’t collapse into sink hole. He cited nationwide transfer statistics, referenced his own change-of-campus as a player, bragged on season-ticket sales and called yet again for Coliseum renovations.

None of that explained the heavy attrition of recent seasons or renewed optimism for 2014-15. I don’t believe Huggins suspected he had a team capable of contending for the conference banner. What he certainly knew, however, was that West Virginia wouldn’t be caught replicating the failed formula of recent seasons. It would regain toughness. It would press. And it wouldn’t kill itself with a nonconference lineup of heavyweight opponents.

As it turns out, there have been plenty of heavyweights within the conference—most astonishingly, Baylor. Without Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin, the Bears faced an even more drastic reshaping:

Drew, despite elevating Baylor’s program to unprecedented altitudes, doesn’t command the overt respect other coaches give Huggins—which involves more than trailing by 515 career wins. Drew has rubbed some people wrong with recruiting tactics, and his choir-boy persona became ripe for criticism after the NCAA dinged Baylor for major rules violations in 2012. (That led to Drew being suspended for two conference games in January 2013.)

Putting aside the debate over Drew’s reputation, there’s much to like about his present team, so gritty, resilient and dominated by overachievers:

Top scorer Taurean Waller-Prince was headed to Long Island University before Baylor offered. Transfer forward Royce O’Neale’s best options out of high school were Denver, Mount St. Mary’s, Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas-Little Rock. Blocked-shots leader Johnathan Motley had only three major-college offers. Point guard Kenny Chery by dueling the likes of Evansville, Missouri State and Valpo.

Of the team’s three top-100 recruits, only Rico Gathers, who averages a double-double, is among the top six scorers. (Ish Wainright and former UCLA commit Al Freeman combine for just 6.4 points per game.)

On Wednesday night the Bears rallied from eight points down in the final seven minutes to snap Iowa State’s 21-game home winning streak. That was one more success against the nation’s fifth-toughest schedule, making it impossible to overlook the job being done by Drew, whose squad shredded West Virginia by 18 points in Morgantown on Feb. 7.

The one-game difference in the Big 12 standings boils down to Baylor missing its last-second shot against Kansas at home, while West Virginia’s Juwan Staten made his.

The margin in the coach of the the year voting might be just as close.

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Comments

  • Allan Taylor

    Hey, Clippie, Waylon was the man.

  • Billy

    we need to hit some big shots and especially not get behind at the start of the game.

  • mad hatter

    it's just not that easy, Morgantown isn't the most popular place to spend your winters, so we get thebest of what we can.. right now we have Watkins, Adrian, Williams ,and Holton, none true centers, but we can win with these type players, we did a few yrs back, so why not now...

  • Phil Collins

    Tonight, tonight, tonight.

  • NC EER

    Next year we need to recruit a center not two small guards....

  • NC EER

    No....have we learned anything yet?

  • scribble

    I agree. I didn't see the movement in their offense that much to get good shots in that game. We usually make them work harder in the half court unless we give up the easy press breakers like we did last time at Morgantown. They scored with ease and we had a hard time getting shots against the zone cause we were not moving fast enough . I think the engine has since been overhauled so I think I we owe them one...

  • Rick 55

    I think we're capable of guarding the trey if that's the game. If they do kick it out, we won't see the zone. put your hand up though, my pet peeve is seeing a player running at the shooter with hands down.

    Mostly I think we need to do what we do, pressure defense, force turnovers, and rebound our misses, play with great effort, draw the foul, and make free throws.

  • backwoods jack

    hehe hullo hailey hehe did you evir call steve hehe

  • Preston Bob

    And they all have enjoyed great pro careers, and Da'Sean, well, and Da'Sean.............?

    Somebody knew something, didn't they? And I'll bet they weren't even a WVU 'fan'.

  • Preston Bob

    Yeah, don't give it to Drew because he had a successful team last year and WVU didn't. Don't consider that he had to replace more key players than the 'Eers. Yeah, Bobby is the obvious shoo in for the award. And after he has a sub-500 squad next year, he can try to win it again the following year.

    G 'Eers!

  • Mister Man

    It doesn't matter, it's still not true.

  • Josef

    what do you even know about nazis, you little snot?

  • Mister Man

    Yes. Hurry it up, Allan.

  • Dave

    Johnny Cash would have spit in his eye and Waylon Jennings would have just kicked his azz. Luke Bryan is not an outlaw.

  • Preston Bob

    MH, what does that even mean?

  • Mister Man

    I'm not sure we can grow the ball, efficiently, to our bigs.

  • Billy

    Throwing not growing.

  • Billy

    Watched Baylor play Iowa St. the other night. They were growing the ball under to the big guys and kicking out for the 3 probably half the time. They were hitting a good percentage. If WVU could come out of there with a win, that may settle the coach of the year question.

  • mad hatter

    yep, meant to say fewer.

  • mad hatter

    seriously, do you really think we can win the big 12,,,, we'd have to win out, and I don't see that happening...

  • Mister Man

    Wait until next year, then?

  • Mister Man

    Not true. "fewest?"

  • Mister Man

    A win on the road would be welcome. I hope it happens. From here on out, though, it all boils down to seeding in the NCAA Tourney.

  • Dandy Dan The Herd Basketball Man

    We are back and we are Marshall! The Next game is the herd by 10 points. 2016 Mark it down.
    We ain't afraid.

  • DIASPORA

    If Huggins has done anything, he has proven he can build a competitive program with players he has recruited. We are tangibly discussing the possibility of a Big 12 regular season title, and this team is fully equipped to make serious hay in the Big 12 tournament, and the NCAA. My preference is a final 3 game run, securing the regular season title, the Big 12 tourney being less important "gravy", in other words we can afford not to win that, and putting this team up against competition from other conferences in the NCAA. I believe we have a potential Final 4 team.

  • Mister Man

    Tonight?

  • Fox News Mulder

    Nah. Seems pretty dead-on to me.

  • Mister Man

    The Highwaymen would not have cared about dancing. You're right, though, he is entertaining.

  • jay zoom

    GOOD LUCK WVU! Should be a good one tonight. LET'S GOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  • Rick 55

    Drew's problems are well documented by Allan as above. And while Higgins is respected for his overall record, I have to wonder if his sideline demeanor is appreciated by voters. Might it be "hold your nose and vote"? Or might they split the vote and another coach win?

  • mad hatter

    Put yourself in bob's shoes . You have all the money you will ever need, plus your children's needs, and you're comfortable in the tenure of your job, you make $10,000 dollars a day, with a life time contract.So what do you lack. Well , imo, you need a greater acceptance of your peers, and you get that thru winning the big games,, winning titles, winnng championships,,, so imo, they're all linked, so what's the big deal , instead of having one piece of the pie, you can have all of it, peer acceptance, COY, titles, awards, why do you only allow him a few choices???????

  • mad hatter

    Not if you have that pathetic team like marshal

  • mad hatter

    What amazes me, is your ability to think.DOes there only have to be your choices? I mean, can he win titles , awards, and still have the admiration of his peers. I think you're suffering from faulty logic.

  • mad hatter

    I concur.

  • Preston Bob

    I make a comment and you and your cronies want to resort to name-calling and ridicule?

    I, unlike you, don't really care if you agree with me or not? Go pose with the rest of your liberal pals, Pal.

  • Preston Bob

    Dirt bag?

    You've been watching too many Police Academy movies.

    LOL

  • steve

    All you will have is a ticket stub for the 'dance' and no wins...

    Barkeep! Another round of sassparilla.

  • Ole Sasquatch

    3 yr. old imposter.

  • jonboy

    Pretty sure that was Kevin Jones. I don't think that Da'Sean ever lead the league in rebounding.

  • That Guy

    Huggs will drink to every MU win this year!

    ( c'mon guys, still sober)

  • Mister Man

    Both men are deserving. One coach not deserving is TCU's coach. He led his team from being a bottom feeder in the Big 12 to being a bottom feeder in the Big 12.

  • Airmayle

    There's our zoomer..........

    Saying very little, both literally and figuratively

  • Hundred guy

    Both will be scholarship. Don't be suprized if they both attend prep school such as Daxter Miles did. Not so much for grades as it is to play against a higher level of competition and get in the weight room.

  • Noyoudint

    Well it is a bit trashy, and Nashville you are a bit of an @sshole.

    Be strong!

  • mad hatter

    I think he does, I think he wants the acceptance of his peers just like the rest of us. He has more money than he can spend , now he wants awards,and titles.
    why not.

  • mad hatter

    scholarship,,, fewest people are coming to the games, so they hope by recruiting instate players, it will stimulate attendance

  • Marcus

    I think Huggy Bear should win it but I think he will get snubbed.Do I think he cares if he wins COY...nope.He did what he said he would do bring the program back.We have a winning record.I'm pretty happy about that.Everything else is icing on the cake.

  • Capt. Obvious

    I'll drink to another year of Marshall missing the Dance.

  • Harpers Ferry

    +1

    Probably the best comment you've ever submitted Sasquatch!

  • Fl Herd fan

    Way to go coach (hic) Hug(hic)gins...another round on the house!

  • NC EER

    Does anyone know if the Wheeling and South Charleston point guards will be on scholarship or walk on?

  • NC EER

    His 2013 recruiting year will come down as his best at WVU and last year...2014 will be regarded similar to Kevin Jones's year.

  • ViennaGuy

    - Do you really think Huggs cares about all this COY crap? -

    I don't think he does. I think he'd rather run the table going into the B12 tournament. He has a great squad of players - his kind of players - and they are looking good going into the home stretch. Let's take the last three!

  • Harpers Ferry

    It's people like you who probably love Nazism. Freedom of speech is cool as long as everyone agrees with you, right?

