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November 3, 2006

Big 12 gets ready for some new blood

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Rivals.com selected the top 25 storylines for the upcoming 2006-07 college basketball season and will be releasing articles daily, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 5 storyline centers around the six new head coaches in the Big 12.

Call it a coincidence. Call it timing. Call it the combination of several factors. Just make sure you call the number of coaching changes in the Big 12 this past offseason extraordinarily rare.

Six new coaches were hired, covering half the programs in the league. It's actually seven if you count Colorado's Ricardo Patton, who two weeks ago announced he would step down at the end of the season.

That's one short of the five other major conferences combined. The 16-team Big East underwent three coaching changes, the Pac-10 had two, and the ACC, Big Ten, and SEC each had one apiece.

Just a season ago, the Big 12 was a model of stability. Every coach was coming back, many with long-term contract extensions.

Now, it's full of variety of new faces on the sidelines.

There's the big-name catch at Kansas State, where the Wildcats lured the fiery Bob Huggins in late March. It was unclear how many programs would be interested in Huggins. While the former Cincinnati coach has a résumé that includes 500-plus wins and 14 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, his players also have a long history of getting involved in off-the-court incidents. Huggins himself has a DUI arrest, which ultimately cost him his job at Cincinnati.

But Huggins has already had a tremendous impact at K-State. Even with little time to work, Huggins and his staff managed to put together one of the Big 12's top incoming recruiting classes. They've also landed a pair of top-10 recruits from the class of 2007. Top-ranked Michael Beasley committed in July, and Bill Walker (No. 7) has already enrolled and is expected to be eligible in mid-December.

K-State also announced on Wednesday that it has sold out all season-ticket packages for the first time since 1982-83.

At Missouri, Mike Anderson represents the little guy who is finally getting his chance on the big stage. Anderson's name surfaced in several major coaching searches in recent years. He guided UAB to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including an upset of top-seeded Kentucky on the way to the Sweet 16 in 2004.

Nebraska's Doc Sadler and Iowa State's Greg McDermott are the latest wave of hot-shots to arrive from the mid-major ranks. Sadler - a Billy Gillispie protégé - went 48-18 in his two years at UTEP, guiding the Miners to the NCAA Tournament in his first season. McDermott took Northern Iowa to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

There is a legend being replaced at Oklahoma State - with little surprise. Sean Sutton takes over for his father, Eddie Sutton. Sean, who played and coached under his father at OSU, was named the designate head coach in 2004. He coached the final 10 games of last season on an interim basis.

The one surprising choice is Jeff Capel, who at just 31 was handed the reins at Oklahoma. He'll open his tenure with the loss of scholarships and some recruiting restrictions due to violations that occurred under previous coach Kelvin Sampson, who bolted for Indiana.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding each hire, they have created a tremendous amount of interest and intrigue in the Big 12.

Can Huggins get K-State into the NCAA Tournament? Can he turn the Wildcats into a national power? Will Anderson's style of play work in the Big 12? What will Oklahoma State be like without Eddie Sutton? How long will it take for Sadler and McDermott to turn around their programs? Was Capel the right choice for OU?

Those all rank among the biggest questions for the upcoming season.

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