San Francisco Dons head coach Kyle Smith is set to be the next men’s basketball coach of the Washington State Cougars, according to multiple reports on Twitter. The move was first reported by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports:
Sources: San Francisco's Kyle Smith is expected to be the head coach at Washington State barring any complications in finalizing a deal between the two sides. Official announcement could happen soon.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 27, 2019
Rothstein also was the first to report Ernie Kent’s firing nearly two weeks ago.
Smith led the Dons to a 21-10 record this season and a fourth place finish in the West Coast Conference. The Dons never finished with fewer than 20 wins overall in his three seasons at the helm, and they posted a 28-24 record in league play. Prior to that, he was the coach of the Columbia Lions for six seasons, compiling an overall record of 101-82, including 37-47 in the Ivy League.
Other than the time he spent in New York, Smith’s entire coaching career has been on the west coast. Prior to getting the job at Columbia, he was an assistant under Randy Bennett with the Saint Mary’s Gaels from 2001-2010. He also spent a year with the Air Force Falcons under Joe Scott (2000-01) and was with the San Diego Toreros from 1992-2000.
We don’t know a whole lot of specifics yet about Smith, but we do know some broad strokes from looking at the statistical profiles of his teams at kenpom.com. His first two squads at USF were led by their defense, finishing 59th and 99th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, which are pretty good marks for a West Coast Conference-caliber team. The Dons slipped a little to 121st this year, but they made up for it on the offensive end, where their adjusted offensive efficiency surged to 45th nationally — leading to an overall ranking of 66th, behind only the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Saint Mary’s.
In the last six years, Smith’s teams at USF and Columbia never ranked lower than 165th in the Pomeroy Rankings (which measures adjusted efficiency margin); over the last five years, Ernie Kent’s WSU teams never ranked higher than 186th.
One interesting aspect of this hire? WSU’s most famous and accomplished basketball alumnus, Klay Thompson, lobbied for it less than a week ago, saying, “Kyle at USF is doing a great job. I recommend him for an interview. Every program he’s been at, he’s turned around. USF was really good this year, and they beat some Pac-10 schools. I think he’d be a great candidate.”
Smith’s teams do have a bit of an offensive and defensive fingerprint, fulfilling my desire and also the desire of WSU president Kirk Schulz and athletics director Pat Chun to land a “system” coach.
On offense, shooting three-pointers likely will be the priority: Before this season, his teams had ranked in the top 100 nationally in three-point attempts per overall field goal attempts for six consecutive years. Additionally, his final five teams at Columbia all ranked in the top 100 in three-point percentage, while this year’s Dons posted his highest three-point percentage in his three years, ranking 114th behind strong shooting from players he had recruited. They are also typically efficient on their twos, although they don’t get to the line much.
One stat that is sure to make WSU fans smile: Smith’s offense ranked 15th nationally in turnover percentage, giving it away on just 15 percent of possessions.
Defensively, Smith’s system seems to be predicated on limiting three-point attempts, making the attempts other teams do take as challenging as possible, and then cleaning up the boards with a dominant defensive rebounding effort. Smith’s teams have routinely ranked in the bottom 50 or so of all of Division I in lowest ratio of three-pointers allowed, and his defense has never ranked lower than 85th nationally in the percentage of offensive rebounds given up.
Overall, Smith’s teams have been on the slow side, tempo-wise; his last two teams were in the bottom half of Division I, while his teams at Columbia routinely ranked in the 300s.