Marquette men’s basketball needed a new head coach. Vice President and Director of Athletics Bill Scholl moved quickly to get one, and it’s a name that’s very familiar to Golden Eagles fans who remember the last time MU went hunting for a new head coach.
It’s about as official as it can get: Shaka Smart is the Marquette head men’s basketball coach.
No, seriously. We really mean it this time. No jokes. He really is.
Shouts to John Leuzzi from Marquette Wire Sports who camped himself outside the Al McGuire Center to lock up some comments from Marquette University President Michael Lovell and Vice President/Director of Athletics Bill Scholl:
Marquette Athletic Director Bill Scholl said he would give an official comment at a press conference this Monday. Expected to hear from Shaka Smart then as well. #mubb— John Leuzzi (@JohnLeuzziMU) March 26, 2021
That’s Marquette’s top two voices when it comes to making this decision acknowledging that 1) the decision was made and 2) the offer was accepted by Smart. That’s good enough for me to make this official and run with this article.
Smart comes to Marquette after a six year tenure as head coach at VCU and a six year stretch as head coach at Texas. He guided the Rams to the NCAA tournament in five of his six seasons in charge, including a Final Four as a #11 seed in his first ever appearance as a head coach in the tournament. Each of Smart’s last four teams at VCU were single digits in the NCAA tournament.
The results at Texas were a little bit more mixed. After putting the Longhorns into the NCAA tournament as a #6 seed in his first year in Austin, Smart missed the field of 68 in two of the next three seasons and the Longhorns were not projected to reach the tournament before the 2020 event was cancelled. Smart bounced back from that season to go 19-8 overall and 11-6 in the Big 12 in 2020-21 and won the Big 12 conference tournament to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA field and landed as a #3 seed, his best ever seeding in eight appearances.
Smart has compiled a head coaching record of 272-142 in 12 seasons as a head coach. He went 163-56 at VCU and 109-86 at Texas. Along the way, Smart has show an ability to succeed in win-or-go-home circumstances, guiding VCU to a CBI title in 2010, a CAA tournament title in 2012, and an Atlantic 10 tournament title in 2015 in addition to his Final Four in 2011. At Texas, the Longhorns won an NIT title in 2019 and the aforementioned Big 12 tournament this past season. He has a record of 19-8 in conference tournaments, 7-8 in the NCAA tournament, and perfect 5-0 marks in both the NIT and the CBI.
We should probably talk about Texas a little bit more. Marquette is hiring a coach who has not won an NCAA tournament game in three appearances in the last six seasons.... which is exactly the same number of NCAA wins as the previous head coach in the previous seven seasons and the same number of appearances if you give Steve Wojciechowski credit for the canceled 2020 tournament. Smart was just 52-56 in Big 12 play, which means he had a losing record in conference play, just like Wojciechowski did in the Big East. Is that a problem? Maybe. Or maybe Smart caught some bad breaks. Texas was ranked somewhere in the AP poll at least once in five of Smart’s six seasons in Austin. He missed the NCAA tournament in three of them, if we presume that the Longhorns were going to miss the 2020 tournament as projected when it was canceled. He also made the NCAA tournament with a team that was never ranked in the top 25 in 2018.
In Smart’s first season, he made the NCAA tournament even though senior starting center and #2 scorer Cameron Ridley missed nearly everything from January onwards. In Year #2, leading scorer Tevin Mack was lost for the season after January 11th. Year #3, leading scorer Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia while leading the team in scoring and essentially didn’t play again until Year 5. Are those excuses or explanations? I don’t know.
Of course we’ll have to wait to see what happens at Marquette, but what we can tell from Smart’s history as a head coach is that his focus seems to be on getting his teams to play defense. According to KenPom.com, Smart’s worst ever Adjusted Defensive Rating came in his first season as a head coach when VCU ranked #98 in the country. The second worst was his second season at VCU when they finished #78 in the country.... after reaching the Final Four. Since then, in the intervening 10 seasons as a head coach, Smart’s teams have never ranked lower than 40th in defense per KenPom, an accomplishment that eluded Steve Wojciechowski in his seven seasons. The offense has been all over the place. The tempo has been all over the place, especially after abandoning his Havoc style of play while moving from VCU to Texas. Smart’s Longhorn teams never forced turnovers like his Rams teams did, and this past year there almost seemed to be an attempt to completely avoid trying for turnovers. But it was still a top 40 defense. The overall defense persists, no matter what year it is or what his roster looks like.
Perhaps most importantly as basketball evolves in the third decade of the 21st Century, Smart’s teams deny three-pointers. It’s a general trend for all 12 seasons of his career, but Texas ranked #6 in the country in defensive three-point attempt rate in 2020 and #49 this past season. All but one of his Texas teams have been in the top 100 in the country in that category according to KenPom. Three of his six VCU teams ranked in the top 100 in denying opponents three-pointers. We talked about this back in December in relation to how the Marquette season was going: Denying three-pointers is an important part of playing defense because three-point shooting defense is mostly just luck.
With a new coach in place, we move on to new business. What’s up with the existing Marquette roster? What’s up with signed recruits Kam Jones and Stevie Mitchell? What’s up with committed recruit Jonas Aidoo? Who are the assistant coaches going to be? Maybe there’s even more questions to be asked and answered that we can’t see right now. Keep your eyes and ears peeled and opened respectively, and we’ll bring you all the info that you need to know right here at Anonymous Eagle.