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Kyle Smith is bringing ‘nerdball’ to Washington State

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Analytics are near and dear to the heart of the Cougars’ new coach.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at San Francisco John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Just under two weeks after athletic director Pat Chun relieved Ernie Kent of his duties at Washington State, he already has his new coach. Multiple reports have indicated Wazzu will hire current San Francisco Dons head coach Kyle Smith to lead the program after nine seasons at USF and Columbia.

Last week, university president Kirk Schulz told Cougfan.com that Washington State would go after a “system” coach but not necessarily one that looked like the Bennetts of old.

“We’re going to look for a coach that has a system that is going to work for Pullman,” Schulz told Cougfan.

Though Kyle Smith’s name wasn’t floated in many circles (save for one notable alum), he seems to fit that bill quite nicely. The Athletic’s Brian Bennett wrote a superb piece on the 49-year old Maryland native ($) at the beginning of last season, dubbing his style of play and coaching “Nerdball”. To put it extremely simply: Smith is assigning a number to everything.

According to the article, Smith and his staff have a dozen different statistics they use ... for rebounding. That’s it. They have 38 other statistical categories that they track as well, assigning a number to everything, including a ball handler getting past a defender easily (a “blow-by”). Smith and his staff also put their stats up for the players to see each and every day, with up to 4.5 hours of stats breakdown for their assistants just after practices.

But Smith’s system didn’t start when he got hired at USF, or even Columbia. It started way back when he began working with long tenured Saint Mary’s Gaels coach Randy Bennett at San Diego. From The Athletic’s piece:

(Bennett and Smith) formulated their own system, which Bennett took to Saint Mary’s in 2001, with Smith as his top lieutenant. Inheriting a no-name program coming off a 2-27 season, they felt free to experiment. They drank Ken Pomeroy’s site from a firehose. They dog-eared pages of “Moneyball.”

Smith took the system with him to Columbia and helped turn the long languishing Ivy League program in a relative winner; posting two 20-win seasons with two top-three league finished and a CIT Tournament championship to his name. After departing for USF, Smith hit the 20 win mark in three straight seasons, playing for ALL THE ZEBRA PENS in 2017 and 2018. The Dons certainly aren’t the dandies of the conference by any means, but Smith made strides in much the same way he’ll have to at Washington State.

“There are some teams in this league that have had some outrageous success,” Smith told The Athletic. “So we’ve got to be more outrageous and really believe in what we’re doing.”

That’s exactly what Schulz and Chun have talked about wanting in a basketball coach: someone who knows there are historic and current powers in the league which means you need to find the inefficiencies in the system to be successful. It’s what the best WSU coach prior to him did and what the football coach is doing now.

It’s too early to tell with the results obviously not in, but at least on paper, it looks like Chun made the exact hire he needed to.