Tag Archives: Shaka Smart

Finally, Some Signs of Stability For Texas

In case you missed it, The University of Texas made what could be its most important hire in the last decade, and potentially the next several decades to come. Somehow, university President Greg Fenves was able to lure away TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte to hire him at the same position at UT.

Now I’ll admit, I don’t know the name of a good Athletic Director from a bad one, but it is obvious to me which athletic programs are on stable ground. And the fact that I actually know the name Chris Del Conte means he must have been doing something right to get my attention. He’s built quite the program at TCU, so the hope is high that he will do the same at Texas.

The reason this is a monumental hire in my opinion is because the Texas athletic department as a whole has been a complete mess ever since Deloss Dodds left in 2013. Steve Patterson was hired and fired within two years, and for very good reasons. Patterson is one of the main reasons why Texas athletics is in the poor shape it’s in right now, mainly because of the wholesale changes he made in order to transform the program into more of a professional sports franchise.

I’m not going to get into the disaster Patterson created, and the mess interim Athletic Director Mike Perrin inherited (and did a remarkable job of damage control), but you can read a local Austin media member’s account of the situation here. If you have any interest in Texas sports at all, take 10 minutes and read it. You will understand why the Texas program has been a dumpster fire for the last several years.

What the hiring of Del Conte as the permanent AD means is the program is finally on the right track for stability. Often times, the hiring of a new AD means changes will be made, particularly on coaching staffs. However, I can’t see that being the case here.

Let’s face it, for the better part of two decades, I only knew of three coaches and one AD as a Texas supporter. Mack Brown, Rick Barnes, Augie Garrido and Deloss Dodds were prominent figures and represented the stability of the program. When you look back at the stability, it’s really no surprise the success all three of the major programs at Texas had during their time.

Since 2013, there have been three Athletic Directors, two head football coaches and multiple staff changes among the three major programs. Shaka Smart is the longest tenured coach of the big three sports, and he was hired as the basketball coach in 2015.

Will Del Conte come in and immediately create a stable program? Time will tell. However, based on his track record during his nine years at TCU, I would say he knows a thing or two about stability. During his time there, TCU has become nationally relevant in football and is a constant participant in the College World Series. He hired a new basketball coach last year and now that program is rejuvenated and considered to be an above-average team in the Big 12.

The main issues I can see Del Conte having is dealing with the pressure from the fans, media and mostly the big money donors. Patience is not something that’s very common around UT fans and donors today, so every move Del Conte makes will be under the microscope. I have all the confidence that he will shake the hands that need to be shaken and get in good graces with the most important people involved with the university, though.

But as we saw with arguably the most stable group of people the university has ever seen, no one is safe if the results don’t match the expectations.

Signs of stability are good, since there hasn’t been much of it surrounding the athletic department in recent years. I personally think Del Conte is a homerun hire and just hope the pressures of being the Athletic Director at Texas doesn’t force him to alter what has worked for him in the past.

Photo: Wikimedia

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Strong Recruiting May Propel Non-Traditional Powers onto National Scene in ‘17

As we move toward summer, and the quiet period for college basketball, there is still some work to be done before things settle down until the fall.  A few Top 100 recruits remain uncommitted, the NBA pre-draft combine is coming up, and of course, a number of early entry candidates will make a decision to stay in the NBA Draft, or return to school.

While most of the big-name schools pepper the top of the recruiting class rankings again this year, there were a handful of non-traditional hoops schools that secured top classes.  Here’s an early look at four schools which aren’t typically among the hoops elite, but may be set up to make some noise during the 2016-17 college basketball season.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

When Ben Howland landed at Mississippi State, I immediately thought it was a great hire for the school, and a chance for a solid coach to revive his career.  Going into his first season, Howland was able to secure one of the top recruits in the nation when he landed Malik Newman.   Although year one wasn’t a huge success, finishing 14-17, 7-11 in the SEC, Howland has shown in his previous stints at Pittsburgh and UCLA, that he knows how to craft a team.

