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Just The Sports: Shaka Smart's True Coaching Ability Is Still To Be Determined

Just The Sports

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shaka Smart's True Coaching Ability Is Still To Be Determined

North Carolina State should not feel too disappointed that Virginia Commonwealth basketball head coach Shaka Smart turned down a job offer to coach the Wolfpack. In the end, it might be a blessing in disguise because the jury is still out on just how good a coach Shaka Smart truly is.

The excitement that surrounded Virginia Commonwealth's road to the Final Four covered up both the advantages Smart had this season with his team and also where the Rams came up short even with those advantages.

This past season, Smart's Virginia Commonwealth squad enjoyed a roster stability of .81, meaning that 81 percent of the team's minutes were played by players who were on the roster last year. That is the equivalent of losing just one position player and should have set up the Rams to have a better season than they did last year.

Yet, despite having such a veteran squad and winning their five out of their last six games, the Rams were not as dominant as the 2009-10 team. This past season, the Rams outscored their opponents by 7.4 points per 100 possessions, but last season, the Rams outscored their opponents by 14.2 points per 100 possessions.

They might not have had as much national exposure as the 2010-11 team, but they were better over the course of the season. However, even the accomplishments of the 2009-10 roster that went on to win the CBI championship are made a little less noteworthy by the fact that the team also had a lot of experience; the roster stability in 2009-10 was .80.

In his two seasons as a college basketball head coach, Smart has enjoyed an amazingly high level of roster stability, which usually makes a head coach look better because the longer a group of players stays together, the better that group will perform. Therefore, Smart deserves some criticism for the fact Virginia Commonwealth had a less dominant season than last year since the team should have been expected to at least maintain their level of play if not improve due to the overwhelming veteran presence on the roster.

Of course, Smart's luck will run out next year and he will actually have to prove to everyone he can build a winning program across multiple seasons. This season, 54 percent of the team's minutes were played by seniors so for the first time next season, Smart will be working with a team that is not so veteran-laden. How his teams perform over the next couple seasons will go a long way in allowing us to truly gauge his coaching acumen and determining his level of competence in actually building a successful college basketball program.

Smart's situation is very similar to that of current Virginia basketball head coach Tony Bennett. He, too, enjoyed the benefit of having great roster stability his first two seasons as a head coach at Washington State.

His first team in 2007-08 had a roster stability of .85 and outscored opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions. His second team in 2008-09 had an astounding roster stability of .98 and outscored opponents by 17.0 points per 100 possessions.

Then, in his third season, Bennett's team's roster stability dropped to .63 and when he needed to coach his best, he was not up to the task. That squad managed to outscore opponents by only 6.5 points per 100 possessions. It was in his third season where we first glimpsed that Bennett was not necessarily that great a coach and was only a product of having such veteran-laden teams in his first two seasons.

The Virginia Cavaliers decided to ignore that glimpse and hire Bennett anyway. They were rewarded by having him coach a team with a roster stability of .90 that outscored their opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions, which was an improvement, although an expected one no matter who was coaching the team, over how the Cavaliers had played the previous season.

In this past season, however, with a roster stability of .62, the Cavaliers were outscored by .9 points per 100 possessions, demonstrating once again the fact that Bennett struggles whenever he does not have an abundance of veteran talent on his roster. It is his failure in that aspect that will keep him from being a good coach.

Smart will have to avoid the same fate that has befallen Bennett to truly earn the accolades that have been showered upon him thus far, and we will all have to wait and see just how good a coach Smart really is, starting with next season.

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