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Bohls: Mr. Bubble examines futures of Texas, Big 12 basketball

Kirk Bohls
Austin American-Statesman
  • Shaka Smart has had an outstanding season, but must erase speculation on his job in NCAA tourney.
  • Baylor's Scott Drew has to be the most under-rated coach in America.
  • Could the lack of a 2021 title, coupled with NCAA investigation, forecast a slide for Jayhawks?

It’s that time again.

Mr. Bubble annually raises his ugly head this time of year, and no pandemic or winter blizzard or gubernatorial mandate will stop that, much to many readers’ chagrin.

Before we begin, we must pay our respects to the demise of — or at least the rebranding to become more gender-neutral — Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. They were good people. Always loved the Mr.’s pipe and mustache.

In the name of good-natured cheer and lightheartedness, Mr. Bubble answers his mail bag while struggling with the idea that Duke will not be in the NCAA Tournament after pulling out of the ACC shindig because of COVID-19 issues. Just who will get the favorable whistle from the refs at crunch time now?

By the way, when will someone start marketing a Mr. Bubble Bobblehead? It’s a natural. Or would it be a Mr. Bobble Bubblehead? I’m confused. Whatever.

So, onward.

Just which way are the Longhorns headed? Coach Shaka Smart can probably end speculation about his job security by winning at least two games in the NCAA Tournament.

Mr Bubble,

Texas is a lock for the field in this year’s NCAA Tournament as a 3 or 4 seed — we’re talking major breakthrough here, kind of like Adam Sandler getting nominated for an Oscar — and the Longhorns are looking phenomenal, except when they’re not. They did take a three-game win streak, all coming on the road, into their first Big 12 Tournament game against Texas Tech. But is Shaka Smart safe to return next year after a really strong regular season?

— Signed, C.D. Conte

Excellent question, CD. Boy, you get right to it, don’t you? We’ll put it this way. 

Shaka’s had one helluva year but still finished only tied for third in the league. He’s got enough talent to get to the Final Four but enough baggage and dependence on three guards to pucker up and lose in the first round. He’s got potential lottery picks in Kai Jones and maybe Greg Brown and another possible NBA talent in Jericho Sims, but he’s had lottery picks three years before and still has not won an NCAA Tournament game.

He’s got a team that can cut down the nets in Indianapolis, but an average recruiting class without a superstar and possibly a very thin roster next season. See, for every bit of good news, there’s some bad news to report.

The safe answer is he’s still very much on the hot seat and, should he lose his first-round NCAA game, he might well receive his walking papers. Win two games or more, and it might be hello, extension. I’m betting Shaka’s back next season.

Mr. Bubble,

Say Shaka doesn’t survive. Which three head coaches would you go after, if you were Chris Del Conte?

— Signed, J. Hartzell

Well, Jay, my top three candidates, in order, would be Texas Tech coach and Texas home boy Chris Beard, Illinois coach Brad Underwood and Alabama coach Nate Oats.

There’d be huge obstacles to luring any of them to Austin. Doubt Texas could afford any of them.

Beard’s got it going full throttle in Lubbock, has already come within a whisker of a national championship before falling to Virginia in overtime and is a threat to win it every year. He’s at a place where he can win big and do so with little scrutiny and no pressure, but then he’s also Candidate No. 1 at every place under the sun with a head coaching vacancy. So why leave unless a Kansas or North Carolina is calling?

Underwood, a former coach at Sam Houston State, is excelling at Illinois and can make a deep run this year with a team seeded on the first two lines. His buyout approaches $8 million, and he just got an extension. Same for Oats, who's rumored to be the successor to John Calipari at Kentucky at some point and has a $10.5 million buyout for any suitors.

After those three, it’s a very shallow pool. Arkansas’ Eric Musselman ($2.5 million salary) might be a consideration.

Baylor coach Scott Drew, holding up the net during the celebration of the Big 12 regular-season championship Sunday, is the most underrated coach in America, Kirk Bohls says.

Hey, Bubbles,

Past the top three seeds in the Big 12, which of the rest could you foresee making a deep run?

— Signed, A. Katz

Well, Katzman, I’m going to go with No. 4 seed West Virginia despite its loss to Oklahoma State on Thursday. I’m always in on all things Bob Huggins, the best coach in college basketball who’s not yet in the Naismith Hall of Fame despite his 899 wins. He transformed the Mountaineers into an offensive machine this year despite the loss of his best big man, 6-foot-9 Oscar Tshiebwe, who transferred to Kentucky.

