IT’S OVER

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

SMU ‘s magical basketball season came to a disappointing end Thursday night in New York with a 65-63 loss at the hands of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.  SMU took a seven point lead with 5:52 left in the game on a Markus Kennedy dunk.  It was the largest lead of the game for either team, but the Mustangs could not finish the deal.  There were too many empty possessions and too many missed free throws in the final minutes; opening the door for Minnesota’s come back.

It was a nip and tuck game throughout.  Minnesota’s largest lead was six points in the first half.  The game was tied 14 times and there were 17 lead changes.  The Mustangs trailed by three at the half, 30-27.

Thursday’s game, the team’s record setting 37th of the season, was the last game of the season win or lose.  Unfortunately, the Mustangs did not bring the NIT championship trophy home.  SMU finishes the year 27-10 having played the first two games in the month of April in the history of the school.

Kennedy and guard Nic Moore were named to the All Tournament team.  Minnesota placed Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu on the All Tournament team also.  Hollins’ brother Austin was named as the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

Nic Moore led the Mustangs with 17 points and seven assists.  Other double digit scorers were Nick Russell with 15, Shawn Williams with 11, and Kennedy with 10.  Kennedy was the leading rebounder in the game with eight.  It was the ninth time this year that the Mustangs had four players score in double digits.

It was also the last game in a Mustang uniform for Williams and Russell, the two seniors on this ball club.  Both started 36 of the 37 games this season, the exception being the Illinois-Chicago game that had a starting lineup which included all four players from the greater Chicago area.  Williams and Russell are from Duncanville and have known each other since childhood.  Both started their college careers elsewhere – Williams at Texas and Russell at Kansas State - before transferring to SMU when Matt Doherty was the head coach.

The second place NIT finish caps an outstanding break through season for the Ponies, though the players did not agree.  Channel 11′s Jane Slater reported after the game that the SMU locker room was the ”toughest” she’s ever seen.  The mere fact that Channel 11 felt the Mustang story was newsworthy enough to send her to New York says worlds about the progress of Mustang basketball this season.

The future is more than bright for the Ponies on the hard court.  10 of the 13 Moody Coliseum games were sellouts, and season tickets now account for more than half the arena’s capacity.

Among the 11 players that made up the playing rotation, all but Williams and Russell are expected to return next season.  Hopefully, a year older and a year wiser.  High school senior Emmanuel Mudiay has signed.  He is a McDonald’s All-American, the second along with Keith Frazier, to ever attend SMU.  The 6′-5″ guard is ranked anywhere from the second to fifth best high school senior in the country.

The Mustangs have two remaining scholarships.  It has been reported that Jordan Tolbert, a 6′-7″ forward at Texas Tech that is from Fort Worth, will transfer to SMU to claim one of those scholarships.

Certainly an even better season is expected next year.  The USA Today published an article this week with a REALLY EARLY prediction of next year’s Final Four.  One of the four was SMU.  Scott Gleeson wrote:  “This year’s biggest NCAA tournament snub will be a sleeper Final Four team next season in Larry Brown’s third year.  The Mustangs bring back virtually their entire roster – which included Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore – but most important will welcome a high-caliber point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay.  SMU wasn’t expected to be that good this season, so the NCAA tournament omission is deceiving.  In 2014-15, however, the expectations should be much, much higher.  Come March, this NIT runner-up team should be scary good.”

It’s been almost two years since that beautiful April day in 2012 when fans, students, media and other interested parties gathered outside the west entrance of Moody Coliseum.  It was the occasion at which then Athletic Director Steve Orsini announced the hiring of Larry Brown as the new head basketball coach at SMU.  When Brown stepped to the podium, he promptly won over the SMU crowd with his remarks.  After two seasons, Mustang fans have come to realize what a wonderful day that was for the Mustang nation.

 

 

NIT FINALS, NO FOOLING

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

It’s not an April Fools’ joke.  SMU’s basketball team will play in the NIT finals Thursday night against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who beat Florida State by three points in overtime in the other semifinal game.  The Mustangs trailed most of the night Tuesday against Clemson, taking their first lead with just 5:09 left in the game.   The Tigers had played almost a perfect first half to take a 12 point lead to the locker room; but SMU came back to take a 65-59 win.  Clemson finishes with a 21-13 record.  SMU’s record improved to 27-9.

Clemson scored the first seven points of the game and pushed the lead to 12 at the half at 38-26.  They shot 56% from the field, including 6-9 on three pointers.  Shortly after the second half began, they claimed their biggest lead at 41-28.  From that point, SMU outscored the Tigers 37-18.  It was clearly a defensive led comeback, the largest of the season for the Ponies and the largest for any Mustang team since a 13 point comeback in 2003 against East Carolina when both were in Conference-USA.

