“I think that when it’s 92-92, and you look up at the clock and there’s 1:50 left, that [building a culture] goes to a different place outside of exclusively execution. I think that when…somebody’s shooting a free throw, and you [as a coach] can look across at somebody and have some level of trust and symmetry, that matters. I’ve seen it.” – Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown on The Lowe Post podcast
The University of Texas will always be a football school, no matter what its basketball program manages to accomplish. That’s terrific news for Shaka Smart, whose utter ineptitude and perennial underperformance has flown under the radar.
To say the once-renowned head coach has disappointed in Austin would be an understatement. Despite boasting NBA talent on an annual basis, the ‘Horns have oscillated between adequate and awful for the entirety of his four-year tenure.
Fresh off a 65-57 defeat at the hands of Kansas in the opening round of the Big 12 Conference Tournament*, Texas boasts a 16-16 overall record that perfectly embodies the lifeless mediocrity Smart has brought to this program. The Longhorns “earned” a 2-seed in the NIT for their efforts; meanwhile, former Texas coach Rick Barnes’ Tennessee Vols earned a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
When a school boasts some of the nation’s premier talent and is paying its head coach the 11th-highest salary in the country, failing to make the Big Dance in 2 out of 4 Shaka seasons is unacceptable. Smart has failed to a dazzling degree on The Forty Acres, and if the athletic department cared about the program in any meaningful way, he would’ve been gone yesterday.
*Note: Star center and projected lottery pick Jaxson Hayes went down with an ugly knee injury late in the Kansas game. Hayes appeared to be tearing up as trainers examined his ACL/MCL. It was a devastating end to a beautiful freshman season for the 18-year old, and we can only pray that, like Zion Williamson’s injury, it isn’t too serious and won’t impact his career long-term.
Recruiting Prowess versus On-court Performance
Talent is the most important barometer for success at any level. Nobody is confusing John Calipari for John Wooden, but the former’s Belfort-like recruiting makes him statistically one of the greatest coaches ever.
That said, here’s the shortlist of programs that have lured top-10 recruiting classes in each of the past three seasons: Texas, Duke and Kentucky.
Let’s compare results over that span:
|Overall Record||Conference Record||Conference Titles||NCAA Tournament Record|
Woof. These universities have accumulated more talent than anyone else the last few years; two are yearly national title threats (with eerily similar records, by the way), while the third is either irrelevant or a laughingstock, depending on who you ask.
Smart can point to the recruiting trend as evidence that he’s “building something” — that would be false. The ‘Horns figure to lose arguably their top three players in the offseason (Jaxson Hayes to the NBA; Kerwin Roach II and Dylan Osetkowski to graduation) and the current reserves, other than Courtney Ramey, don’t instill confidence that they can fill the shoes. This season, which is bad, could be the best it’s going to be for a little while.
Unprecedented Late-Game Collapses
As poor as the results are, the eye test is worse. We have a running joke here that Texas needs a 15-point halftime cushion just to have a chance. The Smart-led ‘Horns consistently come out of halftime flat and fail to close out games.
Consider: over the past two seasons, the ‘Horns have blown a halftime lead and lost 11 seperate times; they’ve come back from a halftime deficit to win just twice. This season, Texas fans have witnessed seven halftime leads go poof and zero halftime comebacks.
Not surprisingly, the majority of the disasters have come when it matters most. Last year, Smart fumbled away a 14-point lead against then #1 Duke, blew leads in key conference games against Baylor and Oklahoma State, and finally choked away another 14-point advantage against Nevada in the NCAA Tournament.
Early in this season, Texas took a commanding 36-21 first half lead over powerhouse Michigan State; the Spartans then outscored Texas 42-24 in a predictable second half debacle that resulted in another L. They also blew halftime advantages in home games against almighty Radford (a disgusting loss that probably kept them out of the Tournament) and in conference clashes versus Texas Tech, Kansas and K-State. Most damningly, on Feb 28 against Baylor in a crucial game for Texas’ Tourney hopes, the team lost after leading 55-36 with 14:57 left. That’s right — a 19-point lead with 15 minutes left. The degree of late-game ineptitude is almost impossible.
There’s a nervous energy in general with the Longhorns — while some coaches inspire confidence in players, Smart inspires hesitancy and confusion. In program-defining games against Duke, Nevada and Michigan State, the team blew a 14+ point lead in every one. In said Baylor game, the cushion was 19. Not only does Texas under Smart fold like a plastic chair when it matters most, but they do it in devastating, debilitating fashion.
The ‘Horns have the talent to compete with anyone in the country, but also a head coach who’s a 100-pound barbell wrapped around their ankles. While it’s hard to rip a man of Shaka Smart’s character, he’s just an awful coach who’s torpedoed the college basketball experience for myself and other Texas fans. While the program has obvious potential, the ceiling is capped as long as Smart is roaming the burnt orange sidelines.