Saturday, January 23, 2016


Tom Keegan: UT boss still seeks his first league crown

Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smart gets the attention of his defense during the first half on Friday, March 25, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smart gets the attention of his defense during the first half on Friday, March 25, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.


To appreciate the enormity of Kansas University coach Bill Self’s 11 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles, consider the background of his opposite number in today’s 1 p.m. tipoff.

First-year Texas coach Shaka Smart has ranked at or near the top of just about every coaching search wish list after he became a household name when his 11th-seeded VCU team knocked off Kansas, 71-61, in a 2011 Elite Eight NCAA Tournament game. Smart’s Rams had defeated USC, Georgetown, Purdue and Florida State to advance to the game vs. Kansas.

Smart’s reputation grew the next year when in the NCAA Tournament the 12th-seeded Rams upset No. 5 Wichita State and lost by two points to No. 4 Indiana.

The offers started pouring in and never stopped.

Smart turned down Illinois in 2012, Minnesota and UCLA in 2013 and Marquette in 2014.

“Certainly, Shaka is one of the more gifted guys we have in our profession,” Self said Thursday.

Few would disagree. And nobody could disagree that Smart’s career serves as the best illustration of the difficulty of winning a conference title in basketball.

Smart coached six seasons at VCU after taking over for Anthony Grant, who left to head Alabama’s program. VCU played in the Colonial Athletic Association in Smart’s first three seasons, the Atlantic 10 in his final three.

His finishes in the regular-season conference standings: tied for fifth, fourth, second, second, second, tied for fourth. That’s right, Smart’s next celebration of a regular-season title will be his first. His 2012 team won the Colonial Conference tournament title, and the Rams won the A-10 tourney title last season.

At one point, Smart had a 7-2 NCAA Tournament record and now is 7-5.

Self sounded genuinely impressed with the job Smart has done so far with the Longhorns, who are in a four-way tie for second in the Big 12 with a 4-2 record, joining Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia, one game behind Baylor.

“I’m not there every day, but I would say from my vantage point, they enjoy playing for him,” Self said. “To me, putting your handprint on it is more from a personality standpoint and a recruiting standpoint. And from what everybody tells me, he’s well liked in the state, and the staff works hard, and it’s definitely a very positive feel.”

Smart’s reputation for developing relationships with players, coupled with the abundance of talent in Texas, could make the Longhorns a perennial contender for what would be Smart’s first regular-season conference title.


Suzi Marshall 6 years, 4 months ago

Far too much weight is put on the NCAA Tournament. I've said many times that tournament's format has a huge built in "luck" factor, which results in the perfect format for entertainment and gambling.

I want NCs as much as anyone but the true value of a team and coach is their performance(s) in their conference races, where teams are tested over an extended period in all kinds of changing venues. Self's 11 straight as well as his prior results at IL, Tulsa and OR speak volumes to his HOF credentials.

Robert Brown 6 years, 4 months ago

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I would trade 2 more Final Four appearances over 5-6 fewer conference championships during Bill Self's tenure.

Jay Hawk 6 years, 4 months ago

I always find this debate fascinating when you start asking questions about trading conference championships for Final Fours or National Titles. I'd trade half of those conference championships for two more Final Fours, also.

I'd probably trade all of them for another Final Four run that ended in a NC during the Self era. Think of how magical it would have been if the 2014 team would have gotten healed and pulled it together to make a run to a title. Wiggins and Joel would've been KU legends! I'd make that trade.

Think about Kentucky a couple of years ago not even making the tournament and throw that scenario into the debate. For a NC, would you be willing to have 3 bad years where we didn't make the tournament?

I'm glad we can have both. Let's get some more!

Phil Leister 6 years, 4 months ago

I've thought about this one a lot....I would not take a NC if that meant missing the tournament the next few years. I prefer consistent success where we always have a chance in the tournament. I just saw a stat that 4 of the past 8 national champions haven't made the tournament the following year. That wouldn't fly with the KU fan base.

Michael Lorraine 6 years, 4 months ago

I would say luck is a factor in winning a championship in any sport, at least to some degree but probably more so in college basketball than another other sport.

I would absolutely trade conference titles for national titles. If only it worked that way.

Jeff Coffman 6 years, 4 months ago

I think that this was not a good hire for Texas...he'll have his upsets, but he won't be consistent. I wonder what the count of head coaches that have left or been fired in the B12 since Self last lost a conference title.

Robert Brock 6 years, 4 months ago

Smart should be able to recruit high-level players to UT and he will pose a problem for opposing schools. Just a matter of time. Right now, he is trying to get this motley assortment of Barnes' players into a functional mode.

Kent Richardson 6 years, 4 months ago

Recruiting is monster. So many good HS players in Texas. A&M has been hauling them in along with Baylor and Texas. Just a matter of time. There are a couple of Centers unsigned for next year that we are in the mix for.

Harlan Hobbs 6 years, 4 months ago

Thus far, Smart is the only Big 12 coach who has a McDonald's All-American coming in next year. I suspect that will change, as there are still several who are undeclared. However, I believe that he will do a better job of sewing up more than his share of Texas kids than Rick Barnes did. KU recruits heavily in Texas so undoubtedly it will become more difficult in the future.

Let's have a great game today and start our second big run of the season that ends with some big celebrations.

Michael Lorraine 6 years, 4 months ago

You can have mediocrity during the regular season but there's nothing like a good tournament run to accelerate a coach's standing. He was playing with house money at VCU, now he's playing with his own money. I hope he succeeds. Good competition will only make the conference better and in turn make us better.

Ross Hartley 6 years, 4 months ago

Come on...Rick Barnes recruits Chris Mihm, TJ Ford, Royal Ivey, LaMarcus Aldridge, PJ Tucker, Daniel Gibson, Kevin Durant, DJ Augustin, Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph & Myles Turner. These are just players that are currently or recently in the NBA.

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