Markus Kennedy was the player of the game as he led all scorers and all rebounders with 21 points and nine boards.  Guards Nic Moore and Nick Russell were the other two Mustangs with a double digit point total.  Moore had 13 and Russell scored 10.  Nic Moore and Sterling Brown each had four assists to lead the Ponies.

Clemson had four double digit scorers.  Rod Hall led the Tigers with 18, followed by K. J. McDaniels with 11 and 10 points each for Landry Nnoko and Damarcus Harrison.  McDaniels was the Tigers’ leading rebounder with seven.

The Mustangs shot 47% and held Clemson to 40% from the field.  They shot 59.1% in the second half to Clemson’s 24% to overcome the 12 point halftime deficit.

Brown was asked on post game radio what he said to the team at halftime.  ”I was a little angry.  I didn’t think we played nearly as hard as they did.  If we played hard, we can get back in the game.”

He was particularly pleased with the second half.  “That’s the best half we’ve played all year.  We took better care of the ball.  We just did some really good things.  When you hold an ACC team to 21 points, that’s really significant.”

He was also in awe of the number of SMU fans that had trekked to New York for the game.  “What a crowd!  God, that makes me happy.”

Thursday night’s game will start at 6:00 PM (CDT).  A win would tie the Mustangs’ win total for a season.  Already, this team has played more games -36 – than in any previous season of SMU basketball.  Most of all though, the win would give the Mustangs the NIT championship.  No fooling.

NOTABLE:

*     Tuesday’s game was the first ever for SMU in the month of April.

*     SMU is now 1-1 against Clemson and 1-1 in Madison Square Garden.

*     SMU has trailed by at least eight points in all four NIT games.

*     With four blocked shots Tuesday, the season total is 162, the school record.

 

 

A CHANCE FOR THREE TITLES

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

SMU and Clemson will be meeting for just the second time in the schools’ history Tuesday night.  Clemson won the first encounter 67-51 in the 1970 Music City Classic played in Nashville.  The Tigers are playing in Madison Square Garden in the NIT for the fourth time and have a 2-3 record in their three previous appearances.  They lost in the first round in 1975 to Providence when the entire tournament was played in Madison Square Garden.  More recently they won their semifinal game, but lost in the finals in 1999 and 2007.  In 1999, the Tigers beat Xavier and lost to Cal by one point in the finals.  In 2007, they beat Air Force, but lost in the finals to West Virginia by five.

SMU and Clemson faced three common opponents this season.  Both lost to Arkansas in Fayetteville.  Both lost to Virginia.  Clemson beat Temple, while the Mustangs split with the Owls, winning in Moody Coliseum, but losing in Philadelphia.

Clemson is the only number one seed that didn’t reach the NIT Final Four.  Their best player is K. J. McDaniels, and he thinks the teams have a lot in common.  “I know they’re (SMU) the same as us.  They’re a great rebounding team.  They’re a great passing team.  A great fundamental team under coach Brown.  Once we found out we were in the NIT, we knew we had to get re-focused and take this opportunity and do great things.  We’re fortunate to be here.  We definitely all appreciate being invited here.”

SMU coach Larry Brown was excited about being in the Final Four.  “Well it’s great.  Half my team has never been in New York, so that in itself is huge.  And then, I know what the Garden means.  I grew up watching the Globetrotters, the Holiday Festival and the NIT when it was probably bigger than the NCAA.  Being a pro coach, I’ve never walked into the Garden where I wasn’t in awe and didn’t feel blessed.  I hope my players feel the same way.”

Brown spoke about not making the NCAA Tournament, “Fran (Fraschilla) spoke to our team two weeks ago after we didn’t make the NCAA’s.  He made them all feel like they were special having this chance.  It was a let down, but we have nobody to blame but ourselves.  I’m sure all four teams here probably were hopeful they’d get into the NCAA.  It’s worked out great.  We’re one of eight teams still playing.  Four are playing for the NCAA Championship.  We’re playing for the NIT Championship.”

Brown showed the pride in the American Athletic Conference when he said, “Now I’m rooting like crazy for Connecticut.”