  • Not So Fast

    Your comment pretty much sucks

  • Not So Fast

    It's people like you that make the world a pissy place to live in. If you want to be negative and an outright d-bag then move to another country.

  • Preston Bob

    Take the COY award, Bob. The rest of it ain't gonna happen.

  • Not So Fast

    Do you really think Huggs cares about all this COY crap? He would rather take 3 straight wins, a run in the B12 tourney and a good seed in the NCAA's over some award. This team is unselfish and its starting to show more and more. They have finally settled down and are playing within themselves. I think a bright spot is we are bringing everybody back except for 2 next year.

  • Ole Ron Jay Herd Cat

    I prefer the women's game, I love it when they play woman to woman defense. I also love when they have a husky voiced woman announcing the games, men's or women's.

  • yep

    It's a commentary and is labeled as such.

  • cutty77

    Huggs wont get a sniff. I like the coach from TCU,he has done the most with the least. Thats what it should be all about,not a Glamor Show.

  • nashville cat

    Personally, in order for the big 12 to vote huggins the COY, he'd have to almost sweep the entire conf. schedule.
    I still think the conf. is reeling from picking wvu or Louisville, and couldn't stomach bob winning the award. With the level of talent he has right now, he's hands down the winner, but the last three games will tell the tale.

  • nashville cat

    you're so pitifully insecure, that you can't even get on a site like this and decipher the strength of your own convictions. For God's sake man, face reality, be strong, and admit diversity in opinions.

  • Mike Wallace

    dork.

  • LAD

    Remember when Da'Sean Butler was the first player EVER to finish a season in the Big East leading in both scoring AND rebounds and didn't win the BE Player of the Year?! That is a league that included the likes of Emeka Okafor, Alonzo Mourning, Melo and Patrick freakin Ewing.

    All I'm saying is nothing is for sure...

  • clip65

    Yes, have you not seen him dance? He drives all the girls and some of the boys crazy! The Highwaymen would've been so jealous.

  • Ole Sasquatch

    All this just shows Hugg's was right all the time. All he needed was players who had the right attitude to believe in his program. Anyone who expresses otherwise - I'm sorry - you're just showing obvious jealousy and you should not be on here embarrassing yourselves in such a way.

  • Mister Man

    Dancing ability!!?

  • Phil M

    Shouldn't even be close. Huggs had a team that did not qualify for post season and had not seen the NCAA Tournament in the past 2 seasons.

    Drew had just come off of a Sweet 16 season.

    Huggs is the Big 12 Coach of the Year !!

    Anything less is a joke.

  • jay zoom

    WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR (SORRY OLLIE)

  • clip65

    And yes, Luke Bryan is hard, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings would've loved to have had his singing, songwriting, and most of all dancing ability.

  • clip65

    "perceived as a relic after two subpar seasons that sent transfers scurrying",

    Really top notch reporting there Allan. What a joke.

  • Airmayle

    Something I find interesting about you post is.......er.........well, nothing. Thanks for sharing that random racist non factoid with us..........

  • the flying dutchman

    you and fred should marry....

  • the flying dutchman

    you do realize this is a sports story about coach of the year? the next time you have a similar itch to express yourself off point ....try the history channel or reading a history book...

  • Dave

    Admittedly though I do love those bands, was just sitting here singing "Semi Charmed Kind of Life".

  • Dave

    Huggs has done an outstanding job this year. Replacing almost 40 points per game with 7 first year players is nothing short of remarkable. His recruiting last year and finding quality Juco players on the fly was phenomenal. He's got my vote. Too bad it doesn't count.

  • Dave

    @ Allan Taylor. Would it be possible to apply the new sign-in feature any sooner than the projected date? Some of your posters are out of control with their snide remarks.

  • Soothsayer

    Everyone else who comments here loves the bands Third Eye Blind, and Creed, and always will. They also think Luke Bryan and Jake Owen are hard core, outlaw country.

  • Rick 55

    It's always amazing to me how fat old white guys will follow black kids around in their store and spout racist comments but take black kids' money at their store any time.

  • susan

    So , what's your point

  • Hailey

    Something I find interesting about sports is old fat guys trying to be clever in their internet analysis of sporting events and hall of fames coaches coaching tactics

  • rekterx

    Well done Allan. The scope of this piece, from several perspectives, is broad and succinct.

  • wv_hawk

    Uhhh, OK???

    Is your comment intended to relate in any fashion to Allan Taylor's story above entitled, "Column: Matchup in Waco might decide Big 12’s coach of year" ???

  • Mastermind

    Well thank goodness Bobby Knight does not coach anymore. With the kind of parents kids
    have these days those kids most likely heard
    worse than that at home growing up.

  • Fred

    Something I find interesting about sports is how young black men hate fat old white guys but will allow those same white guys to scream obscenities at them and push them around during practices and games.