MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins, Bill Self or Tubby Smith?
Those are your Big 12 coach of the year candidates. From my perspective, that’s also the correct order-of-finish (as of today), though you can justify flipping the sequence almost any way you like.
Seeing how it’s a vote of coaches about coaches, Huggins may be dinged for having won the award last year. Self essentially gave his vote to Smith two weeks ago (when Texas Tech surged out of nowhere) and Smith responded by giving his to Self (when Kansas was locking up its 12th consecutive league title).
The case for Huggins remains equally compelling.
West Virginia can finish no worse than third in the Big 12 and would lock up second place by winning at Baylor on Saturday.
Overlooked in the preseason AP poll, the Mountaineers now sit 10th. Their RPI is 11th.
While avoiding catastrophic injuries, they have played without freshman point guard Beetle Bolden and largely without backup center Brandon Watkins, and they survived the four-game suspension of Press Virginia power-pack Jonathan Holton.
In the preseason poll, Kansas was picked first and met expectations by dominating the second half to the Big 12’s round-robin. West Virginia was projected sixth and will finish no worse than three spots higher.
Texas Tech, picked dead last, is locked into seventh place. I doubt there are any COY winners across Division I whose teams finished so far back, but the Red Raiders’ resurgence isn’t told as much in the standings as it is in the RPI, where Smith’s team sits No. 26. (Even a top-100 finish seemed illogical back in October.) They appear set for their first NCAA bid since 2007.
How to separate the three coaches for the purposes of this award? Smith is 0-4 against the other two this season, and most recently absorbed a 22-point thumping in Morgantown. Because results matter, Tubby slots at No. 3 on my ballot.
Kansas and West Virginia split their games this season. Even the aggregate scoring was nearly identical—a 139-138 edge to the Mountaineers—though Huggins netted an extra $25,000 for his win and deserves points for having the better agent.
Because of KU’s second-only-to-UCLA run of league dominance, Self is simply held to a higher standard. Should we deduct for Kansas losing by 19 points at Oklahoma State, or reward the redirect that has the Jayhawks potentially winning the league by a three-game margin?
If the results of Saturday’s regular-season finales find Kansas at 15-3 in the league and the runner-up at 12-6, it’s gotta be Self. If West Virginia beats Baylor to fashion a 6-3 road record in America’s top RPI league, I say give it to Huggs.
In a close race, what happens at the finish line should matter.