This year, Coach Howland was able to secure the seventh ranked recruiting class.  The Bulldogs landed four players ranked in the top 100, headlined by big-man Schnider Herard, and combo forward Mario Kegler.  Herard is positioned nicely to have an immediate impact replacing Gavin Ware on the interior, while Kegler can provide the inside-outside versatility which is key to today’s game.

MSU will return one of its leading scorers in 6’4″ sophomore Quinndary Weatherspoon; and most importantly, could see Newman return for at least one more year.  Although he put his name into the pool for early NBA Draft entry, currently Newman is projected as a mid-second round pick, so it may be in his best interest to return to school.  If Newman returns and has the breakout initially expected of him, Mississippi State could improve by leaps and bounds.

Miami Hurricanes

Sure, the Hurricanes made it to the Elite Eight this past season, but Miami isn’t consistently able to keep itself among the nation’s top programs.  Perhaps this will be the beginning, as Jim Larranaga has picked up the #10 recruiting class this year, and can build on last season’s success.

Now, the Canes are losing a ton with the departures of seniors Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, and Tonye Jekiri.  However, Davon Reed and Ja’Quan Newton will be back in the fold.  Reed and Newton averaged 11 and 10 points per game respectively.  In addition to the returnees, Miami has two top 40 kids coming on board in Dewan Huell and Bruce Brown.

Huell should bring a ton of skill and athleticism to the Hurricanes’ frontcourt.  He’ll also have an immediate impact on the defensive end, an aspect of the game which usually keeps freshman off the floor.  That shouldn’t be an issue for Huell.  Brown is known for his aggression and confidence on both ends of the floor.  That mentality will serve him well in the uber-competitive ACC.  It’s always difficult to remain at the top of the conference in the ACC, but Larranaga should have Miami right in the mix to continue their winning ways with this group.

Florida State Seminoles

Undoubtedly, most of the folks in Tallahassee are focusing on what the Noles will be doing on the gridiron this fall, but they may be in for a treat come winter time as well.  In 2015, Leonard Hamilton’s crew was a bit up and down, missing the NCAA Tournament, and getting ousted in the second round of the NIT.  Looking forward to the 2016-17 season, FSU has already gotten some good news.

After initially testing the waters for the NBA Draft, last year’s top recruit and leading scorer Dwayne Bacon has decided to return.  The 6’7″ Bacon averaged nearly 16 points and six rebounds per game last year, and could be poised for an even bigger sophomore season.  Along with Bacon, junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announced he would be heading back to school as well.  His return bodes well for the Seminoles’ backcourt for the upcoming season.

Probably the best news this offseason came when top 15 recruit Jonathan Isaac decided to stick with Florida State, rather than try his luck in the NBA Draft.  Isaac is a skilled and athletic big man, but is a bit of a beanpole at 6’10”, 205 lbs.  With Bacon and Rathan-Mayes back, along with a number of guys who saw important minutes last season, Isaac will have a chance to develop, without all of the pressure being heaped on him.  There’s also still a chance that Hamilton gets one more helping of good news, if freshman Malik Beasley decides to come back.  As of now he’s projected as a late first round pick, but if Beasley returns, Florida State could have a big year.

Texas Longhorns

Unlike Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, Shaka Smart’s second installment at Texas took a bit of a hit this offseason.  After leading the Longhorns in scoring as a freshman, Isaiah Taylor made the decision to not only enter the NBA Draft, but to immediately hire an agent.  That closed the book on the 6’1″ Taylor’s career at Texas.

Don’t feel too bad for Coach Smart though.  Even though his first season ended on a brutal buzzer beater to Northern Iowa, Shaka overachieved a bit getting his squad to the NCAA Tournament.  Now with a top 15 recruiting class, he’s well on his way to getting the Longhorns back in the national picture.

