Havoc gives way to panic

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Trailing Louisiana State by 16 points, Texas started pressuring inbounds passes under its own basket and trapping dribblers in the sweet spots. In about 11½ minutes, the Longhorns took the lead.

Alas, it did not last. The Bayou Bengals won that Jan. 25 game in Austin. In a microcosm of the Shaka Smart era at Texas, the Havoc style that he had promoted at Virginia Commonwealth, a key to getting the Longhorns gig, has become more of an exception than a staple of his burnt-orange playbook.  

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Professional handicapper-bettor Paul Stone is among a growing faction that believes Smart’s tenure in Austin is ending.

“The Havoc defense … doesn’t resonate with NBA prospects,” says Stone, based in Tyler, Texas. “Nobody plays Havoc in the NBA, so Shaka was either forced, or chose, to (mostly) ditch his trademark style of play.”

VCU players relished underdog roles. At Texas, Smart could now target blue-chippers, but they’d be gone tomorrow. Mohamed Bamba (sixth pick of 2018 NBA draft) and Jaxson Hayes (eighth in ’19) both bolted after one season.

Texas is in the midst of an embarrassing league drought it last experienced in the old Southwest Conference, from 1980-81 through ’84-85, when it went 24-56. Over their past four campaigns, the Horns’ Big 12 record is 26-42.

Smart has taken Texas to one NCAA Tournament, a first-round overtime loss to Nevada in 2018. Predecessor Rick Barnes went 16 times in 17 years, including one Final Four and to the brink of three others.

“His teams, and I don’t say this lightly, have lacked toughness and grit … the antithesis of Bob Huggins’s teams at West Virginia,” Stone says of Smart. “Huggins has a lot of junkyard dogs who play the game hard, with an edge. Smart has a roster full of highly recruited guys who seem soft and lack the necessary resolve to win close games in a power conference.” 

Stone suspects a Big 12 tournament flame-out will seal Smart’s fate. Former Texas AD Mike Perrin had hired Smart but bolted to a law practice in Houston. Chris del Conte took over in December 2017. The buyout for Smart’s remaining three years is $10.5 million.

Del Conte had hired Jamie Dixon at TCU, but that move might be too expensive, when combining Dixon’s $8-million-plus buyout with Smart’s. John Beilein, the former Michigan and Cleveland Cavaliers coach, is in demand. 

However, Stone notes that del Conte might opt for younger leadership to open a renovated Moody Center, likely in 2021.  

Illinois coach Brad Underwood has Texas ties, having led Nacogdoches-based Stephen F. Austin to a victory over West Virginia in the NCAAs four years ago.

In the meantime, Smart’s team has won three straight heading into Saturday’s game at Texas Tech as the ‘Horns try to make a late-season push. Against Tech three weeks ago, in Austin, Texas got 2.5 points and lost, 62-57. In Lubbock, the Red Raiders have allowed 0.868 points per play — 12th-lowest in the country. 

Texas is in the nation’s bottom-10 percentile in that category away from home. Worse, it has attempted just 345 free throws. Soft and placid, indeed.

Veteran Vegas oddsmaker Kenny White projects, as he does with games below, Tech as a 9.5-point favorite, with a 127 Total. Smart’s track record against Chris Beard in Lubbock is 0-3, by an average of more than 10 points. TEXAS TECH and UNDER

Thursday

North Florida -6.5 at Stetson: At 21-7, the Ospreys and Hofstra have been the country’s best ATS teams. North Florida has covered 16 of its past 19, including, as an 8.5-point favorite, a 78-65 home triumph over Stetson on Jan. 30.

Four of 11th-year coach Matthew Driscoll’s five double-digit scorers are seniors, including guard J.T. Escobar, whose marriage ceremony Driscoll performed in May. NORTH FLORIDA

Tennessee Tech at Belmont -21.5: Belmont is 12th in the nation with 1.083 points per possession. In three games over the past two weeks it’s become crisper, with 1.206 points per possession, second in the nation — all were victories and covers as a double-digit favorite.

In fact, the Bruins have won eight in a row, covering their past seven. Tech has failed to cover seven of its past 10 on the road. BELMONT

Saturday

Long Beach State at UC Davis, Total 143.5: Four of Davis’ past five home games have gone Over, three of those by 54, 20 and 20 points. On Jan. 16, Davis won at The Beach, 85-82, which sailed Over by 29 points. OVER

Last week: 3-2

Season: 39-33 

About the Author
Rob Miech

Rob Miech

Rob Miech is a writer and contributor for Gaming Today, covering soccer and producing sports betting features. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners.

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