Shaka Smart was 109-86 in his six years at Texas, but 0-3 in three trips to the NCAA Tournament with the Longhorns.
Despite putting together the best season in his time at Texas, including a win at the relocated Maui Classic in Asheville, N.C., a top-10 final ranking in the AP Poll and the program’s first Big 12 Tournament championship, the NCAA Tournament loss to Abilene Christian was a huge blow to the third-seeded Longhorns and Smart’s future at Texas.
The Longhorns were loaded with an experienced roster for the 2020-21 season — a roster that was expected to produce in the postseason. Texas looked to be a Final Four contender, winning four of its last five regular season games and winning the Big 12 Tournament championship.
Texas’ upset loss to Abilene Christian made tournament history. It was the 22nd time in the modern era of the tournament that the No. 14 seed sprung an upset on a No. 3 seed.
In five possible tournament trips, Smart has qualified for “The Big Dance” three times. In 2020, Texas was a bubble team before the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Possible roster overhaul
The Big 12 Tournament champions may go through a major roster change next season.
Sophomore Kai Jones declared for the NBA Draft Wednesday. Royce Hamm and Donovan Williams entered the NCAA transfer portal Tuesday.
Seniors Matt Coleman and Jericho Sims appear to have played their last games as Longhorns. Redshirt junior Andrew Jones and freshman Greg Brown could choose to declare for the NBA draft. Both Brown and Kai Jones have been projected as first round NBA draft picks. Under the NCAA rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, all players can return next season for another year of eligibility.
Westlake product Will Baker and San Antonio native Gerald Liddell announced their plans to transfer from Texas during the 2020-21 season.
Smart’s Texas Tenure
Smart made a name for himself leading VCU to the Final Four in his second year as head coach in 2011. He took the Texas job in 2015.
Smart’s career at Texas never got off the ground. His first game as head coach was a 77-71 loss to Washington in Shanghai, China. It was a game where Texas shot just 26% from the field, a common struggle throughout Smart’s four years at Texas.
One of his highlights in that first year was an 84-82 win over No. 3 North Carolina on Javan Felix’s buzzer beater. That was part of a six-game win streak, his longest at UT. The Longhorns did win 20 games in 2015-2016, the only time in Smart’s Texas tenure, but the season ended in heartbreak when Northern Iowa hit a halfcourt shot to beat Texas in its NCAA tournament opener.
Smart landed prize recruit Jarrett Allen in the summer of 2016, but despite his development into a one-and-done first round NBA draft pick, that Texas team went 11-22 in 2016-17.
The 2017 season looked promising, after landing coveted point guard Matt Coleman, a position Texas basically played without the previous year, and seven-footer Mo Bamba, considered the top big man recruit in the country.
In early January 2018, Smart was faced with a situation that no amount of basketball experience could make easier. Sophomore guard Andrew Jones was diagnosed with Leukemia and was immediately moved to Houston to undergo chemotherapy. In UT’s first game after the diagnosis was revealed, Texas won an emotional 99-98 thriller against TCU. Smart would divide his time between the team and getting to Houston whenever possible to be with Jones.
While Bamba developed into a top five draft pick, the Longhorns had to beat West Virginia in the season finale and then Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament to comfortably get into the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns led Nevada throughout their NCAA Tournament opener in March 2018 only to lose 87-83 in overtime.
The 2018-2019 season started off like it would be a turning point for Smart at Texas. The Longhorns beat 7th-ranked North Carolina in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving Day to move to 5-0. The next day they led 12th-ranked Michigan State 25-6, but went on to lose 78-68. That was the start of a three-game losing streak that included a 62-59 loss to Radford at the Erwin Center.
Close losses plagued the Longhorns this season with a 4-10 record in games decided by six points or less.
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