Previously on Profile Of A Possible Savior:
Cuonzo Martin (Missouri State)
Gregg Marshall (Wichita State)
We have probably all heard this name by now: Shaka Smart at Virginia Commonwealth. Smart is the second year coach of the Rams, and at 33 years old is one of the youngest coaches in the country. Smart has previously served as an assistant at Florida to Billy Donovan and Clemson to Oliver Purnell. More after the jump…
Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:
1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?
2. Has he built a program from the ground up?
No. The Rams were a CAA power going back to Jeff Capel taking over about a decade ago and rebuilding the program. When Capel split for Oklahoma, it was Anthony Grant who took the helm and the program really took off, with three straight 24+ win seasons, three straight #1 CAA finishes, and two CAA titles. When Grant left for Alabama, Smart came in and has managed to maintain that success, to some extent.
3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?
Nope. VCU was 22-8 (11-7) last year, finishing 5th in the CAA. The Rams were snubbed by the NIT and ended up in the CBI, winning the CBI Title. This season, the Rams sit at 4th in the CAA, 21-9 (12-5) with one game to go v. James Madison.
4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?
Nope. This is Smart’s first HC job.
5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?
Yes. As noted above, Smart served as an assistant to Billy Donovan during the 2008-2009 season, and before that was an assistant to Oliver Purnell at Clemson from 2006-2008. Prior to that, Smart was an assistant at Akron and Dayton. He was at Clemson when Purnell finally broke through, getting the Tigers back to the ACC Tournament in ’07-’08 season. His experience with Purnell at both Clemson and Dayton before that was where Smart picked up on his defensive style, which we will address momentarily.
6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?
Yes. The CAA is no slouch of a conference, the Rams are 4th and will definitely contend with Old Dominion, George Mason, Hofstra, and Drexel to win the league.
7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?
Yes and no. Ken Pom has the Rams at 149th in defensive ratings (100.7 adjusted rating), results are mixed leading into this number. The Rams run an attacking, aggressive style. Learned from his time with Purnell, Smart runs a pressing style attack that’s known as “Havoc Ball”. Having watched VCU, it appears to be a more aggressive press than what Purnell ran at Clemson (which was at times pedestrian). This leads to a 22.6% turnover rate on D (ranked 52nd by Ken Pom), and a top 10 steal percentage (13.1% of all possessions). Everything isn’t all rosy. Their defensive rebounding is atrocious, giving up 36% of all rebounds on their opponent’s glass. In addition, VCU’s opponents have an effective FG% of 50% (ranked 205th). These numbers are mostly down from last year, though the defensive rebounding was almost as bad last year as this year (around 33% OR% for opponents).
8. Any indication that he can recruit McDonald’s All-American-type players?
Absolutely. Both Clemson and Florida pulled in top flight talent when Smart was around. He hasn’t had any big recruiting coups while at VCU though.
9. Does he run the Princeton offense?
No. Given the high-pressure D, VCU likes to get out and run but does play a half-court offense that appears similar to Purnell’s offenses at Clemson. The Rams do not turn the ball over (17.4%, 31st rank), and are efficient in their shooting, currently ranked 90th in effective FG%. The Rams do take a somewhat-high number of threes (35.9% of their shots) but this is not a product of a Princeton-style. The Rams are guard heavy, which lends itself to this style. It also leads to few offensive rebounds and free throw attempts (ranked sub-200 in both by Ken Pom).
10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?
Yes. As noted above, Smart coached at Clemson for two years. He is a native of Wisconsin, but attended and played PG at Kenyon College, so no high-major playing experience.
11. Any other random red flags or positives?
Not that I can seem to find. It is important to note that the Rams have lost 4 of their last 7, including two not-very-close losses at home to Old Dominion and George Mason.
Would he be better than Sid?
Probably. Just from a defensive standpoint, I think he would be an upgrade.
Would he be better than Herb?
Hard to say. Much like Herb when he was at Miami (OH), there isn’t a ton of evidence yet.
Would he take the job if offered?
Yes. A young, aggressive guy like Smart, I couldn’t see him turning it down.
How would I feel if he were hired?
Pissed. I tried to hide my disdain for this guy during the writing of this to be as objective as possible but I would not be happy with this hire. I think he is too young, too inexperienced, and too closely tied to a mediocre coach (Purnell) for my liking. While the pressing D would be a nice change, I would absolutely LOATHE having another coach who could not teach rebounding, and given how unimpressive that Smart’s teams have been on the glass…well you get the picture. There are 5-6 other mid-major coaches that we could hire that I would want before this guy, including a few we have profiled here (Marshall, Taylor, Martin, Miles).
How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?
Split. Much like with every other mid-major hire, I think there would be a large amount that were skeptical, others would be cautiously optimistic, others would be fully on board thinking he is the next great thing. Who would be right, well it would be unknown for some time. Can we afford to take this big of a risk?