NIT Basketball Preview — Without “Havoc,” Can Texas Get Smart?


Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams took the college basketball world by storm in 2011 by starting out having to play a “First Four” game in the NCAA Tournament and winding up in the Final Four. How did they do it? Pressure. And lots of it. From the opening whistle to the final horn. And other teams feared them for it.

He called it “Havoc.”

But now Smart is the coach of the Texas Longhorns, and there has been nothing resembling that. Not at all. And truth be told, his program has probably suffered because of it, as the ‘Horns have not won an NCAA Tournament game in his four seasons at the helm. Of course, it’s a high-profile school, so he’s going to draw talent regardless, and he’s had enough to get to the semi-finals of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) at Madison Square Garden, where they will play the Big 12 rival TCU Horned Frogs at approximately 8:30 PM ET on Tuesday night.

At BetAnySports, where you can grab reduced juice before the game starts and Live Betting Ultra to do real-time wagering, they are a 1.5-point underdog, with a posted total of 138 points.

Not to pick on Smart, but when he was at VCU, his teams led the nation in defensive turnover percentage THREE years running. He became known for this pressure approach. And we presume that it was a principal reason he was lured to Texas with a $3 million-a-year deal.

But not once in these four seasons have the Longhorns been in the top 100 in the turnover percentage category, and as for the frenetic pace; well, Texas has been outside the top 300 in Adjusted Tempo in three of his four years.

And even though we realize now that, interestingly enough, VCU has trademarked the name “Havoc” for basketball purposes, that doesn’t mean Smart’s Texas teams couldn’t play like they were trying to wreak some of it.

But they don’t.

And while the whole thing might sound a bit mysterious as to why a coach who has become known within the business for one thing would have abandoned it, the answer is actually pretty simple.

When it comes down to it, he doesn’t believe he can get his players to do it.

“We have depth to play that way, we have a good amount of athleticism,” said Smart, when questioned about it last season, “but it requires an extreme commitment. I mean extreme on the level of guys getting outside their normal comfort zone…….” And so on and so forth.

In other words, he can’t seem to get his guys motivated enough to buy into that kind of defensive approach.

Doesn’t that make him something of a failure as a coach…… at least in this particular job?

I mean, other coaches have been able to take their philosophy and implement it in different places. Just look at the Final Four, for example. You’ve got Tony Bennett, who inherited the Pack Line defense from his father and used it at Washington State and now has it at Virginia; Chris Beard, whose nasty defensive scheme worked for him at Arkansas-Little Rock and now has Texas Tech reaching new heights, and Bruce Pearl, who has his own brand of havoc working at Auburn, which has turned people over more frequently than anybody.

So there’s really no excuse. Still, the Longhorns have enough talent on hand to have scored wins over North Carolina and Purdue. But there isn’t a real identity, connected to a system. There’s not a lot of consistency either.

And Jaxson Hayes, the fabulous freshman center who went down with an injury, is unavailable as he has decided to get ready for the NBA Draft (something we’ll see more and more of).

One team Texas could not beat in the Big 12 was TCU, which beat them both home and away, as no one could control Desmond Bane. Motivation is always a big thing in an event like the NIT, because a lot of the teams were disappointed they didn’t make the Big Dance, but TCU has been this route before, having won this tournament just two seasons ago. Over the last ten seasons, beating a team for a third time in the post-season after a regular season sweep is actually better than a 70% proposition. So don’t believe anyone who tells you it’s close to impossible. And look for the Horned Frogs to punch their ticket to the NIT final, and maybe a rematch with Lipscomb, which beat them by nine points back in November.

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