The nation noticed when Texas won at North Carolina in December, and lots of people, including yours truly, wrote about how Rick Barnes might be on his way to removing himself from the so-called hot seat. The Longhorns were, at the time, 10-1 and on a six-game winning streak. But they then dropped three of their next four, including a home game to Oklahoma, and everybody seemed to move on.
Now we're back, though.
That's the result of UT's current winning streak that was extended to five games on Saturday afternoon with a 74-60 win at No. 24 Baylor that doubled as the Longhorns' third consecutive victory over a school ranked in the current Associated Press poll. Before this, Texas beat No. 22 Kansas State. Before that, Texas beat No. 16 Iowa State. So the Longhorns will have a chance next Saturday against No. 8 Kansas to become just the second team since 1997 to win four straight games over ranked opponents.
How about that?
"I guess I went from being dumb to being smart," Barnes said after Saturday's game.
That's a nice quote. Classic Barnes. But, in fairness, the questions surrounding Barnes were never questions about whether he's smart or dumb, or at least those were never my concerns. My concerns were always rooted in the fact that his program had slipped in recent years, and that recruiting -- especially in-state recruiting -- has turned inexplicably bad. Consequently, the Longhorns finished seventh in the Big 12 and missed the NCAA tournament last season, and they were picked to finish eighth in the 10-school league this season. That is, simply put, unacceptable for a program of UT's stature, and that's why most assumed Texas athletic director Steve Patterson would spend this March or April nudging Barnes into retirement the same way he recently nudged iconic football coach Mack Brown into retirement.
On paper, things did not look good.
But the great thing about each college basketball season is that some coaches always do more with some rosters than anybody expected, and, at the moment, Barnes is one of those coaches. Truth be told, I'm hesitant to applaud him for "doing more with less" because the Texas coach should never have to do more with less. The Texas coach should always be doing more with more because the Texas coach should always have more than most given the resources and recruiting base, which means there are things that must be addressed within the program after this season regardless of how this season ends.
But that's another column for another day.
The column for this day is a column about how Barnes will enter next weekend's showdown with Kansas with a 16-4 record overall, a 5-2 record in the Big 12, and, unless voters mess up, a national ranking in both major polls, all of which leads me to a fascinating question: Can you put a Big 12 Coach of the Year trophy on top of a hot seat?