Busting Brackets

Why we don't trust Shaka Smart in our NCAA Tournament brackets

Yet again, Shaka Smart has failed to live up to March expectations with a highly-regarded team exemplifying why no one should trust him in their NCAA Tournament bracket.
NC State v Marquette
NC State v Marquette / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

Quite a bit has changed since 2011. Back then, we were in the first term of the Obama administration, the price of eggs was half of what it is now, the NASA Space Shuttle program was still active, and Shaka Smart was thought to be one of the brightest rising stars in the college basketball coaching world after leading Cinderella VCU to the Final Four.

Some 13 years later, much has changed including the perception of Smart as a coach. No longer considered an innovative young gun in the sport, he's now earned the reputation of a prepetual March disappointment.

That reputation was only strengthened on Friday night when his No. 2 seeded Marquette Golden Eagles were thoroughly outclassed by No. 11 seed NC State in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament South Region. The 67-58 loss is just the latest March indictment against the notion that Smart is a coach to be trusted when filling out a bracket.

In fact, since reaching the 2011 Final Four, he's not managed to take a team past the Sweet 16. What's more, before reaching the tournament's second weekend this year, Smart had lost in one of the first two rounds of the Big Dance in all nine of his tournament appearances.

Making many of these early exits all the more crushing has been the fact that Smart has usually been the upset victim.

Where Smart started to lose his shine was in Austin, Texas. As head coach of the Texas Longhorns, he proved capable of building teams that could compete in the rugged Big 12 regular season. However, repeatedly, those teams spit the bit when March rolled around.

In 2016, his debut season on the 40 Acres, he led his team to a No. 6 seed in the West Region only to lose in the Round of 64 to No. 11 seed Northern Iowa. Just think about the discrepancy between the resources and talent that Texas has over Northern Iowa and it becomes obvious what a massive disappointment that outcome was.

After missing the tournament in 2017, he was again a one-and-done coach in 2018, though he was an underdog that year. Still, No. 10 seeds often upset No. 7 seeds but that year, his Horns couldn't pull off that popular March party trick as they fell to Nevada, another mid-major program.

In 2021, after reaching the 2019 NIT and seeing the entire NCAA postseason canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he took his best Texas team into the Big Dance. However, the party didn't last long either.

That year, the No. 3 seed Longhorns fell in the first round to No. 14 seed Abilene Christian 53-52. It was such an awful defeat that just days later, Smart would jump ship from Texas to Marquette knowing that he was on the hottest of seats in Austin.

This season, it seemed as if Smart might have cured his March woes. After leading Marquette to a 23-8 regular season and a deep run in the Big East Conference Tournament, his program secured the No. 2 seed in the South Region.

What's more, he finally got past his first-weekend troubles by trouncing No. 15 seed Western Kentucky in the first round and surviving a test from a feisty No. 10 seed Colorado in the second round.

That set Smart's team up with a showdown with No. 11 seed NC State in the Sweet 16. And again, when facing a team that was significantly under-seeded, Smart couldn't come through.

Sure, NC State is one of the hottest teams in America having now won eight straight postseason games dating back to the ACC Tournament when it won five games in five days to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. But if Smart is going to be considered an elite coach, those are the types of teams he is going to have to beat in March.

It isn't enough that he got out of the first weekend this year. Smart has to start getting to regional finals and Final Fours again if the reality of his career is going to match the bravado with which he carries himself. Until then, he will remain one of the most overrated coaches in the sport and one that few fans should trust when filling out their brackets.

Smart has become one of the game's annual disappointments. He's over a decade removed from the magical run at VCU that seems to still somehow prop up his entire career.

The foundations of that career continue to grow increasingly shaky with each passing tournament failure, though, the latest of which came on Friday night when he once again was undone by a team seeded far below his squad. 2011 was a long time ago. No one is greater proof of that than Smart himself who continues to survive on a reputation built in an era that feels like a lifetime ago.