Shaka can look forward to increase contributions from three returnees from last year’s freshman class.  Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr., and Tevin Mack all played significant minutes in 2015-16, and should make further progress this year under Smart’s tutelage.  Senior Shaquille Cleare will be the only big man returning who played double figure minutes.

All of the departures should pave the way for what is tabbed as the 15th rated recruiting class in the nation.  At the top of the list for Texas is versatile guard Andrew Jones.   At 6’4″, Jones can play both guard spots, can create for others, and attack the basket.  The backcourt will get additional help from Jacob Young, a 6-foot point guard prospect who was ranked near the top 100.  Given the lack of frontcourt depth, James Banks will have an excellent opportunity to play right away, and an instant impact will be needed.  Banks is the kind of big man Shaka Smart likes, as he has the athleticism to run the floor, and should be a contributor on defense right away.  If Coach Smart continues to grab recruiting classes like this, it’s not going to take long for havoc to take hold at Texas.

Year in and year out, we have a good idea of what the Kentuckys, Dukes and Michigan States of the world will do not only in recruiting, but during the college basketball season as well.  Keep an eye out as the 2016-17 season gets into full swing, as these historical football powers put their stamp on the hardwood.

E-mail Damon at or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo via Flickr/Kenneth Banks

Texas Longhorns Athletics is Trending Upward

The Texas Longhorns have been in a downward spiral as a program, especially in football. Aside from women’s volleyball and swimming and diving, nothing Texas has done recently has been relevant on a national level.

What’s been an interesting trend for anyone who follows the program closely is that the major sports are good at one time or bad at one time. In 2005, both the baseball and football teams won national championships. A few years ago, the basketball team made a rise to the number one ranking in the nation, while the football team was still relevant nationally and baseball was also making a run to the College World Series.

But since those glorious times, it’s been tough in Austin. Baseball made the College World Series last year as a surprise, but other than that, nothing has been too impressive since 2010.

Things could be changing in the near future, especially for the football program.

Charlie Strong is already on the hot seat after back-to-back losing seasons in Austin in his first two years. What’s saving him is the fact that he has pulled in two solid recruiting classes. In other words, his excuses are running out.

The good thing is that the positive momentum on the recruiting trail is giving fans and players hope that good things are on the horizon. He has overhauled virtually his entire coaching staff this off-season in hopes of creating a spark, especially on offense.

The parallels across the entire Texas athletics program also give fans hope.

Shaka Smart has the basketball team playing at a high level in late February, which is unusual for Longhorns fans to see. The team may not be built for a deep run through March, but at least there is some excitement and optimism in the program. Making the Sweet 16 or further could be a sign of things turning around at the University of Texas.

One thing that we know for sure is that Smart and Strong are two of the most influential people in the program. They have said all the right things during their respective tenures, and now it’s time to start showing the results on the field and court.

What has many fans optimistic about football is the level of talent that Strong has brought in. That is actually ironic in itself, because Strong was known as more of a player developer rather than a recruiter. So far, that seems to be the opposite in Austin. But if he is able to develop the talent that he has brought in during his two years, then this Texas team could be relevant again quickly.

Longhorns fans know that Strong likely won’t be around in 2017 if he has another losing season this year. But even if Strong gets fired, the next coach will have a stockpile of talent to be able to win immediately. That wasn’t the feeling when Mack Brown moved on. That’s also why Strong may have a longer leash.

So what will it take for Strong to keep his job after this year and declare that Texas is trending upward? Probably 8-9 wins in 2016. He may survive a 7-5 season with a bowl victory, but he will be firmly on the hot seat again if that happens.

He has gone all-in with his new coaching staff and he knows that the time is now to create results and victories. With victories over Baylor and Oklahoma last year, fans know that their team has the potential of being good. Now it’s just the question whether the coaches can get them to play at that level every single game.

Time will tell whether the Texas program is actually trending upward, but all signs are pointing to momentum being in their favor. But momentum will only continue if it translates into wins on the field.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Randy Chancellor/Flickr.