It’s not a normal defensively strong club, but they can fill up the basket. Did you see the fireworks of Deuce McBride, the former Cincinnati Moeller quarterback who took three charges Thursday? 


Which coach did the best job in the Big 12?

— Signed, B Bowlsby

Ordinarily I’d go with the guy who won the title, and Scott Drew, I’m on the record, is the most underrated coach in America. He does more with less than anybody else.

Did you know that his Baylor team has no player ranked higher than No. 59 in the 247Sports composite rankings, that being Auburn transfer Davion Mitchell? Texas, in fact, started this season with eight players whose recruiting rankings were better than 59th. After Drew, I love the job Mike Boynton did in raising Oklahoma State’s profile with one star player and building on that with his seventh win in the last eight games.

Mr. Bubble,

Sir, are you any relation to Michael Buble?

— Signed, Talent Scout

Don’t I wish. I love his music. We are not related, but the Canadian singer actually went by Mickey Bubbles as a child entertainer, swear to God. And my voice is often mistaken for his until I get out of the shower.

Texas' Vic Schaefer has had a successful season in terms of turning the women's basketball program's culture around. But will the Longhorns taste any NCAA Tournament success in his first season?

Hey, B-man,

What would you say constitutes a good season for Vic Schaefer and a great season?

— Signed, C. Plonsky

To tell you the truth, he’s probably already had a good season in establishing his culture, but he really needs to win a game in the NCAA Tournament for a true success. A Sweet 16 run would be gold for him.

He’s milked the most out of this offensively challenged roster and is showing he’ll be a worthy challenger to Kim Mulkey with the No. 4 recruiting class, although he might be hurting in the frontcourt. The current Longhorns never know where their next basket is coming from, but they lead the league in floor burns.

More:Texas State removes Johnson's interim tag, elevates him to men's basketball coach

Mr. B,

Did Charli Collier make a rash decision to leave school before her senior year?

— Signed, C. Collier's tax accountant

Absolutely not. Collier’s not going to draw mega-checks in the WNBA and is almost certain to wind up in Dallas since it has I’m pretty sure all but two of the first-round picks.

The average salary for the WNBA last year was $100,658. Some of the highest-profile players can make $221,000 while rookies make $68,000 tops. But you go to college to learn a trade or polish your skills, and the Texas center has done plenty of both.

Mr. Bubble,

If you were Scott Drew, would you be tempted to take a higher-profile job?

— Signed, M. Rhoades

Chill, Mack. I’ll be stunned if Drew leaves. He’s not an NBA-style coach. He could land a job at a more marquee (i.e., a basketball school like Indiana), but don’t tell me Baylor hasn’t evolved into a basketball school. And he’s shown he can recruit well to Waco, hasn’t needed five-star players to win big and could stay put for forever.

He’s redshirting 6-9 center Dain Dainja out of Minneapolis and has the eighth-ranked national recruiting class, which includes 6-8 small forward Kendall Brown (15th nationally) and 6-4 shooting guard Langston Love (34th).

More:Bohls: Shaka Smart supports Texas players' protest, involvement over alma mater

Heya, Bubbles,

So, is Houston for real?

— Signed, K Sampson

As real as real gets. The seventh-ranked Cougars (21-3) might not have played the best competition, having beaten just one NCAA Tournament-bound opponent, but they are a very aggressive team that plays great defense. Thirteen of their wins come from Quads 3 and 4. Love Kelvin Sampson’s style. Just not sure if Houston has enough offense to advance too far.

Mr. Bubble,

Same for Gonzaga, B-dude. Does a weak West Coast Conference diminish its chances at all?

— Signed, M. Few

Hardly. Sure, its league will only get two bids with it and BYU, but the Zags are 26-0 with a 14-0 mark against Quads 1 and 2 opponents. Many of those victims, including Kansas, Iowa, West Virginia and Virginia, came early in the season, but with studs like Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert projected as top-10 lottery picks, this team has earned the No. 1 seed in the bracket.

Mr. Ubble-bay,

Could this be the beginning of a slide for Kansas basketball?

— Signed, L Miles

It wouldn’t shock me. The NCAA investigation looms large over the Jayhawks. We’ve seen the damage it did to North Carolina, which has struggled relatively to land future lottery picks. Kansas has some nice players in its current recruiting class, including power forward K.J. Adams of Westlake, but its three players in this crop rated a lowly 23rd in the nation. Could Bill Self jump to the NBA?