College Sports

Bill Self made a stronger pitch for Texas than Shaka Smart. That’s a problem.

Speculation is rising with Shaka Smart’s job status after a .500 season.
Speculation is rising with Shaka Smart’s job status after a .500 season. Special to Star-Telegram

Bill Self lobbied for the Texas Longhorns being included in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.

Kansas’ Hall of Fame coach, whose team had just defeated Texas 65-57 in the Big 12 tournament, said the Longhorns were “positively a tournament team.”

Texas coach Shaka Smart doesn’t quite agree.

“If you’re going to evaluate teams based on the quality of their wins, we definitely deserve strong consideration,” Smart said after the Longhorns’ loss.

“But, for us, our focus is on our guys and helping them process this game today and understand what we can learn from it.”

What? That’s the worst campaign speech ever written.

The focus should be on doing everything you can to persuade the selection committee to go dancing. This is campaign season. This is his job.

It would’ve been refreshing to hear Smart say something borderline outlandish such as, “If we’re not in the NCAAs, the selection committee will have gotten it wrong.”

People may have mocked or laughed at him for it, but if he’s not making the case for his team, who is?

Heck, he could’ve taken the lead from his players who answered just minutes before he was asked what he would tell the committee.

Texas forward Dylan Osetkowski said “absolutely” the team deserved a bid.

“No question about it,” Osetkowski said. “Regardless of our record, every game that we’ve played, it was there for us to win. We’ve been in every game. It’s a tough place leaving it up to the committee now, but I think we’ve definitely done enough for them to see that we are a NCAA Tournament team.”

Smart, though, sounds resigned to the fact that the Longhorns are NIT-bound. He even mentioned telling the players that Thursday’s game was essentially make-or-break for the Longhorns’ postseason dreams.

“I didn’t necessarily tell the guys that it would get us into the NCAA Tournament, but I told the guys it was a game that we had to win if we wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Smart said.

Sure, it’s good to be realistic. Most don’t expect Texas to reach the NCAAs. No .500-team has received an at-large bid, and the Longhorns have lost five of their last six.

But Smart isn’t “most.” He should be the No. 1 advocate for the Longhorns to be in the Big Dance, not a head coach from another team.

That’s part of the reason Texas fans have grown frustrated with Smart. He’s 66-66 overall, and has yet to led the Longhorns past the first-round of the NCAA Tournament in four seasons.

It’s why there are questions about his job status going forward. Athletic director Chris Del Conte got testy when asked about Smart returning next season, saying such speculation was “ludicrous talk.”

Del Conte could’ve quieted all speculation with a simple, “Yes, he’ll be back.” But he didn’t.

Parting ways with Smart would require a roughly $13 million buyout and signs point to him returning for a fifth season. Even for Texas, the hefty buyout, plus paying top dollar to woo the next coach to Austin, probably isn’t justified.

College basketball isn’t popular enough to that fan base. Texas didn’t even sellout when a once-in-a-generation talent, Kevin Durant, played there.

Smart has brought in NBA-level talent, too, and it hasn’t resonated or excited a football-first fan base.

Smart’s “plea” to get into the NCAAs probably didn’t sit well with any of the fans.

Self and the players had stronger messages than “strong consideration.”

“I can make a case for Texas because I really think Texas is one of the more talented teams in our league, without question,” Self said. “I think that they played a really good schedule and they’ve got some wins [over Purdue and North Carolina], two of the best non-conference wins that anybody’s had all year long. … From a talent standpoint, nobody is going to want to see Texas when they’re in the tournament.”

Texas’ players stated similar cases.

“I think we’ve given our all every game we’ve played,” Longhorns guard Jase Febres said. ”We’ve had ups and downs during the season, but regardless we have stacked up enough wins to put ourselves in a good position to get deeper into March.”

For Texas’ chances, Longhorns faithful should hope the committee heard Self and the players, and not Smart.

It’s easy to hear it now when Texas is left out.

“We gave Texas ‘strong consideration,’” they’ll say.

At least that’ll satisfy the coach.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram