Bob Huggins is no stranger to conference realignment.
Just over a decade before the Big 12 Conference is set to add UCF, Cincinnati, BYU and Houston in 2023, Huggins and West Virginia made their own move to the league from the Big East. That move was a culture shock for the Mountaineers as they looked to adjust to their new style of basketball.
“When [Big 12 officials] started blowing the whistle calling fouls, we were all wondering what was going on, because they didn’t call any in the Big East,” Huggins said. “I think probably [former Pitt, current TCU coach] Jamie [Dixon] went through the same thing. It was more basketball and less roller derby. I think that was the biggest thing.”
Huggins did have some experience in the Big 12 before the move with West Virginia. His short stint at Kansas State from 2006 to 2007 gave him a tour of the conference, so he knew all of the opposing venues.
Similarly, Huggins has quite the familiarity with one of WVU’s future conference foes. Huggins had a high-profile tenure at Cincinnati, coaching the Bearcats from 1989 to 2005, leading the program to a eight conference tournament championships, 10 regular season conference championships and a Final Four — all while earning the title of C-USA Coach of the Decade.
“It’s a great place to go, it’s a great town. The Shoemaker Center [now Fifth Third Arena] is really a good place to play, they’ve got a great fanbase,” Huggins said. “I think they will certainly fit in to what we have going here now. It’s a basketball town, they’re making it a football town, but it’s a basketball town.”
Beyond that, though, Huggins hasn’t thought much about the future. He’d rather focus on winning his first Big 12 title, and with nine years in the league under his belt, he knows how difficult that is.
Coaching, to him, is what makes the Big 12 such a tough league to play in, from top to bottom. Even with the departure of big names like Shaka Smart and Lon Kruger, he says, it always seems athletic directors bring in a comparable replacement to make it hard.
Huggins has played in several leagues in his four decades of coaching, but the Big 12, he says, is the first in which you cannot look down on any single opponent.
“I’ve been in leagues where you look down there before the game, and I told my assistant one time we were playing this team…and he kept saying to me how concerned about how good their players were. And I said, ‘Well, if you get real nervous, look at that fat guy in the suit down there. It’ll make you feel better,'” “We just don’t have that, but there are leagues like that, you know, guys that just go out and recruit and get really good players but don’t coach them much. That’s not the case here, they go out and they get really good players, and they coach them really good.”