On Monday, the Texas Longhorns traveled to Morgantown to face the West Virginia Mountaineers. The corporeal bodies of the Longhorns players and their walking dead head coach showed up to the WVU Coliseum, but that was about it as Texas suffered its worst Big 12 loss in school history and its worst loss under Shaka Smart.
The 97-59 loss represented complete meltdowns on offense and defense for the Longhorns, who have been pushed around all season by multiple teams that were more physical and possessed better mental toughness.
It also sparked Longhorns legend TJ Ford, the architect of the only Final Four run in modern Texas basketball history, to sound off on the state of the program:
It’s very disappointing and disheartening to watch the direction Texas Longhorn has now taken. I’ve never witnessed a blowout of this magnitude in BIG12 play like tonight.— TJ Ford (@tj_ford) January 21, 2020
In the fifth year of Smart’s tenure, there are no more excuses.
Sure, West Virginia plays a goonish style of basketball that hails back to the Big Ten slugfests of the 1990s that I grew up watching in Indiana, looking like a bunch of mobsters showing up to a rec league game intent on using their baseball bats to play defense. How officials do their job in those games in Morgantown makes a big difference.
But that’s not the point — the officials weren’t the difference in a 38-point loss. The West Virginia players pushing Texas players around all over the court were merely avatars for every other team that has done the same thing this season and in previous seasons. The result was an avatar for the disappointment and disheartening results that extend back to Smart’s second season and have continued virtually unabated ever since.
And those are major problems. This blowout loss didn’t happen in a vacuum.
These are Smart’s players. He’s recruited every single one of them. Not enough of them have developed to the point that the team is competitive in the Big 12. Not enough of them have stayed to develop. Smart hasn’t been able to a coaching staff around him to make up for missing on Carsen Edwards and taking Tevin Mack and not being able to find a role for James Banks. On and on.
In notable contrast, Chris Beard arrived in Lubbock less than four years ago and almost instantly turned Texas Tech into a contender despite significant roster turnover happening constantly.
Texas fans are left wondering why the Longhorns are the third best program in the state, a tenuous status at times in recent years when the Horned Frogs were a better team.
So now the question isn’t whether Smart’s tenure deserves to end after this season — it does, barring an absolute turnaround that looks impossible from this vantage point — it’s whether athletics director Chris Del Conte will be able to pull together the $10.5 million buyout that was a result of his predecessor’s unwise contract extension following Smart’s first season.
The program won’t make the money back quickly due to a spike in fan turnout under a new coach. This is Texas basketball after all — a few more fans may show up, but the Erwin Center will largely remain empty, like it usually is, until the Moody Center becomes slightly less empty due to its decreased capacity.
However, that doesn’t change the necessity of the decision.
Time to take a big monetary L that will look a lot like the one that Smart’s team took in Morgantown.