I am one of the legions of displaced sports fans in America. I grew up in Colorado and Kansas, and my first affinity in college athletics is for the Big 12. Well, technically, it was for the Big 8, because the league was still called that when I was at Kansas, but I think the additions of the Texas schools have just made things more interesting year in and year out.
Anyway, even in a big-time league like the Big 12, one sees new basketball coaches just about every other year. This year is no different, with three new faces in the mix. Let’s take a look at the new guys: where they came from, who they replaced, and their prospects for the upcoming year.
Frank Martin – Kansas State Wildcats: “The course we charted a year ago resulted in some wonderful accomplishments,” university president Jon Wefald said.
The rest of us see it as Bob Huggins being Bob Huggins. He swooped in, got the state pumped for a long run of successful basketball, and just as promptly left, signing with his alma mater, West Virginia. Huggins recruits tried to escape their commitments and play elsewhere, and the whole house of cards seemed to be tumbling down. So the trustees did the only thing they could – they hired mini-Huggins, in the person of Frank Martin.
Martin was a high school coach in Miami for fifteen years before getting his first assistant’s job at Northeastern University in 2000. He spent four years as a recruiter there before taking his talents to Cincinnati and the Huggins regime. When Huggins *ahem* left the Bearcats, Martin stuck with him, and that loyalty has paid off in his first head job at the age of 41.
The cupboard is not completely bare for Martin, thanks to K-State’s decision to play hardball with Huggins’ prized recruits. Prized freshmen Michael Beasley and Bill Walker are still on the roster, though they will likely remember to bring lube next time they sign a letter of intent. Senior forward David Hoskins is good for about 12 points a game, but the four other upperclassmen on the Wildcat roster have very little playing time under their belts. They’ll go as far as the kids can take them, and I don’t think that’s going to be very far in the loaded Big XII.
Jeff Bzdelik – Colorado: Hey, look at it this way: if CU doesn’t work out, there’s always Colorado State.
For denizens of the front range, Jeff Bzdelik’s face is almost as familiar as John Elway’s these days. He spent the first ten years of his career in unglamorous college jobs before making the big move to The Association in 1988. He was an assistant coach with Washington (when they were still the Bullets), New York, and Miami. He moved to Denver in 2001 and was handed the head job with the Nuggets in 2002. He turned the team around, but was fired nonetheless in 2004.
That led Buzz to Colorado Springs, where he took over the Air Force Academy and immediately put his mark on the team. He ratcheted up the defense to make up for a lack of blue-chip talent, and threw a serious scare into North Carolina in the 2004 NCAA tournament before succumbing to depth in the second half. His ability to win anywhere with defense attracted the interest of the University of Colorado, causing Bzdelik to drive up I-25 from one of the most conservative towns in the state to one of the most liberal. I hope you like jam bands and patchouli, coach.
Bzdelik should settle in and get comfortable, because he has the best job security in America, by my lights. Predecessor Ricardo Patton put in eleven years and amassed a middling 184-160 record and only three NCAA bids. And even then, he wasn’t fired, he stepped down “voluntarily” to become head coach at Northern Illinois. So, Bzdelik has a long leash in the People’s Republic of Boulder.
He’ll be rebuilding, with mostly freshmen and sophomores, which is probably fine with him. However, his team lacks beef, as ESPN’s roster page lists all five incoming freshmen with no height or weight. They’ll probably bring up the rear in the Big XII North, but Bzdelik will absolutely improve the Buffaloes defense, and get them on the right track.
Mark Turgeon – Texas A&M: I was tempted to say that Turgeon is no stranger to the Big XII, but that’s not true. During his playing days at Kansas under Larry Brown, A&M was a member of the now-defunct Southwest Conference. Still, Turgeon will know what it takes to compete at this level. He was an assistant coach for KU in 1988 when Danny and the Miracles won it all.
Turgeon steps into the most enviable position of the three men listed here. Texas A&M is poised for another great season with the players recruited by Billy Gillespie, who is now head man at Kentucky.
Turgeon is no stranger to success. Despite a rough final year at Wichita State, he is still revered in Kansas for resurrecting the Shocker program. He had an incredible run in the 2006 NCAA tournament, taking his small school to the Sweet Sixteen. Sadly, the Shocker run ended when George Mason exercised their superior Cinderella mojo on them to move on to the round of eight. But Turgeon became a national name that year, and it was clear that he would be moving up despite a meaningful contract revision from WSU.
A&M looks good, with experienced players Dominique Kirk and Josh Carter returning to lead this year’s team. Acie Law is gone to the NBA, and trees Joseph Jones and Antanas Kavaliauskas have left a void in the middle, but something tells me Turgeon will know what to do with seven-foot freshman DeAndre Jordan, as well as three other players listed at 6’9″ on the roster. Elite size is a luxury he just couldn’t count on in his Missouri Valley days.
Turgeon has a nice balance of experience and youth, and his competitive fire will get things done in College Station. Look for the Aggies to be back in the Dance next March.
Out of these three men, only Martin is a wild card. Bzdelik and Turgeon are proven head men of good character. Martin is a true newbie in the head job with ties to one of the shadiest characters ever to vomit down the driver’s side door of a luxury automobile. He might keep Huggins’ recruits around, but will he win? Will he repeat Huggins’ freewheeling, lawless ways? K-State had better hope not. As the old saying goes – “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”.
For more college basketball coverage, check out Storming the Floor.