West Virginia Basketball: Huggins deserved Big 12 Coach of the Year


West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins was named the Big 12 Conference coach of the year and the honor shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The Mountaineers are currently ranked 18th in the nation and were ranked as high as 14th. Huggins’ squad finished the regular season with a 23-8 overall record and an 11-7 record within the Big 12 conference.

How this West Virginia team has performed all season was not anticipated at the beginning of this year.

Remember the Mountaineers first game of the season? They nearly lost Monmouth and it raised just about every Mountaineer fan’s eyebrows. Could this team that nearly lost to Monmouth compete in the Big 12 or was this team destined for another NIT appearance.

From that game to this point — Huggins and company have come a long way.

The Big 12 conference has been no joke. The Big 12 is arguably the most competitive conference in the country, with teams such as Kansas, Oklahoma, Baylor and Iowa State consistently in the top 25 in the country, the majority of the games during conference play came down to the wire and demonstrated just how brutal this conference is.

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It really wasn’t until West Virginia knocked off No. 17 (at the time) Connecticut in the Puerto Rico Tip-off Championship game did they begin to turn some heads.

Huggins strung together seven-straight wins and suffered his first lost on a last second layup versus LSU. The non-conference scheduled didn’t prove to be that much of a challenge for West Virginia.

The conference schedule, however, had it’s fair share of hiccups, but all in all the Mountaineers held their own.

Games were close, some went in the Mountaineers’ favor (Kansas in Morgantown) and others didn’t (Iowa State in Morgantown), but an 11-7 record is nothing so brush off. It’s impressive, especially because West Virginia exceeded expectations.

What Huggins has been able to do is amazing. Prior to this team and this season, West Virginia basketball was falling off the map. Huggins missed the NCAA Tournament for consecutive season and it was evident that the players he had were not “buying in” to West Virginia basketball.

Recently, significant players have left the program. Players like Eron Harris, Terry Henderson and Aaric Murray come to mind. They weren’t the kind of players Huggins needed, anyways.

This 2015 team, they’re different. You can sense it and you can see it in the results. Huggins has turned the arrow for WVU basketball and that arrow is now pointing up.

Feb 21, 2015; Stillwater, OK, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins (back) coaches West Virginia Mountaineers guard Jaysean Paige (front) during the first half at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

He has a group of kids who have “bought in,” who are aware of what it takes to compete in the Big 12 and what it means to wear the old gold and blue.

“It’s not in their DNA (to give up). It’s really not.” Huggins said following the Oklahoma State game on Saturday. “They play. They continue to respond. They want to play, they don’t want to let anybody down.”,

West Virginia has built this season on their pressure to the point where the Mountaineers have garnered the nickname “Press Virginia.” Huggins has implemented a defensive mindset in this team and they’re pressure is allowing them to succeed.

“I think what I’ve tried to explain to them, this is a way where everyone can play and we’re going to create havoc, we’re going to take people out of offense, we’re going to make them play the way we want them to play,” said Huggins. “We haven’t always (done this), but for the most part we have. And they bought into that.”

“Now you walk around and you see everyone wearing these ‘Press Virginia’ t-shirts and I think the have a lot of pride in it.”

The Mountaineers are leading the nation in steals, averaging 11.1 per game and sit behind only Eastern Kentucky in turnover ratio.

“Everybody can play basketball on this team. We play so hard,” said freshman Daxter Miles Jr., “We definitely trust in each other. This is what I expected. As long as I play defense it doesn’t really matter about shooting.”

What’s even better is this team is young and they’re already buying into Huggins’ coaching early in their collegiate careers which opens up so much opportunity for the future.

But, let’s focus on the present. Huggins hasn’t done this alone, and credit has to be given to seniors Juwan Staten and Gary Brown too.

These are two players who bought in long before this season. Staten after transferring from Dayton became the face of the program and has grown so much since his first season with the West Virginia and the same can be said for Browne who maybe doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done.

“I try not to think about it because I get emotional,” said Huggins when asked what it was like to not see his seniors play on senior day.

On senior day this pat weekend, Huggins was indeed emotional. Staten and Browne shared a hug with Huggins as they walked the carpet one last time and both shed tears while wrapping their arms around their coach.

These two have helped bring a young team together and they’re playing with passing. They’re playing with a purpose. They’re playing for each other.

Huggins has made them this way and while his coaching style is aggressive — it works if you listen. It’s no secret, you can see how boisterous Huggins is while he coaches on the sidelines. He also a straight-shooter in press conferences and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.

The key, though is having the right crop of individuals who will accept his coaching methods. His 30 plus years of coaching and 700 plus wins has given him a Hall of Fame resume and it only continues to grow.

Huggins deserves to be the Big 12 coach of the year for what he’s done with such young team and what they’ve accomplished in such a rugged conference.

Behind the yelling, swearing, and West Virginia pullover, there’s a coach who knows the game of basketball and a coach who represents the state of West Virginia like no other.

For future Mountaineer basketball players who will have the privilege to player under Huggins, “buy in” as soon as you decide you want to be a Mountaineer. You can learn a lot from Huggins.