Basketball

Notes from Shaka Smart’s press conference ahead of an important game

Shaka Smart (Will Gallagher/IT)
Shaka Smart (Will Gallagher/IT)

-Texas head coach Shaka Smart met with the media yesterday ahead of the Longhorns’ match-up with Big 12 leading Kansas State.

His team went to Manhattan earlier this season and beat up a Wildcat team missing its best player in Dean Wade. Wade is now back with the team and part of an experienced KSU bunch that has won three straight.

“They’re playing better than everyone in the league and obviously have an extremely veteran team,” Smart said Monday. “I was looking back at the game from last year when we played them here and it’s the same guys. It’s all the same guys that came in here and ended up going to the Elite Eight.”

-On if he could take anything from the first meeting this year without Dean Wade: “You take a few things basketball wise just in terms of the way they defend certain actions and some of the stuff they run. For sure, with Dean Wade back, their lineup is different most of the time and the way they play through him is much, much different.”

-One of the things the last three Smart teams have been able to do effectively is play above the rim. Players like Jarrett Allen, Mohamed Bamba, Jericho Sims, and Jaxson Hayes make that easy, and a lot of what they’re able to do above the rim can’t be coached. What happens before those big men go up for the ball, however, can be.

“Just throw them the ball as much as we can,” Smart said. “We spend a lot of time on trying to get those guys to sprint to the rim and throw the ball up to them. Depending on how the other team guards it, sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not there. It’s one of those passes, and you’ve seen this before with our team, if you make the pass and it’s not there then it turns into a turnover.”

-The length that Smart has consistently recruited doesn’t need a lot of help with the explosive part of the game, they just need to execute how to get to that point: “They’re pretty good at knowing what to do with it if the pass is made there. It’s one of the reasons Jaxson is shooting seventy-something percent from the field.”

-Texas defeated Kansas State 67-47 in Manhattan in the previous meeting, but with the fully-loaded first place team coming to town, Smart reiterated it’s more about what his team does than what the opponent does: “I do think our guys are in a better place in terms of humility at least when it comes to understanding that whoever we play in this league, they’re capable of beating us. We’re capable of beating them. It’s more than anything about us playing the game on our terms.”

“With this game and with it being the first place team in the league, I don’t think there’s going to be any question about motivation, nor should there be.”

-Smart was asked about the NCAA Evaluation Tool that the tournament selection committee is making use of this year in order to determine the NCAA Tournament field. Texas’ numbers in the tool are good for a team with its record, but Smart knows improving the record should improve the NET’s valuation of the Longhorns.

“I really like math, but it’s not something I put a lot of stock into. I think if I was just a casual observer of college basketball and not coaching, I really would get into that stuff. I like math. I like statistics. To me, that stuff works itself out if you win your games. That’s where my focus is as a team.”

Texas and Kansas State tips off tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN2