NCAA Basketball

Kyle Smith has tremendous flexibility, and challenges, ahead of him

Washington State officially introduced new men’s basketball head coach Kyle Smith a week ago, and the hype has been gradually building for Nerdball’s introduction to the Palouse. Smith’s defensive focus is particularly exciting because of how awful the Cougs were on the defensive end of the court under Ernie Kent.

The players have already talked about how different the coaching has been during their first few practices with their new coach.

“First few practices, I’m not going to lie to you, were hard,” [Marvin] Cannon said. “You can tell he’s really into defense, so he’s just been pushing us with defense, rebounds and toughness.” – Theo Lawson, Spokesman Review

It’s this anticipated improvement on defense, with a roster that has a couple of Pac -12 caliber scorers on it, that should lead to a more watchable team than they were last year. But after the 2019-20 season, there is a lot of uncertainty about what to expect because of the complete lack of scholarship players on the roster moving forward.

Key: green – freshmen: yellow – sophomore: orange – junior: red – senior. Courtesy of CougCenter

The one good thing about Kent’s reliance on Jucos is that it leaves a ton of flexibility on the roster for Smith in the next couple years. This is going to give him a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility on the recruiting trail going forward. Which is great news when you have to completely rebuild a program from the ground up, it means his going to be able to target as many recruits that will fit his system as he needs.

What’s going to be a concern for Smith and his future staff is going to be filling those roster spots with recruits. The facilities arms race in college basketball is just as fierce as it is in football, but Washington State doesn’t have the financial capital to invest in the major renovations that both the men’s and women’s program desperately need to keep up in recruiting. As a result, the pool of Pac-12 caliber recruits that will be interested is incredibly small.

Now the good news is that Smith’s unorthodoxy style is going to give him access to a different talent pool than most of the coaches in the conference are going to be pulling from; especially if he’s able to get the recruiting budget he’s going to need to recruit internationally. But again, the concern is the financial support the athletic department is going to be able to give him since its running in deep the red due to the bond repayments on Martin Stadium.

If the 49-year old coach and his staff are able to get the charter flights for recruiting, and for travel, that is the staple of college basketball…then he’s going to have a lot of flexibility to pull in international talent that’ll fit his system and fill those holes in the roster quickly; despite with the lack of needed facility upgrades in the future.

But if he’s not able to get that support, this rebuild could take the length of his contract, which will be frustrating…but at least the games will actually be watchable.