Texas head coach Shaka Smart holds up the "Hook 'Em Horns" sign following Texas' 68-55 win over Colorado in an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the NIT on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Men's Basketball

Big 12 basketball season preview: Head coaching power poll

Posted October 31st, 2019

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The reality is that the coaches are the true stars we remember in college sports, especially in basketball where they often find themselves the center of attention.

Let’s take a look at 12 big things with Big 12 coaches.

12. Historically, after Bill Self, who’s been the best in the league?

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The current Kansas head coach and active Hall of Famer, Bill Self is the best coach in the history of the league in men’s basketball and one would have to assume is pretty high on the list of all Big 12 sports (is Bob Stoops No. 1? Is Texas swim coach Eddie Reese? Baylor women’s coach Kim Mulkey?).

That said, there is some discussion on who the second-best Big 12 coach of all time is? The candidates are Rick Barnes at Texas, Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma, Roy Williams at Kansas, Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State and Scott Drew at Baylor. I lean toward Williams, who went to two Final Fours when Kansas was in the Big 12 before leaving for North Carolina and owned the league in its first two years.

Does Self’s status change after the recent NCAA notice of allegations levied on Sept. 23? It doesn’t but it certainly is a black eye and Self’s reputation will forever be tarnished.

RELATED: Big 12 basketball season preview: The American-Statesman’s 13 best players

11. Will there be any changes after this season?

For the last two years there hasn’t been any coaching changes but UCLA worked hard — but not hard enough — to create one. Because of that stretch it’s probably normal that at least one job could open, but I’m not sure which one.

Sure there are coaches in high-pressure situations entering the season (Shaka Smart, Mike Boynton) and there are coaches who will always have rumors of leaving around them (Bill Self to the NBA, Bill Self fired, Bill Self show-cause, Jamie Dixon and Chris Beard to loftier programs), but my hunch is that everyone is safe this year as long as teams avoid the complete collapse.

Jokes aside, Self is on a hot seat but wasn’t put there by his own school, which is rare. After Sept. 23’s notice, Kansas defended its coach, who is facing a show-cause charge, very strongly. So if there is a coaching change next offseason, my money is on a move at Kansas, but it won’t be the school who makes the call. This will clearly be on Self’s desire to stay.

Big 12 coaching power poll

This isn’t a career power ranking, this is a ranking of where these coaches are entering the season. For example, the Miami Dolphins may suck now and NFL people have them low on a power ranking, but overall the Dolphins are, debatable, one of the five best NFL franchises of all time. Self, Huggins and Kruger are the three best coaches in the Big 12 overall, but Beard is higher up on the power rankings than all of them because of what he accomplished last season and what Texas Tech is predicted to do this season.

Here we go.

10. Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State

Boynton has done a solid job at OSU but enters his third season without an NCAA Tournament appearance, a losing season (12-20) a year ago and, while very optimistic postseason goals, nowhere near a tournament lock entering this season.

I’m surprised Boynton’s name didn’t pop up more at St. John’s given his New York City ties, but he was a name some college basketball writers floated.

This is a big year for him because if he wins, OSU should be giving him an extension to lock him up because he’s potentially a good hire for a major program. If he loses, and repeats last season, he may not see year four or will enter year four with very tenuous circumstances.

TCU coach Jamie Dixon yells instructions to his team during the first half against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. Kansas won, 71-64. (Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star/TNS)

9. Jamie Dixon, TCU

It’s tough putting Dixon here but the truth is you can’t put him over Smart, who beat him in the NIT last year. You can’t put him over Bob Huggins, who had the second best program in the league entering last season and has some positive momentum right now. Steve Prohm just made the tournament last year and has won a league tournament title.

In three seasons, Dixon has missed the NCAA Tournament twice, won an NIT title and made the tournament in year two. Last season was the first truly disappointing season for him at TCU.

It was weird.

A noticeable amount of players left the program and an assistant coach was fired after being named in one of the federal trials into the corruption of college basketball.

All that and one of the most famous college athletic programs ever — UCLA Basketball — nearly hired him away but his massive buyout got in the way.

Dixon should have a team that can compete for the postseason, but at the same time I don’t think the Horned Frogs are better than they were last season and last season they didn’t make the tournament.

8. Shaka Smart, Texas

Despite three straight one-and-done freshmen centers, the actual on-court results have Smart here.

You can’t rank him over coaches who went to the NCAA Tournament last season even though his team won the NIT. You can’t overlook the fact he was a .500 coach at Texas before the NIT run.

But luckily for Smart there is positive momentum. Winning the NIT is great — you might as well win it if you play in it. His team is as deep and experienced as he has ever had at Texas and despite having no obvious NBA first round draft picks on the roster, his team should be one of the best in the league.

