AUSTIN, Tx. — Shaka Smart has never been one to turn down a dance — on the hardwood that is. During Smart’s six seasons at VCU he took his Rams on the road to power schools five times and brought victories back to Richmond in three of them.
Shaka Smart’s success against the big boys in the previously mentioned games – and in the big dance – is a big reason why good mid-majors have such a hard time scheduling these days. Sure, the big boys will host the little guys from time-to-time, but rarely are they giving the return trip anymore. When Coach Rob Ehsan and staff gave Smart a ring and asked for a game in Austin this next season I’d like to think Smart said, “Absolutely…I’ve been there brother.”
A Look At The Longhorns
One shot. A prayer from 50-feet. As the clock ticked it’s final seconds Northern Iowa’s Paul Jesperson’s half-court heave ricocheted off the backboard square and into the basket. Game over. Season over.
For once, Mr. March’s team did not come out on top as they lost in devastating fashion in the first round of the NCAA tournament to a underrated Panther squad. Compounding the stunning loss was the reality that soon set in that the five seniors on the roster would be playing their final collegiate game that night.
Of the five seniors departing Texas, most were significant contributors. Prince Ibeh and Demarcus Holland only averaged 18.2 and 14.1 minutes respectively, but both found consistent minutes in Smart’s typical 11-man rotation.
The biggest holes Texas will have to fill are those of departing Javan Felix, Cameron Ridley, and Connor Lammert. The trio averaged between 22.5 and 28.6 minutes with Ridley’s being the fewest due to him missing the entire Big 12 portion of the schedule because of injury. Javan Felix’s name will be remembered for ages for being responsible for the shot heard around Austin.
The Longhorns have one underclassman choosing to enter the NBA Draft early, and he will most likely leave the biggest shoes to fill. Junior guard Isiah Taylor is graded as the No. 69 prospect in Draft Express’ 2016 class. The point guard played a shade over 30 minutes per game for the Longhorns and averaged 15.1 points and 5 assists per game.
With Taylor’s early departure, next year’s Texas squad will have just two seniors — Kendal Yancy and Shaquille Cleare. The pair average just 10.5 and 12 minutes respectively.
Shaka Smart’s first recruiting class is shaping up nicely with two 4-stars and one 5-star coming to Austin this summer. The current Texas recruiting class ranks 13th on Rivals.com. Texas will have a few scholarships open and will likely take in at least one transfer (over 700 this year!).
All-in-all, the cupboard is far from bare for Shaka Smart and staff, but it’s likely they’ll need a couple months into the season before they reach their top gear. They’ll be hosting a very experienced and deep UAB team come late December, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that both teams could be ranked come time for tip.
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A Look At The Out-Of-Conference Schedule
**Thanks to BlazerJay for putting the schedule together**
11/21/16 – Semi-Finals (CBE Hall of Fame Classic) vs. (Georgia, Kansas or George Washington) – Kansas City, MO
11/22/16 – Finals/Consolation (CBE Hall of Fame Classic) – Kansas City, MO
12/10/16 – at Memphis
12/21/16 – at Texas
TBD – AUBURN
TBD – TROY
TBD – HOME GAME (1st Game CBE Hall of Fame Classic)
TBD – HOME GAME (2nd Game CBE Hall of Fame Classic)
TBD – at Stephen F. Austin
TBA – Neutral Site game (SEC Opponent)