KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At long last, the Mr. Bubble column returns.
Whether you like it or not.
Sorry if it makes you cringe, we’re duty-bound to scribble out the annual essay that addresses all the major issues of the day pertaining to that round hoop.
So plunge ahead at your own risk or go get a pedi.
Mr. Bubble, let’s get right to the crux of the situation. Is Shaka Smart safe even if he doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament? — SS
SS, yes, he is, for a variety of reasons — say, 13 million reasons — and Texas was still being listed as an NCAA Tournament team, largely because of a 27th ranking on kenpom.com with a national strength of schedule ranking of 13th. But also whom would Chris Del Conte in good conscience safely hire to follow him in light of FBI wiretaps and subpoenas and runners for agents (read: LSU). CDC vehemently scolded me in early November when I wrote Smart was on the hot seat. He desperately wants Smart to succeed. If he does pull the trigger next year, the likeliest candidates would be Texas Tech’s Chris Beard, a UT alum who I think would be very interested; former Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, who stands to make $5 million in Chicago Bulls buyout money next year; Michigan’s John Beilein, perhaps the cleanest coach in America; and Virginia’s clean-cut, buttoned-down Tony Bennett, who finally has discovered offense. Second-tier candidates could include Houston’s Kelvin Sampson, a personal favorite who nevertheless did get Oklahoma and Indiana on probation for excessive phone calls; Gonzaga’s Mark Few; and TCU’s Jamie Dixon. Don’t have any strong sense yet if any of them would come.
Hey, Bubs: OK, so we know Smart’s coming back, but is Jaxson Hayes? — Mr. Hayes’ accountant
Mr. HA, don’t bet the ranch on it. Sure, we know he’s not ready. None of the NBA draftees are ready for that league, but did you see that Zion Williamson ripped through his Nikes and could have ripped up his entire career. Money carryout on Aisle 2.
I asked Jaxson that very question up here at the Big 12 tournament on Wednesday. The freshman from Cincinnati gave out the obligatory answer about talking to his parents, his coaches, his priest, his paperboy, his whomever. He said he loves Smart. When I asked if he loved him enough to come back next year, he said, “Yeah.”
Then, Hayes iterated that he intently follows the NBA, used to love the Cavs when a certain legend played there and now says his closer allegiances lie with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Pelicans. Asked if he plans to be the next Anthony Davis, Hayes said, “I hope so.”
Of course, he also said Smart “is a great coach and people don’t give him enough credit.” Asked why there haven’t been more wins then, he said, “I couldn’t tell you why.” We can’t either.
Mr B, should Texas Tech be a top seed and is there any chance Chris Beard is the next Longhorns head coach? — K. Hocutt
Mr. Hocutt, can I call you Kirbs? I think Tech is deserving of a top seed and a No. 2 at the very least and could replace LSU, given it’s the Big 12 co-champion and hotter than Kansas State. A 3 is more likely. I’d say Texas Tech can breathe easy for a while. I don’t think Beard is going anywhere soon and just might stick around in Lubbock long enough to see his eighth-grade daughter graduate from high school and then possibly bolt for a Kentucky or some such marquee program.
He has already shown he can win as big at Texas Tech — or bigger — than at Texas without all the political potholes and hurdles. But do not rule out Texas. Beard’s the next Bill Self.
Mr. Bubble, on a side note, are you any relation to Michael Buble?
No, but I’d tell you I’m a pretty darn good singer in the shower. Just add soap and water.
Back to hoops, does Texas pass the eye test as an NCAA Tournament team? — C.D. Conte
Uh, what do you think? They don’t pass the eye test, the smell test or any test anyone can come up with. Yes, they beat three conference champions in North Carolina, Purdue and Kansas State, but all three of those wins came on or way, way before Jan. 2. Unless they were to capture a win or two in this Big 12 tournament, I’d say it’s NIT, baby.
Yo, Bubba, give me a bubble team you could make the best case for getting in the Dance. — J. Dixon
Well, it’s probably TCU. Yeah, the Horned Frogs barely survived the feisty Oklahoma State Cowboys and then fell to Kansas State on Thursday. Sure they went 0-6 against the Big 12’s top tier of KSU, Texas Tech and Kansas, but they swept Iowa State and Texas and play hard. I love senior point guard Alex Robinson, explosive Desmond Bane, physical Kevin Samuel and rugged Kouat Noi. The Frogs should be one of next year’s contenders. I’m not sure I get OU’s chances, but I’m high on teams like Seton Hall (wins over Kentucky, Maryland and Villanova) and 19-game winner Clemson, which fell to North Carolina State late Wednesday night and hast lost more close games than Texas.
Mr. B, is there any chance Texas could be much, much improved next season? — C.D. Conte
Hey, didn’t you already have a question. You’re persistent.
OK, to be fair, yes, there is the potential for drastic improvement. The core could — emphasis on could — return if Hayes says no to the NBA, which isn’t likely. But if it did, Smart would have a strong front court with Hayes and incoming freshmen like 7-footer Will Baker and explosive Kai Jones with Royce Hamm getting better. Point guard Matt Coleman would return as a junior as would gunner Jase Febres and terrific swing guard Courtney Ramey and swingman Kam Hepa. But, hey, could it be any worse than 16-15?