Oh how things would change if Smart hits it this year. The recruiting surges back to near the top in the country, probably, with a winning season, the fanbase goes all-in, the new arena is around the corner and no one has to use the word “buyout” unless Smart wants them to use it.

But given his tenure at Texas, it could very well go the other way. If Texas is more like the regular season squad last year and the year before, and the year before that, and just plainly looks unprepared, it could get ugly.

I don’t think Smart needs to win the league or even make the NCAA Tournament to keep his job, he just needs to have a consistent team that avoids major potholes with a winning record. If Texas misses the tournament but also wins between 18-20 games, Smart is safe.

I think it won’t get to that. This team can win 25 games this year. But perhaps they should avoid terrible loses in November and December, like the last two seasons.

7. Steve Prohm, Iowa State

Prohm is here because he’s accomplished quite a bit since arriving in Ames. He’s been to three NCAA Tournaments, one Sweet 16 and won a Big 12 Tournament. He has a lot of things going for him as he was just rewarded with a contract extension.

But he has also divided the fanbase a little. He isn’t Fred Hoiberg — he’s actually a better coach than Hoiberg, in my opinion — who was beloved by the fanbase and brought real excitement to the program. His first team didn’t live up to lofty preseason expectations but did accomplish a lot. He won the league tournament in 2017. He had the rough 13-18 season in 2018, though that was more of a rebuilding issue with Monte Morris having graduated the year before.

This year looks like another potentially tough season as Iowa State doesn’t win a lot on the recruiting trail and is hoping to once again hit big on the transfer market while also is banking that rising sophomore Tyrese Haliburton has developed into a star.

Iowa State shouldn’t be terrible but it could be a struggle to finish inside the top five of the league after losing so much talent.

While you never know how an athletic department will react to a down season, it feels as though Prohm has some room to work with before worrying about job security.

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger reacts after a foul call in the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern in Norman, Okla., Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Tyler Drabek)

6. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma

I’ve written in the past how much I think Kruger is a vastly overlooked and an underrated coach and in a list of best coaching careers among Big 12 coaches, I’d put him in the top three after Self and Huggins.

He hasn’t shown it the last three seasons.

Since leading the Sooners to the Final Four in 2016, it’s been rough. Oklahoma had an 11-20 season in 2017.  Then came a roller-coaster Trae Young year in which they ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation but finished the season with an 18-14 record and lost in the first round. Last year, they quietly did a similar thing by attaining a top 25 ranking (No. 20) in January but finished 7-11 in conference play, losing in the second round.

That’s a 49-48 record the last three years. I imagine we’re a long way from Oklahoma fans getting angry, but I’m not 100 percent sure what the feel is from Sooner fans.

Kruger should be a beloved figure on campus for getting OU to a similar level as Kelvin Sampson at the beginning of the century.

I’d buy stock in Kruger and the OU program this year. They have the pieces to live inside the Top 25 and perhaps be a second weekend tournament team.

5. Bob Huggins, West Virginia

The absence of a NCAA National Championship is the only thing keeping Huggins out of the Basketball Hall of Fame at this point and my guess is he’s a lock to be enshrined one day. This time last year he would have been second on my power scale as West Virginia had undoubtedly risen to the second-best program in the conference.

But he dropped back a few slots because of how bad most of last season was.

If you want to know why Huggins is going to be a hall of famer someday, look at what he did when the chips were down. He kicked two of his best players off the team, he changed his rotation, changed his style and West Virginia played much better. And Huggins looked like he was having some fun with the group and they started winning games. Coaching is about adjustments.

He could have just as easily slogged through the last month of the season and kept it status quo before making changing in late March, but didn’t, and now West Virginia looks like it could have a good team in 2019-2020 thanks to what we saw from Derek Culver, Jermaine Haley and Emmitt Matthews in big roles.

4. Bruce Weber, Kansas State

Bruce Weber has his faults as a coach. His teams play hard but often very choppy. He complains a lot during and after games and embarrasses himself on the sideline and, frankly, in press conferences a lot.

You can’t deny that Weber’s style works in terms of making the tournament and making runs if the draw is favorable. He was on the brink of getting fired a few years ago, then he went 71-35 the last three years, received a contract extension and should have the fanbase behind him 100 percent, though I doubt they’re behind him 100 percent.

He’s only had one losing season at K-State, a 15-17 year in 2015, but take away the two non-NCAA Tournament seasons and he’s 118-56 at Kansas State with five tournament appearances with an Elite Eight finish.

Also, he and Texas Tech coach Chris Beard finally led teams that ended the Kansas Big 12 streak.

