After another NCAA Tournament loss, Shaka Smart’s time should be over
Texas’ season came to a crashing end on Saturday with a loss to Abilene Christian. After winning the Big 12 tournament and earning a No. 3 seed, the Longhorns’ offense went missing at the wrong time and the Wildcats took advantage.
“We just beat the University of Texas,” Abilene Christian head coach Joe Golding said after the game. “Little old Abilene Christian out in West Texas built a program that went toe-to-toe with the University of Texas, and it’s an incredible story.”
We’re six years into the Shaka Smart era and Texas is still searching for its first NCAA Tournament win during his tenure. Three first-round losses and two instances where the Longhorns were not even dancing. If Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte wants to take the basketball program to a new level, Smart’s time needs to come to an end.
Let’s be honest here. Smart was gifted another chance because of COVID-19. If the global pandemic had not canceled the postseason and caused athletic departments to stay conservative (at the time) with their money, he would have been out of the door after the 2019-2020 season.
Texas was .500 in Big 12 play and projected to be on the outside of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season. A conference tournament win over Texas Tech could have saved him, but another early NCAA Tournament loss may have sealed Smart’s fate.
Smart was retained despite the struggles. Nearly 100% of the Longhorns production was going to be returning, headlined by the three-headed monster at guard. The potential to be great had never been more prevalent over the past six years.
The opportunity grew when five-star power forward Greg Brown committed. Brown picked Texas over Auburn and the G-League, hoping to finally get his hometown school past the round of 64.
Even with all of the puzzle pieces aligning, Texas still came up short.
With how deep the Big 12 was this season, finishing third was a solid accomplishment. Winning the tournament was a nice surprise, even with the Kansas game getting canceled due to COVID-19. Wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, who both won their round of 64 games, are great achievements.
However, nothing matters more than the NCAA Tournament. The minimum expectation was to win at least one game in the tournament. Making it to the second weekend and the first Sweet 16 since 2011 should have been accomplished with how good this team is.
Smart has proven since his Final Four run with VCU, he is not built to take a team deep in March. No matter how talented his roster is.
That brings us to the next burning question. Who can take Texas to the next level? Most fans will want to say Texas Tech’s Chris Beard, but he has shown no signs of ever leaving Lubbock. Big names across the country will be thrown around, just as they were during the football head coach search.
The sad reality is, your Mark Fews, Nate Oats or Tony Bennets of the world are not leaving their A-level jobs to take over in Austin.
If he pulls the trigger, Del Conte will face off against blue blood Indiana for the top names in the market. Both athletic directors/fans/donors are going to be desperate to get their programs back on track and have the financial backing to do so.
With how depleted the roster could potentially be next season, a new energy is needed in the locker room. Expectations have not been met for six consecutive years with Smart. The time has come.