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Texas, Shaka Smart aiming to effectively implement up-tempo offense

The Longhorns are looking to push the pace much more this season courtesy of a deep and versatile roster.

Legends Classic Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Three seasons have came and went since Shaka Smart was called upon to serve as Rick Barnes’ successor, yet the Havoc style that largely led to Smart emerging as one of the most coveted coaches in the country is yet to find its way to the Forty Acres. Initially, this was to be expected, as Smart took control of a roster constructed almost entirely of players fit for Barnes’ style, which contrasts quite considerably from the scheme and style Smart was known to employ.

Consequently, Havoc hasn’t arrived, nor has anything closely replicable to it and thus, the results have been underwhelming, to say the least. The Longhorns have now lost as many games as they’ve won under Smart and Texas is averaging 11 fewer wins per season than the 27 wins per year that VCU enjoyed under his guidance. One certainly wouldn’t have to search far and wide to find a quality excuse for these struggles, from injuries and illness to a mass exodus of graduates, but the one thing that’s been largely inexplicable is why some semblance of the Havoc system Smart enjoyed so much success with at VCU is yet to take form at Texas.

With a deep, experienced, and largely versatile and positionless roster of his recruits now at Smart’s disposal, the stars may have finally aligned for that to change.

Well, at least that’s the plan.

“We really want it to. It’s something we’ve been doing a lot,” Smart told Burnt Orange Nation when asked if Texas’ offense will look a little more similar to the systems and styles he instilled at VCU.

“The exciting thing about it is we do have, knock on wood, right now, the depth to play faster,” Smart later added. “We’ve really tried to emphasize trying to push the ball and get out in transition.”

Days later following the Texas Tip-Off, senior guard Kerwin Roach II echoed Smart’s sentiments, noting that conditioning and tempo were emphasized throughout the offseason, though Roach said the style has inherited a bit of a name change, being dubbed as “pace and poise,” as opposed to “Havoc.”

“One of the things [Smart] preached this offseason and preseason was that seven-second mentality,” Roach said. “We want to score in the first seven seconds of the shot clock.”

Of course, aspiring to score in just seven seconds and actually doing so are two different things, as evident from last season’s efforts. Though Texas’ 2018-19 roster is certainly more tailor-made to push the pace on a consistent basis, several key contributors and starters from Smart’s 2017-18 roster return and the results weren’t exactly encouraging for those eying an up-tempo team. For example, only 20.8 percent of Texas’ initial attempts last season came within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, per Hoop-Math, and that clip regressed to just 5.3 percent after an opponent’s score.

These efforts weren’t aided much by Texas inability to find much success in transition, as a mere 24.4 percent of the team’s initial attempts came in transition, nor has it helped that Texas’ desired recipe for up-tempo success has largely lacked the key ingredient — defensive pressure.

A staple throughout Smart’s tremendously successful VCU squads was the ability to force steals at nothing short of a smothering and overwhelming clip — hence, the term Havoc. Three of Smart’s final four VCU rosters led the nation in steals per game, and the exception was his final roster, which finished second. Texas, on the other hand, has only ranked within the top 200 in steals just once under Smart, which came last season when the Longhorns finished tied for 179th nationally.

This reality isn’t lost on Smart, who credited the increased competition throughout the Big 12 as a reason Texas hasn’t pressed the way his VCU teams did to such success.

“It’s risk-reward,” Smart said when asked of the difficulties when pressing more prolific guards in the Big 12. “It’s always hard to press if a team has multiple good ball handlers, but it’s still doable. You just have to be smart about trapping the right guys and putting yourself in position where you extend the floor in the right way.”

“If you’re just a half-step or a quarter-step off in the press, it makes a huge difference between you getting that reward, or the risk that you were taking not paying off for you or paying off for the other team,” Smart added.

At long last, does Smart finally have the right roster capable of effectively executing his preferred pressure, pace and poise playing style? The Horns fourth-year head coach believes that’s the case and he’s spent the offseason and preseason preparing his team accordingly.