Should Texas fired head coach Shaka Smart for what happened in the NCAA Tournament against Abilene Christian on Saturday night?
It may all depend on how ‘inexcusable’ you consider that 53-52 loss.
We all know upsets happen in March. That’s actually why we love this NCAA Tournament and why we call it ‘March Madness.’ But when it happens to YOUR team, well, it’s not so much fun, is it?
Lately, for Texas under Shaka Smart, it’s always been ‘their team.’ But Saturday night was definitely different.
A loss as a 6-seed to Northern Iowa in 2016? OK, it was his first year. But that Myles Turner kid was fun to watch.
A loss as a 7-seed to Nevada two years later? Well, those 7-10 games CAN be tricky.
But a loss as a No. 3 seed to Abilene Christian, a team making its second NCAA Tournament appearance EVER and Smart coaching the best team he’s coached in Austin?
That may just be inexcusable.
It’s not just the loss. I mean, if Texas had played great in every facet, and ACU simply played just a little bit better, that would be one thing. Oh, and Lincoln Riley trolling Texas after the loss doesn’t help matters in Austin.
How Texas Lost That Stings
But it’s HOW Texas lost that gets us into ‘inexcusable’ territory. It’s rare that a team’s ability to win or lose really boils down to one thing, as it did on Saturday night for Texas.
Turnovers. Twenty-two of them. A season high.
My high school coach would have had us running laps after that game, home or road. Heck, if were on the road we might have had to job back home.
It’s not like Smart and the Longhorns didn’t know ACU was a cracker-jack defensive outfit going in. There’s this thing call, you know, tape (ok it’s probably digital these days)? But there’s also numbers. The Wildcats led Division I in turnovers per game (20.3) this season. They’re in the same conference as my alma mater, Stephen F. Austin. Defense is what they do. Their offense? Well … you watched, right? ACU shot less than 30 percent from the floor. I mean, awful.
Texas found a way to one-up that. For most of the game Texas played offense as if it had never seen pressure defense before. These Longhorns play in the Big 12, where everyone plays stifling, man-to-man defense every game. The Longhorns played hurried, out-of-control basketball. They made passes to invisible players. They dribbled balls off their feet. They did things without thinking. And this is a Texas team with three experienced ball handlers. ACU made Matt Coleman III, Andrew Jones, and Courtney Ramey look silly, if we’re being honest.
This is when coaching matters. This is when Smart is supposed to earn his money. Calm his team down. Find a scheme that works. Do to them what they’re doing to you. Something.
Nothing worked. Texas just kept doing the same stuff. At times they looked wholly disinterested and resigned to whatever happened. And it led to their stunning defeat.
Who saw this coming?
I can’t tell you how nice it was to not have to answer questions about Smart’s job status this season. I seem to get those during radio calls every year. But not this season. This season it was ‘Hey, Shaka’s finally got it figured out.’
And then, Saturday.
Texas fans were not happy on Twitter (which isn’t the best place to go to get a fan base pulse, naturally). But much of what I saw could be summed up by the following: ‘Shaka’s a great guy, but it’s time for him to go.’
And that’s a sentiment that I’ve heard before. Austin American-Statesman columnist Cedric Golden, one of my favorite colleagues in this business, tweeted this after the loss:
That is the absolute truth.
But is it time for Smart to go? I mean, Smart wasn’t the ONLY major program coach to get stung by a first-round upset this weekend.
Chris Holtmann at Ohio State, maybe? The Buckeyes were a No. 2 seed and lost to Oral Roberts.
Matt Painter at Purdue? The No. 4 seeded Boilermakers fell to North Texas.
Tony Bennett at Virginia? The Cavs fell as a No. 4 seed to No. 13 Ohio.
So what’s the difference?
Holtmann has two NCAA Tournament wins at Ohio State.
Painter has 15 NCAA Tournament wins and five trips to the Sweet 16 at Purdue.
Bennett and the Cavs won the last NCAA title, and did it after becoming the first No. 16 seed to lose in the first round. He’s also won 16 NCAA Tournament games.
Why It Might be the End for Shaka
Shaka Smart has exactly zero wins in three NCAA Tournament tries at Texas. But that NIT title is keeping you warm at night, right Longhorns fans?
That’s the difference.
And that’s why, this time, this FEELS different. A coach with no NCAA Tournament wins at his job, who just guided his team to one of its worst losses in recent memory. In fact, the Longhorns have NEVER lost in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed. Their only loss in the opening round as a Top 4 seed came in 1979 against Oklahoma.
Should he stay or should he go?
Athletic director Chris Del Conte has a decision to make. And, as we saw with Tom Herman, he’s not afraid to pull the trigger in a non-so-desirable pandemic environment. Smart is sitting on two more years and a $7.1 million buyout. Del Conte is sitting on a new basketball arena and he needs to put butts in the seats.
Should he stay or should he go?
Is it about excuses or the inexcusable? And have those two pieces finally met to seal Smart’s fate?
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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