Marquette has their new head coach. After 6 seasons with Texas, Shaka Smart is leaving the program to become the next head coach at Marquette.
Sources: Marquette is closing in on hiring Texas' Shaka Smart as its next head basketball coach.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 26, 2021
This news coming a week after Marquette parted ways with Steve Wojciechowski after his 7 seasons coaching the team.
Recruiting and Results
Wojo was always known as a great recruiter who just couldn’t get it done as a coach. He was only able to take Marquette to the tournament twice in his 7 years (would’ve likely been 3 times if not for COVID), and he failed to win an NCAA Tournament game.
As far as Shaka, there are some very positive signs both as a recruiter and as a coach. At Texas, he has landed 16 ESPN top 100 recruits since 2016, compared to Wojo who had 10 ESPN top 100 recruits since 2015 (I am not including the recruiting class of their first year with their teams, because they did not recruit them). Wojo was a very good recruiter, but Shaka is even better. Even at a smaller school like VCU, his average recruiting class was ranked 53rd nationally in his final 4 years there. For reference, Marquette with Wojo had an average recruiting class ranking of 46th. If Shaka was able to recruit at VCU just as well as Wojo could recruit at Marquette, he should be able to recruit at Marquette better than Wojo could.
Shaka has also produced very consistent results in his 12 years as a head coach. His teams have never finished outside the KenPom top 70, and they have been inside the top 40 seven times. This consistency is very different from Wojo’s teams, who finished outside the top 70 three times in seven years. Wojo’s average KenPom finish in his head coaching career has been 60th, Shaka’s is 41st.
The defensive efficiency of Shaka’s teams are what really stands out. His teams have finished inside the top 40 in defensive efficiency every single year since 2011, with an average rank of 25th over that span. Wojo never had a team finish inside the top 40 in defensive efficiency once in his seven years, with an average rank of 100th. If you want to look at some of these numbers that I’ve mentioned in table form, here they are:
Wojo obviously had some really good offenses because of players like Markus Howard, Sam Hauser, Joey Hauser, and Andrew Rowsey, but Shaka’s ability to consistently produce great defenses is very impressive. That is generally the sign of a good coach.
Another good thing about Shaka has been his ability to adapt and change to different styles. At VCU, his teams typically played fast and forced a ton of turnovers. They were usually top 100 in pace, and led the nation in forced turnover percentage for three consecutive years from 2012-2014.
However, once he got to Texas, the style changed, and he was able to adapt and change his system. His teams there have often been much slower (averaging 266th in pace), and instead of forcing a lot of turnovers (average rank of 166th in that forced TO%), they focus more on just playing solid defense and forcing teams into bad shots, as they consistently rank in the top 80 in allowed 2P% and allowed eFG%.
On offense, his teams didn’t take many threes his first few years at Texas because they were not a great shooting team (average 288th in 3P%), but as they have gotten more shooters (81st in 3P% this year) the offense has changed and they have taken more threes and adjusted to their strengths. These are all great signs of a coach that is able to adapt, adjust, and still produce consistent results.
NCAA Tournament Success
It is definitely worth noting that the tournament success has not been there for Shaka as of late. Many know that he took VCU to the Final Four in 2011, but he has not won a tournament game since 2013, going 0-5 in that stretch. However, those 5 losses were by a COMBINED 13 points, with 3 of the games going to overtime, one of them ending on a half-court buzzer beater, and another ending on a last-second foul when up by 1.
Wow Shaka Smart has been insanely unlucky in the tourney since 2014
2014: Up 4, 10 sec left, 4-point play sends to OT. Loss
2015: Loss by 3 (OT)
2016: Loss by 3 on half court shot
2018: Up 1, 5 sec left, foul sends to OT. Loss
2021: Up 1, foul w/ 2 sec left, loss
— Nathan Marzion (@nathanmarzion) March 26, 2021
In comparison, Wojo’s 2 tournament losses were by a combined 39 points — a 20 point loss to South Carolina in 2017 and a 19 point loss against Murray State in 2019. Shaka has had some brutal luck in the tournament, and it does not appear to be a major issue where he CAN’T compete or win in the tournament. His teams don’t fall apart, they just have not gotten the job done in some extremely close games. This year, Texas won 8 of their final10 games before the NCAA Tournament and won the Big 12 conference tournament. That right there is better performance late in the year than Marquette has seen under Wojo.
Shaka is a proven coach who is a great recruiter, can adapt to different styles, instills great defense, and has produced consistent results. He has been to a Final Four, won an NIT championship, won a CBI championship, and won 3 separate conference tournament championships (Colonial Athletic, Atlantic 10, Big 12). The NCAA Tournament results have been unlucky lately, but don’t let that make you think this is not a great hire. It is a high-floor move without a lot of risk, and at the very worst Marquette will be in a slightly better situation than they are right now, with better recruiting and a defensive identity that they have not had in a while. It’s just a matter of if the results in March can come.
College basketball in the state of Wisconsin is not the same without Marquette being good, and this move gives Marquette fans excitement and hope and that they can return to being an elite-level program.