Explaining My Bracket

 

Before the incredible creator and organizer of this blog, Mr. Josh Flagner (@RailbirdJ), has anything to say, yes, I am a HUGE Ohio State homer. I am a student at The Ohio State University and I love my school and my team an incredible amount. Now, does that have anything to do with the Buckeyes winning the National Championship in my bracket? Maybe, but I am going to try to defend my choice to the best of my abilities.

First of all, here is my bracket:

Hayden's Bracket

As you can see, it’s not too risky because I really don’t believe in picking upsets just for the sake of picking upsets. Any team can upset any team, but unless there is solid evidence as to why they will do so, I am not going to pick a random upset just “because”. For some people it works, and they get lucky. I’d rather be good than get lucky.

My first round upsets go as follows:

Cincy over Creighton, Minnesota over UCLA, Mizzou over Colorado State, and Villanova over UNC.

Why? Well, I guess I’m going by conferences. UCLA plays in an incredibly weak Pac 12 while Minnesota has been ok in the Big Ten, by far the best conference in college basketball. Cincinnati plays in the Big East, a great basketball conference, while Creighton plays in the Missouri Valley Conference. Missouri plays in the weak SEC, but plays Colorado State from a weaker Mountain West. The Villanova over UNC upset doesn’t follow this criteria quite as closely as the others do, but I truly believe that UNC is uninspired and plays in a much weaker ACC than we are accustomed to. While it may not be the most sound logic in the world, I just think that teams with tougher competition know how to beat teams that haven’t played anybody.

My round two upsets are as follows:

Wisconsin over Kansas State, VCU over Michigan, Minnesota over Florida.

These upsets weren’t really based on any formula, just the simple “this team is going to beat this one” logic. Wisconsin has beaten some of the top teams in the NCAA tournament including Indiana twice, Ohio State, and Michigan. While I cannot stand their slow style of play, Bo Ryan’s boys will handle Kansas State rather easily. We’ve all seen what Shaka Smart is capable of and while he should be in Los Angeles soon coaching the UCLA Bruins, Smart is going to take his Rams to victory over a struggling Michigan team. Michigan looked like Final Four contenders at a certain point, but since have failed to amount to much of anything. Some say they peaked at the wrong time and I’d definitely agree with that statement. Florida looked awful yesterday and has looked awful at various points throughout the year. Unable to win a SEC Championship in a terrible down year for the SEC, the Gators are going to be shocked when a hungry Golden Gophers team comes around and beats them up.

Round Three looks a little something like this:

No Upsets.

I know it’s shocking, but I just don’t see any upsets happening in the Sweet Sixteen. Oklahoma State could take down St. Louis, but the Billikens have come on EXTREMELY strong as of late. Wisky could definitely beat Gonzaga, but again, I just think they have too much firepower for the big, slow Badgers. The game I am very wary of is Kansas beating VCU. I honestly think that Bill Self’s team could be headed back home after this game, but I could also be very wrong. The Jayhawks have laid low in terms of media hype for quite a while after a losing skid, but surprisingly jumped back on the bandwagon and were able to secure a number one seed. That streaky Kansas squad could make an immediate comeback and get blown out of the water early on. Watch out for that upset, one that I just wasn’t sure enough about to put on my bracket.

Round Four upsets:

Ohio State over Gonzaga and Georgetown over Kansas.

I wouldn’t really call Ohio State over Gonzaga an upset, but in terms of the Bracket, Gonzaga is a one seed while Ohio State is a two. Ohio State may be the dark horse to win it all after an atrocious start to the season. They haven’t lost since a drubbing in Madison, Wisconsin, have beaten Michigan State twice in that time, and took down Indiana in Bloomington on Senior Night. Aaron Craft is finally playing up to his potential and the Gonzaga Zags may not know what is coming their way. Kansas will not make the Final Four no matter what. That team we saw in the midway point of the season is going to comeback, it’s just a matter of when. Otto Porter and Georgetown, from the rough and tough Big East, are going to take down the Jayhawks on the way to Atlanta. If it’s not Georgetown, it will be somebody else, but again, Kansas is not cutting down the nets on their way to the Final Four.

