Less than a week after Rick Barnes left the head coaching job, Texas found its program’s 24th basketball coach. Shaka Smart, who spent the last six seasons coaching at Virginia Commonwealth University, finally left the Rams after essentially rewriting the program’s history book.
Smart guided the Rams to the NCAA Tournament in each of their last five seasons, the longest streak in school history, including a trip to the 2011 Final Four — the first time the program ever advanced past the Tournament’s second weekend.
In Smart’s six seasons at the helm, the Rams won 163 games, which tied Smart with Jamie Dixon for the second-most wins of all time by a coach in their first six seasons in Division I basketball.
Smart won at least 26 games in each of his seasons at Virginia, an accomplishment that had been achieved only twice in the program’s first 37 seasons of D-I competition. And in each of those seasons, the Rams won at least 70 percent of their regular season games, despite making the leap from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Atlantic-10 Conference in the fourth year of Smart’s tenure.
Over the same six-year stretch in time, Texas won 26 or more games just once. Further, the team hasn’t hit that 70-percent win mark in the last four seasons. Over the past three seasons, VCU has also averaged a 14.75 on the Simple Rating System — which uses strength of schedules and point differential to give each team a rating of how many points above or below average they are — nearly three points higher than Texas’ 11.9.
When he transitions from coaching at a mid-major school to Texas, Smart will likely be able to achieve success — primarily by making drastic changes to Texas’ style of play.
At VCU, Smart ran his signature ‘havoc,’ full-court press defense, ranking the Rams among the top five in the nation in both steals and turnovers forced the last four seasons. In contrast, the Longhorns didn’t rank higher than 108th in steals or 150th in turnovers forced.
This past season, the VCU’s typical lineup featured no starters taller than 6-foot-6-inch, primarily playing four-guard lineups. Meanwhile, the Longhorns often started three players 6-foot-7-inch or taller. With Texas’ frontcourt depth taking a hit with senior Jonathan Holmes graduating and freshman Myles Turner declaring for the NBA draft, Texas will likely start at least three guards for the majority of the 2015–2016 season.
With a likely shift in focus to a press-based defense as well as Smart’s emphasis on the backcourt, the Longhorns will probably soon look like a totally different team than the team who played under Rick Barnes this season.
While next year’s squad may struggle a bit in adapting to the system at first, come March, the Longhorns should return to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend for the first time since 2008.