The best thing I can say about Weber is, even though I think his team won’t be winning the league again, I’d be surprised if they missed the NCAA Tournament because Weber’s teams always net a handful of wins over better teams at home, and some on the road, to impress the committee.

Baylor head coach Scott Drew shouts in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

3. Scott Drew, Baylor

If he ever makes a Final Four, it’ll be difficult to leave Drew off the top five best men’s basketball coaches in Big 12 history list. I’ve thought the last few years that Drew would make the leap to another program to change the scenery, perhaps get a pay bump if he wants one or just get away from Kansas.

He didn’t.

I’m much more convinced now after the last two “transition seasons,” which were pretty successful, that Drew is just going to keep winning his 21 games a year, mostly make the tournament every season (eight appearances since 2008) and make the second weekend or further every few years.

Baylor won’t be naming the court after Drew, not when Kim Mulkey’s team plays on it, but a practice facility or something? Sure.

In terms of legacy, this could be a monster season for Drew. He has the team to beat anyone in the country and if AP voters paid attention the Bears should be ranked in the top 25 with lots of growth potential.

2. Bill Self, Kansas

Just because he didn’t win the league last year doesn’t mean the only active Hall of Famer in the league loses the top spot.

But then the NCAA came and, well, you can’t be No.1 on a power ranking list while also facing a NCAA show-cause penalty while also coming off a “down year.”

So for the first time since probably 2017, Bill Self is not at the top of a preseason power ranking list of Big 12 coaches.

Self’s team finished second and won 26 games last year. He’s the only coach in the league who went undefeated at home. Self’s “down year” at Kansas saw the Jayhawks finish with a No. 3 seed and never falling out of the AP Top 15 until the final two polls released during the tournament, when polls are meaningless.

Sure last year was a rough one for Self and Kansas. A lot of the Kansas struggles can be pinned to injuries and suspensions, but I’m sure Self isn’t bookmarking 2019 on his “memorable coaching years” scrapbook. I thought he struggled to adjust to his personnel and the team never grew like most Self teams do.

That said, he did a great job in developing his freshman point guard Devon Dotosn and somehow got a bad shooting team to win 26 games and 12 conference games while also playing small ball, which makes no sense.

Kansas is the preseason No. 3 team in the country. He certainly has the best Big 12 team on paper entering the season, and most of the time that has meant he’ll have the best team in the conference in March.

There’s no wondering how Self will handle expectations, like Chris Beard. There’s no legacy bar he needs to cross like Drew this season. On the court, he has no lingering cloud unless you think his three Final Four apperances isn’t enough given his regular season success, which is a real argument people make.

But the NOA he received in September knocked him off the top spot because even though the NOA likely won’t impact this year’s team, it will forever tarnish Self’s career and label him a cheater, even if it’s clear he was one of a number of accused coaches committing similar violations.

1. Chris Beard, Texas Tech

Beard is 106-36 with three NCAA Tournament appearances, a title game appearance, an Elite Eight finish and a memorable first round upset victory in year one since becoming a Division I head coach in 2015-16 at Arkansas Little Rock.

Beard is 76-31 in three seasons at Texas Tech and was very close to making back-to-back Final Fours.

He got a massive contract extension that should keep other Big Name Coaching Hunters at bay. At least Texas Tech thinks it will. He also has proven he can get players drafted into the NBA, recruit at a high-level for a school that plays in the abyss of West Texas and has established a style of play. He and Weber ended the Kansas streak last year and it was pretty obvious who had the best team in the Big 12.

However, Beard was No. 2 on my scale before the NCAA sent a letter to Lawrence.

Why?

One thing that Beard hasn’t accomplished in his career yet is living up to lofty outside expectations. The last two seasons were stunners in terms of what most people thought Texas Tech could do. No one outside Lubbock saw his second team being as good as they were — a Keenan Evans injury away from probably winning the league and perhaps a national title. Last year, I never thought Tech would struggle to make the tournament, but who could have imagined they’d be that good after losing a lottery pick and an all-league, all-american caliber point guard? But now there are expectations but also some question marks.

Texas Tech lost even more this offseason than the previous year, but is a top 15 AP preseason poll team. Andy Katz had Texas Tech ranked as high as fifth in one preseason poll. writer Jeff Goodman has the Red Raiders No. 9 in his preseason poll.

It’s mostly all based on Beard’s coaching talent and what he’s done in his first four seasons of his head coaching career. But he’s never entered a year where fans will be disappointed if the team fails to win 20 games, make the tournament and beat Kansas, Texas and other rivals at least once.

It’ll be fun to watch Beard take the next step in his career by meeting and surpassing preseason expectations, because that’s what the great coaches do year in and year out.

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