It’s particularly arduous this year because half the teams in the conference have new young coaches with little head coaching experience in major conferences. One of these baby faces could be the next Hank Iba or Phog Allen, but there's just no way of telling that right now.
Regardless, I've tried to rank these men objectively. I'm sure some of you will disagree. So take a look at the list below, and feel free send to me your comments, nasty or otherwise.
#1 Bob Knight (Texas Tech Red Raiders)
Love him or hate him, this is a no-brainer. With the retirement of Eddie Sutton, Knight is the only true coaching legend left in the league. Though his three national championships and 662 wins at Indiana seem a lifetime ago, Knight's immediate success at Texas Tech solidifies him as one of the top five college coaches ever. In his first season with the Red Raiders (2001-02), Tech won 23 games and tied for third place in the conference. And in 2005, the Red Raiders made the Sweet Sixteen and were dangerously close to advancing to the round of eight. The year prior to Knight's arrival in Lubbock, the Red Raiders finished 11th in the Big 12 with just nine wins. Enough said.
#2 Bill Self (Kansas Jayhawks)
Regardless of first round ousters to Bucknell (2005) and Bradley (2006), Bill Self is one of the best young coaches in basketball, and this year's Jayhawks are easily one of the nation's three best teams heading into action. Self has taken three different teams (Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas) to the Elite Eight, and is probably the best recruiter in the game, save Coach K. Junior reserve center C.J. Giles was recently removed from the team for what Self described as "personal issues." And yet the 'Hawks are so deep they won’t miss him. Star freshmen Sherron Collins and Darrell Arthur add even more depth to the lineup of Kaun, Wright, Chalmers, Robinson and Rush. If Self can successfully coach this talented bundle of youth to a national championship, his place in history among Kansas coaching legends is assured.
#3 Rick Barnes (Texas Longhorns)
Ever since his days at Clemson, Rick Barnes has always been a fighter. Who can forget Barnes nearly coming to blows with Dean Smith during the 1995 ACC Tournament? Pretty gutsy stuff for a young coach to stand up to the beloved godfather of Carolina hoops. But that's the kind of feistiness that has defined Barnes throughout his career. In his eight years at Texas, Barnes has taken Longhorn basketball to a level of prominence that only the school's football program has known. With a Final Four, Elite Eight and three Sweet Sixteens to boot, Barnes is a phenomenal recruiter, and has time and again proven he can win despite being decimated by the NBA draft. The premature departures of LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker to the NBA seem like a massive blow. But this is the norm at Texas, and Barnes always manages to reload. This year Kevin Durant and Damion James, two of the nation's most highly touted frosh, are wearing burnt orange.
#4 Billy Gillispie (Texas A&M Aggies)
He's only been a college head coach for a short while, but Billy Gillispie has already proven himself one of the brightest young minds in the game. Gillispie's two year stint as head coach at UTEP marked one of the biggest revivals in college basketball history. In his initial season (2002-03) at UTEP, the Miners won just six games. The following year, they went 24-6. In 2004 Gillispie was hired to revive Texas A&M, which had finished the previous season with just seven wins overall, and none in the Big 12. In his first season at College Station, Gillispie and the Aggies went 21-10. Last year they went 21-8 and made the NCAA Tourney, losing by just a point to Final Four bound LSU. This year A&M is picked to finish just behind Kansas in conference and will be ranked in the Top 10 as the season gets underway. There isn't a better turnaround story in Division I basketball.
#5 Bob Huggins (Kansas State Wildcats)
Given the hype surrounding Bob Huggins' arrival at Kansas State, some might feel Huggie Bear is deserving of a ranking better than fifth. Fair enough. He's a very good coach. But he's yet to coach a single season in the Big 12. If he can immediately reverse the slide in Manhattan and get the 'Cats back to the Big Dance, he'll have proved his mettle. Everybody knows that Huggins can recruit with the best of them. He proved that this off-season by landing much sought after forward Michael Beasley, and consensus top 50 player Jason Bennett, a 7-foot-3 goliath of a center. But what remains to be seen is whether Huggins can achieve the same success in the Big 12 that he did in Conference USA. His 16-year record at Cincinnati speaks for itself: 399 wins, 10 conference titles, two Elite Eights and a Final Four. Now he gets the chance to do the same in a major conference, but with a school not exactly rich with basketball tradition.
#6 Scott Drew (Baylor Bears)
The numbers (just 21 wins in three seasons) don't
tell the whole story here. The situation Scott Drew entered when he was named
head coach at Baylor three years ago was bleak. The aftermath of the Dave Bliss
scandal put the Bears on probation until 2010, making the Baylor gig one of the
most unattractive coaching jobs in the country. Against all odds Drew has proven
himself a recruiting mastermind. For the past three seasons Drew hasn't been
able field a team with more than 10 scholarship players. Yet by signing three
straight national top 20 recruiting classes, and overachieving with tremendously
hamstrung teams, he's already begun to lay the foundation for a bright
future. This year the Bears finally have a full roster, which includes junior
Aaron Bruce, sophomores Mamadou Diene and Curtis Jerrells, and what
Rivals.com calls the nation's No. 17 recruiting class -- freshmen Tweety
Carter, Josh Lomers and Penny Thiam.
#7 Mike Anderson (Missouri Tigers)
While there was little fanfare when Missouri picked UAB's Mike Anderson to replace Quinn Snyder, the hiring was a substantial move and will have Mizzou flying under the radar and surprising some folks. In Anderson's four years at UAB, he made three NCAA appearances, including a Sweet 16. Anderson has the same "40 minutes of hell" philosophy as his mentor, former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, and his Tigers had better be in condition to play this kind of ball. Anderson will have to cope with a pretty thin bench due to the defections of Snyder recruits Chris Singletary and Ty Morrison, as well as the absence of sharpshooter Thomas Gardner, who foolishly entered the NBA Draft after last season. But Mizzou fans frustrated by the "live and die by the three" approach of Snyder's teams, will be delighted with the change in tempo Anderson brings to both ends of the floor.
#8 Greg McDermott (Iowa State Cyclones)
This will be Greg McDermott's first year coaching Iowa State, but Cyclones fans and just about everyone else in the state, know exactly what to expect because they watched him rebuild the Northern Iowa program for the past five seasons. There he made gradual improvements, culminating last year with a 23-10 record and third straight birth in the NCAA Tournament. McDermott, like many other mid-major coaches entering power conferences, is hard to rank because we haven't regularly seen him in regular action against heavyweights. No one can dispute the job he did at Northern Iowa, but it will be interesting to see how he fares against the likes of Kansas and Texas.
#9 Sean Sutton (Oklahoma State Cowboys)
Officially, 2006-07 will be Sean Sutton's first year as head coach of the Cowboys. In reality, he's been gradually assuming the reigns from his old man for some time now. His dad prepared him for the job by letting him run practices and manage games. And when Eddie Sutton took a leave of absence last February, Sean took over, and it appeared to be a natural fit, as he coached the Cowboys to an emotional upset over #6 Texas. Now that the job is really his, it will be interesting to see how the team responds to him, and whether he can meet the expectations of his father and OSU fans.
#10 Doc Sadler (Nebraska Cornhuskers)
Like Billy Gillispie before him, Doc Sadler had a short but accomplished tenure at UTEP (2004-06) where he went 48-18 and made two postseason appearances. His work is cut out for him at Nebraska where he inherits a program which hasn't been competitive in recent years and will always play second fiddle to NU football (They play basketball in an arena named after Bob Devaney for crying out loud!). In order to succeed at Nebraska, Sadler will have to be unconventional and rely heavily on junior college players, and has already received a commitment from a very good one: Chinese standout forward Shang Ping from Illinois Central College.
#11 Jeff Capel (Oklahoma Sooners)
Was there anybody not surprised when OU hired Jeff Capel to replace Kelvin Sampson? When athletic directors go looking for coaching candidates, word of mouth often rules the day. And the word OU kept getting back was that this kid is a winner and worth the risk. Capel, a 31-year-old former Duke standout and head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, leap-frogged several levels in what appears to be a very bright coaching future. In four years at VCU, Capel won an amazing 79 games and lead the Rams to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in eight years. This will be a rebuilding year for Oklahoma, and Capel's first test will be dealing with criticism that he's too young and in over his head.
#12 Ricardo Patton (Colorado Buffaloes)
Entering his 11th season as head coach of the Buffaloes, Ricardo Patton has the longest tenure of any active Big 12 coach. Patton's decade at the helm has largely been one of mediocrity. He's had two 20-win seasons, made the NCAA Tournament just twice, and been to the NIT only three times. Maybe it's because of Boulder's altitude, but CU has actually been a decent home team in recent years. But their inability to win on the road has kept them from postseason play on several occasions. Patton has one of the most exciting players in the country in junior guard Richard Roby, and the Buffaloes are expected to do something this year. Patton recently announced that this would be his last season, but there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have lasted beyond this year anyways.