My Final Four:

Louisville, Ohio State, Indiana, Georgetown.

How we got here:

Many people picked Miami to beat Indiana, that’s not going to happen. Miami is a decent basketball team in a down year for the ACC. Sure they beat Duke, but they also lost to Boston College. Outside of Duke, Miami hasn’t played great competition and when the Hoosiers come a-callin’, the Canes won’t be ready to answer. Louisville has shown their might, winning the Big East Championship, and may be the best team in this tournament. Duke has shown their flaws and Rick Pitino’s group is certainly going to  expose them. Georgetown just got the luck of the draw in terms of an easy road to the Final Four. Trashing Florida Gulf Coast, San Diego State, Minnesota, and Kansas, the Hoyas really were never challenged on the way to Atlanta. Ohio State had tough match-ups with New Mexico and Gonzaga, but they found a way to overcome both opponents. Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, and Sam Thompson have certainly found their way at just the right time, and the Buckeyes are primed and ready for a showdown against the Louisville Cardinals.

In the National Championship Game will be…

The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Indiana Hoosiers.

When I said the Big Ten was by far the best conference in college basketball, I meant it. There will be two Big Ten teams in the Final Four, and they’re going to be the best two teams in the Final Four. Ohio State could very well be beaten by Louisville, but if I didn’t have faith in my Buckeyes, what would I have? They won’t lose in the Semi-Final two years in a row. They’ll find a way to beat the mighty Cardinals and make it to their first National Championship since Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. lead the Buckeyes to the Title Game in 2007. As for Indiana, they should take down Georgetown pretty easily. Their size will be too much, their stars will be too much, and their experience will be too much for the Hoyas.

In the National Championship Game, the Ohio State Buckeyes will beat the Indiana Hoosiers 75-74. Ohio State knows Indiana like the back of their hand. They’ve played these guys twice, and they’re going to know exactly how to handle the mighty Hoosiers. In their last matchup, Ohio State used Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott to rattle Indiana into 14 turnovers. They’re going to use that same tactic and regardless of Tom Crean’s gameplan to stop it, the best on-ball defender in the nation, Aaron Craft, is going to take down the Hoosiers almost single handedly.

So there you have it folks.

The Ohio State Buckeyes are your 2013 National Champions.

We all know that March Madness is named as such for a reason. It truly is a coin flip, pick out of a hat, tournament that anyone can win for any reason. I have reason to believe that my Buckeyes can get it done, but I also have reason to believe that Indiana, Louisville, or even VCU could take home the title as well. If I was completely unbiased, however, I would still pick Ohio State to win it all. They hit their stride at the right time and have played the toughest competition in America.

Of course, I am probably going to lose all of my bracket challenges, but it’s all in good fun. Some people have different methods to the “Madness”, and as you can see I went with conference supremacy. No method is truly accurate. Some who flip a coin see better results than those who research the teams and the games through and through. Regardless of who you pick, it’s all so much fun. Whether your bracket bleeds with red ink or is perfectly green, we can all enjoy this amazing little thing they call the NCAA Tournament.

I would really LOVE to see some of your thoughts on my picks as well as your own picks for March Madness. Let me know in the comments section of this page or on Twitter @H_Grove if you think I’m a genius or a basketball buffoon!

Akron Zips Ready for More Adversity as NCAA Tournament Bracket is Annnounced

by Ryan Isley

Adversity has been the name of the game lately for the Akron Zips. When the brackets for the NCAA Tournament came out Sunday evening, that theme continued. The Zips earned their best seed in school history by getting a No.12 seed in the South region, but will be tested right out of the gate when they face VCU.

After Saturday night’s win against Ohio in the MAC championship game, Akron coach Keith Dambrot said he and his assistants were joking that they would probably get a team like VCU because the Rams like to pressure and Akron is without their starting point guard. Not only will the Zips have to face a team that pressures a lot, they will also face Dambrot’s best friend and former assistant coach in VCU’s Shaka Smart.

Dambrot is either a prophet or the tournament committee has a cruel sense of humor. Either way, it is just another hurdle the Zips will have to overcome. And they are ready.

“It’s funny how it works,” senior Brian Walsh said. “We have had a lot of adversity, ups and downs. It’s been a roller coaster season and I can’t wait for Thursday.”

One of the reasons Akron has been able to stare adversity in the face and not back away has been due to Dambrot’s coaching. From game-planning to dealing with young student-athletes to the way he has his team prepared on gameday to even handling the distraction of the last couple weeks, Dambrot always has a way of getting it done.

“Nobody has handled it the way Keith has handled it,” Akron athletic director Tom Wistrcill said. “He is so smart about his decision making and about how to handle the team. I don’t think that is something you learn, I think that is something that is innate within him.”

The Alex Abreu arrest and suspension isn’t the first thing this team has overcome this season. They dealt with the season-long suspension of Quincy Diggs before the season, an injury to Abreu, a three-game suspension for Demetrius Treadwell and Nick Harney and then even the distractions that come with a 19-game winning streak.

And through it all, the Zips have come out on top.

“It’s a credit to the coaches and players the way they have handled different types of adversity,” Wistrcill said. “Also had to handle all the positive stuff you get during a 19-game win streak. Certainly the last week has been tough.”

Another of the reasons that Akron has been able to battle through everything is because they have been prepared for it since the season began. Because of that, they have had a confidence instilled in them that has been unshakable.

“We have been confident all season long,” Treadwell said. “Even with the Alex thing, we have to be able to overcome things like that and we have been practicing from day one for those times. It is what our team is built on and what our program is built on is dealing with adversity.”

Even Dambrot had to laugh when talking about playing against Shaka, whom he said ho considers a member of his family.

“This has been a season full of irony and this is the biggest irony of all,” Dambrot said.

But don’t think that because Akron will be facing VCU’s pressure or that Dambrot is 0-2 against his former assistant that the Zips are going to throw in the towel on Thursday.

“We have exorcized our demons on a lot of different things this year,” Dambrot said. “People have written us off as dead many times and I am sure a lot of people even in our league understanding that we are playing with a backup point guard that’s not very experienced are going to say we can’t win now because of the draw.”

Those who question the point guard play at Akron may want to stay clear of Treadwell. The MAC Tournament MVP is done with those saying that the Zips are playing without one.

“We still have a point guard,” Treadwell said. “Carmelo Betancourt is a great point guard and I am tired of people saying he’s not.”

Harney – a junior – has seen more time at the point guard position over the last week bot offensively and defensively and believes that this next few days will be important for him in getting ready for the pressure they are about to see.

“This is going to be a big couple of days for us in practice,” Harney said. “Now that I have more time at the point guard there is less room for error but by Thursday I think we will be ready for VCU’s pressure.”

Another of the demons Dambrot will be trying to exorcize is the fact that Akron has never won an NCAA Tournament game. It is the third time in five seasons and the fourth time in their history that Zips have gone dancing, but their card has only included one tango each time. They were defeated by Michigan 70-64 in 1986, by Gonzaga 77-64 in 2009 and then 69-56 by Notre Dame in 2011.

The only active player on the Zips roster who has seen the NCAA Tournament is senior Zeke Marshall and he is prepared to tell his guys what to expect. He was there when Akron lost to Notre Dame and doesn’t want his teammates to have that same feeling he felt that day.

“The stage is a little intimidating but I am going to make sure we go in there with same mindset we have had,” Marshall said. “We need to stay positive and we are going to win. We are going to handle our business.”

If there is anything we all have learned about this team it is that Dambrot, his staff and his players will be ready when the ball is tipped Thursday in Auburn Hills, Michigan. And if Marshall has his way, they will still be playing on Saturday.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]