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Cal Basketball

Shaka Smart’s Seat Is Heating Up In Austin

October 7, 2019
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The last possible matchup for the Bears in this year’s 2K Empire Classic could be with the University of Texas Longhorns. And it’s the start of a big year for Texas Head Coach Shaka Smart. Now in his fifth season leading the Longhorns, Smart has added loads of four- and five-star recruits but has not turned the corner in putting a truly successful product on the court.

After a 20-13 and 11-7 conference record his first year, Smart has yet to produce another team with a winning conference record. Despite having arguably his best all-around team last year, the Longhorns still limped to an 8-10 Big 12 records and missed the tournament for the second time in the four years Smart has been in Austin. Despite making the NCAA Tourney twice under Smart, the Longhorns haven’t made it past the first round.

Last year, the Longhorns bowed out of the Big 12 conference tournament in the first round to Kansas and were left with a 16-16 record and it seemed like the writing was all but on the wall for Smart’s future in Austin. And then his Longhorns ripped off five straight games to win the NIT championship. Still, Texas isn’t known for its patience in allowing coaches to fully integrate their systems and players. And NIT championships won’t continue to cut it. This could be a big year for Smart’s future in Austin.

Texas Longhorns

Last season: 21-16 (8-10), KenPom No. 25

2020 Torvik Projections: 19-11 (10-8), No. 25

Head Coach: Shaka Smart

Let me be clear: I’m a massive Shaka Smart fan. His Havoc defense and uptempo teams at VCU were some of the most fun teams to watch. And the underdog status of VCU made them so easy to cheer for. I like a coach that gets animated on the sideline and plays with his players, and the young Smart did just that. It seemed only a matter of time before a program with deep pockets like Texas would come knocking. 

But despite having all of the resources that come with one of the biggest athletics budgets at a university in the country and multiple top-10 recruiting classes, Smart and the Longhorns have yet to compete for a conference title or produce a deep Tournament run.

While the defense has continued to be the main strength of Smart’s Texas teams, it’s in a very different way than at VCU. At VCU, Smart never had a team slower than 173rd in the country in possessions per game. At Texas, the Longhorns have never been faster than 212th. And three out of four of his teams have been ranked in the 300s for pace. Smart didn’t just let up off the gas pedal, he slammed on the breaks and is now your grandfather driving 35 in a 60-miles-per-hour zone.

What’s more, between 2012 and 2014, Smart’s VCU teams led the country in forced turnover percentage for three straight years. During his last season, they dipped to 11th, but still turned teams over at a clip of 23.6%. Between 2012 and 2014, opponents turned the ball over on more than a quarter of their possessions. So far at Texas, the best the Longhorns have produced is a turnover rate of 18.9% for 145th in the nation last season. It seems that Smart’s style at Texas has switched from the turnover-or-bust to doubling-down on defending shots. While at VCU, Smart never had a team finish better than 84th in opponents’ field goal percentage and at Texas, the Longhorns have never finished higher than 80th in the category.

On the other hand, Smart has produced some of his best offensive teams while at Texas, including last year’s team which finished 29th in KenPom’s offensive efficiency rankings last season, which was the second-highest of any Smart-coached team in his decade of head coaching. 

Key Returning Players:

Matt Coleman, 6-2, JR., 9.8 pts, 3.4 assts, 2.1 rbds

Courtney Ramey, 6-2, SO., 8.1 pts, 3.3 rbds, 3.1 assts

Jase Febres, 6-5, SO., 8.9 pts, 3.0 assts

The best news for Smart’s upcoming season is the backcourt. Texas will have two returning experienced former top-50 recruits in Matt Coleman and Courtney Ramey. Both are supreme ball handlers and playmakers and can play as lead guard or off the ball at the two. Throw in Jase Febres on the wing, and you’ve got some proven assets at the traditional three guard positions. 

Key Losses:

Kerwin Roach, 15.1 pts, 4.4 rbds, 3.3 assts

Dylan Osetkowski, 11.1 pts, 7.2 rbds

Jackson Hayes, 10.0 pts, 5.0 rbds

Unfortunately for Smart, he’s also losing his top-three scorers and rebounders from last year’s team, and besides Jericho Sims, his only proven frontcourt players. No doubt, replacing the production and size of all three of the players above will be a tall (pun intended) order for the Longhorns.

Key Incoming Players:

Will Baker, 7-0, 247Sports rank: No. 35

Kai Jones, 6-10, 247Sports rank: No. 51

And fortunately for Smart, this is Texas and you’re virtually guaranteed at least a couple top-50 players each recruiting class. Smart saw the upcoming need to replace Hayes and Osetkowski and did just that with Austin-native Will Baker and Kai Jones. Both players will be expected to contribute pretty much immediately.

If this matchup with the Bears actually did happen in the second game in New York City, it wouldn’t be a horrible thing. Yes, early computer models project the Longhorns to be a tougher matchup and better team than the Georgetown Hoyas. But the Hoyas have more actual proven pieces — especially in the frontcourt. Either way, the 2K Empire Classic will provide a fun opportunity to see the Bears play some stiff competition early in the season.

Other Non-Con Opponent Previews:

Georgetown

Duke

Prairie View A&M

Cal Baptist

UNLV

Pepperdine

 
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