Midway through his rookie year as the head coach of Texas, Shaka Smart has led his team through adversity to becoming one of the best teams in the nation’s best conference.
The Longhorns hired Smart shortly after firing their coach of 17 years, Rick Barnes, back in March. Barnes reached 16 NCAA Tournaments with Texas but was dismissed following a Round of 64 loss in the NCAA Tournament. Since Smart took over, he has changed the perceptive that Texas was due for a down year in his first season into believing that the Longhorns can make a run for a Big 12 tournament title.
Smart has always taught and expected a brand of basketball that is physical, aggressive and requires dedication to be successful. This style of play has been coined “HAVOC” for its defensive pressure and up-tempo offense. In his
young career, Smart has seen consistent results from his players. During his six years as a coach as VCU, he put together a 163-56 record highlighted by three NCAA Tournament appearances and a Final Four appearance in 2011.
Smart left VCU for Texas, choosing the Horns over many other schools with high basketball pedigrees such as Marquette, USC, North Carolina State and most notably UCLA. The Bruins have been trying to sign Shaka since at least 2013 when the coach signed an extension with the Rams. He agreed to a six year, $22 million contract with Texas back in April of 2015.
The Longhorns sit at 14-7 thus far and have caught the attention of many. They opened up this year’s campaign 2-3 in their first five, which was not exactly the dream start to Smart’s tenure . A rough beginning to say the least and Coach Smart said that the team was working on putting everything together and becoming a group who could trust each other.
After that early bump, the Longhorns went on to win six in a row, including a sensational upset of the No. 3-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. It was a back and forth tilt that Texas won on a buzzer beater from their senior guard, Javan Felix. A huge upset of a notoriously successful basketball team. But this is not the only signature win that Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns have on their resume this year. They have two more:
94-91 win vs. #17 Iowa State
56-49 win AT #6 West Virginia
That makes three wins vs top-25 teams this year. Not only do they have impressive victories this year, but they are not being blown out by any team. The Horns’ largest loss this season is an 11-point loss to No. 25 Texas A&M in their third game of the season. They played a tough game against the No. 3-ranked Kansas Jayhawks on the road in another loss in top-25 competition.
The Longhorns are 3-2 this year vs top-25 teams and will be tested again soon. Of there 10 remaining games, they have seven against top-25 teams and are all in conference. If they play well, they can jump up the Big-12 ranks while also building their tournament resume.
If any coach is going to prepare a team for a lot of big upsets in a short amount of time, it is Shaka Smart. He led the 11-seed VCU Rams to the Final Four in 2011, knocking off the overall No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks in the Elite Eight.
Smart’s team has a tough road cut out for them in the upcoming month and Texas fans everywhere are interested to see how the Longhorns finish as the NCAA Tournament approaches.