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What would qualify Shaka Smart’s first season at Texas as a success?

Is Shaka Smart's initial regular season coaching performance enough to signify a successful season, or is NCAA Tournament validation necessary?

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Much of the reason Rick Barnes is no longer coaching in Austin can be credited to postseason struggles for greater than the past half decade. Barnes' 2-5 NCAA Tournament record over the past six seasons -- the duration of Shaka Smart's tenure at VCU -- can be credited as to why Smart is now coaching his first NCAA Tournament with the Texas Longhorns.

While at VCU, Smart's 7-5 tournament résumé, which included a Final Four run, in addition to a CBI Championship his first season, had placed Smart on a yearly coaching candidate pedestal before he ultimately became a seemingly ideal hire to replace Barnes.

But VCU isn't Texas, and the expectations, especially in March, are much higher and scrutinized under a significantly brighter light. But after an impressive, yet up-and-down regular season, and a problematic road to tournament success ahead, what would deem Smart's first season in Austin a success?

While there's no factual answer, there's certainly a standard to judge Smart's debut tenure by.

A case could be made that Smart's first effort at Texas is already a success, regardless of what happens in the NCAA Tournament. In route to compiling a 20-12 record heading into the NCAA Tournament - a slight step up from last season's 20-13 mark - Smart led Texas to one of the nation's most impressive résumés, despite some glaring adversity.

Texas' season began with a 2-3 deficit, but it's worth noting it came during earliest signs of the new-look Longhorns under a dramatically different coaching staff and system. Additionally, all three losses came overseas with Texas falling to Washington in the season-opener in China, and losing to No. 25 Texas A&M and Michigan in the Bahamas. The Horns' would bounce back, rattling off a six-game win streak bolstered by a Javan Felix buzzer beater over No. 3 North Carolina. But just as Texas looked to be finding itself, Cameron Ridley, arguably the Longhorns' best player to that point, fell victim a fractured foot prior to the Connecticut game, forcing Smart to replace Ridley's two-way double-double dominance and rim protection for the remainder of the season.  Consequently, Texas dropped two of its next three games entering conference play in the grueling Big 12.

The odds certainly didn't appear in Texas' favor, but Smart and the Longhorns would rally, and conclude the regular season with 20 wins, including six ranked victories and an NCAA-leading four wins over top-10 competition.

To manage such a feat in a conference that led the NCAA in RPI (.5884), and sent and NCAA-leading 70 percent of it's 10-team conference to the NCAA Tournament is reason enough to believe Smart exceeded expectations during his inaugural season. But considering Barnes' most notable shortcoming at Texas came in March, would yet another early exit for Texas when it's "win or go home" mean Smart fell short in 2015-16?

Considering the likely tournament road in front of Texas, the answer may be no.

The Longhorns open Friday night against a Northern Iowa team that's tremendously well-coached, led by talented veterans, and peaking at the right time. A win would likely pit Texas against a rival Texas A&M squad that's improved impressively since beating the Longhorns, and an upset would expectedly have the Longhorns square off with Buddy Hield and Oklahoma after splitting the season series.

Anything beyond two wins and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen would assure beyond doubt that Smart's first season at the help was a tremendous success, considering Texas hasn't reached that point since 2008. But what if the Longhorns were to fall to the Aggies yet again, this time ending their season? Would the season be a success if 11-seeded UNI upsets Texas during Smart's first NCAA Tournament game at Texas?

It's a discussion worthy of debate, and there's essentially no wrong answer with Smart's initial body of work being an impressive one.