Year 2 for Smart at Texas has NCAA tourney wish list
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Shaka Smart's first season at Texas pumped new life into the Longhorns program. It also ended with another quick departure from the NCAA Tournament.
For year two, the mission is to keep the Longhorns on the upward trend, and keep them playing much deeper in the postseason, even with no returning starters and seven newcomers to the lineup .
That's asking a lot in a league like the Big 12.
''It was a fun transition, and continues to be a transition because we're certainly far from having our program all the way established to where we wanted it to be,'' Smart said. ''We lost a lot of guys. Had five seniors graduate, had a junior leave.''
Also gone are the exhausting early-season trips to China and the Bahamas that made it tough for Smart to build early consistency in his first season. But newly arrived on campus is 6-foot-11 forward Jarrett Allen, an Austin product who spurned an offer from national powerhouse Kansas to stay close to home.
Texas has been a regular in the NCAA Tournament, making it 16 of the last 17 years. Smart was hired in large part because the problem was getting past the first weekend, which the Longhorns haven't done since 2008.
Smart has had his own postseason woes. Since leading Virginia Commonwealth to the Final Four in 2011, his teams haven't made it past the tournament's opening weekend, including three straight first-round losses. Last season, Texas lost to Northern Iowa on a half-court shot at the buzzer.
Some things to look for in Smart's second season at Texas:
BIG THINGS FROM THE BIG MAN
Much will be expected from Allen from the start. As one of the highest-rated recruits in the country, he'll be asked not just to score but help patch up an interior defense that lost Prince Ibeh, last season's Big 12 defensive player of the year. ''He's going to make a big impact right away. We're going to play him at multiple positions,'' Smart said.
FREQUENT FLIER MILES
Texas won't rack up as many of those. Unlike last season's globe-trotting schedule that had the Longhorns jet-lagged for a month, the longest out-of-conference trips this team will make include New York for a Thanksgiving week tournament and a December trip to Michigan. They should be well rested for the start of Big 12 play.
Texas needs a go-to ball handler and passer after Isaiah Taylor turned pro after last season. That looks like it could be sophomore Kerwin Roach, whose athleticism produced some rim-rattling dunks last season. But Smart plans to get the ball in a lot of hands. Defenses knew everything ran through Taylor last season.
''I think it's definitely a more versatile group,'' Smart said. ''We're going to have to play point guard by committee, and that will be interesting to follow.''
BIG SHOT DAVIS
Whoever becomes the distributor, guard Eric Davis will get a lot of looks. He started just two games last season but made 42 3-pointers, shooting 38 percent and returns as the Longhorns' top outside threat.
Smart's first team was dominated by seniors. It will be freshmen and sophomores leading the way this time. Of all the players who attended preseason Big 12 media days, Roach and Davis were the only sophomores. Other freshmen who will be expected to contribute immediately will be guards Andrew Jones and Jacob Young and forward James Banks.