He continued, “Two weeks ago on Sunday, I think we all felt kind of down when we didn’t get selected for the NCAA Tournament.  68 great teams got selected.  We had a hard time in our locker room building our kids up.  I look at this as a great honor and privilege.  I’m thrilled for our program to be able to play in Madison Square Garden.  I don’t think it gets any better than that.  We’re pretty blessed to be in this environment.  I’m happy for our kids.  I’m happy for our program.  And I’m thankful for the NCAA to put on such a great event.”

Fraschilla noted that Brown is the only coach in the history of the game to win an NCAA title and a NBA title.  Now he has the opportunity to add an NIT title to make it three big wins.  “He’s done an incredible job of transforming SMU basketball.  I can’t even put into words what he’s meant for the SMU community and the Dallas community as well.”

Two more wins in New York will tie the SMU record for wins in a season and make this marvelous season of SMU basketball, even more marvelous.

OFF TO NEW YORK!

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The Mustangs practice early Sunday then fly to New York for Tuesday’s NIT semifinal game against Clemson.  They played a remarkable second half against LSU to advance to the third round, then pulled out a last minute win over California-Berkeley with the winning basket, a Nic Moore three-pointer with less than six seconds remaining.  It was clearly the most dramatic game in the short history of the newly renovated Moody Coliseum.

California arrived with a host of injuries, playing essentially seven players in the game.  They are extremely well coached though and shot the ball well.  They have been mainly a man defensive team this season, but played a 2-3 zone for most of this game.  Zone defenses have been troublesome this season for the Mustangs, and Cal’s zone was no exception.

The Golden Bears scored first and ran out to as much as a nine point lead in the first half.  The Mustangs closed the half strong though on a 17-5 run to erase a nine point deficit and take a three point lead to the locker room.

Keith Frazier led the charge.  He scored eight of the seventeen points on a pair of three point shots and a pull up jumper from the wing.  Frazier has been slow to adjust to the college game, but the MacDonald’s High School All-American is playing his best basketball at season’s end.  His shooting percentage from beyond the three point arc is now over 40%, and in a true sign of respect, Cal switched to man-for-man defense when Frazier played in the second half.

The Mustangs scored the first two baskets after halftime to run the lead to seven points.  Cal Coach Mike Montgomery was forced to call a time out less than a minute into the half to halt the SMU charge.  The Ponies looked poised to take charge of the game, but it didn’t happen.  Seven points proved to be SMU’s biggest lead of the game.

Cal fought back to take the lead with 8:26 remaining in the game, breaking a tie at 50 with a Jabari Bird layup.  The Ponies tied the game three times from that point, but never led again until 36 seconds remained in the game when Nick Russell made a twisting layup to give SMU a 64-62 lead.  The lead lasted just 21 seconds though, as Cal’s Justin Cobbs eased in a three point shot to reclaim the lead for the Bears.  Cobbs is an outstanding player that is a finalist for the 2014 Bob Cousy Point Guard Award.

That set the stage for Moore’s game winning shot.  It was a set play that Brown says they practice every day, but had used perhaps just once in a game.  Markus Kennedy set an inside screen to free up Moore breaking to the outside.  Moore never hesitated when he received the pass knocking down the three pointer to give SMU a two point lead.  Cobbs got another shot to win it for Cal, but it hit the rim and bounced away as time ran out.

It was a marvelous game with fans flooding the floor after the final buzzer.

As for Tuesday in the NIT semifinal game, Clemson’s K. J. McDaniels is the biggest problem facing the Mustangs.  He leads the team in points scored, rebounds and blocked shots.  And he was the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year.  ”He’s a great player.  I think he’ll play in the NBA and be a great player,” SMU coach Larry Brown said Saturday.  “He does everything.  That’s the reason they’re (Clemson) such a great defensive team.”

Ryan Manuel said about the game, “They’re pretty strong defensively.  I think it’ll be a slugfest.”

Manuel is one of about half a dozen players that has never been to Manhattan.  The team played at Hofstra last year, but went straight to Long Island once they landed at LaGuardia, staying at a hotel near the Nassau Coliseum.  “I’m looking forward to the atmosphere,” he said.

As for the Mustangs, Manuel noted the accomplishment of winning three games to be one of the final four teams remaining in the tournament.  “We’ve reached part of our goal when we made it to New York.  We still have unfinished business to do.”

Brown knows Clemson will be a test.  “They are athletic.  They are long.  They play man (defense) and they play it well.  They play hard.”

Certainly Brown is the veteran of so many wars having won both an NCAA and NBA Championship, but he’s especially proud of this team for winning three NIT games.  “It’s a terrific accomplishment.  I want them to be excited to play in the Garden.”

While the NIT run has provided magic moments at Moody and the chance for fans to see three more games, Brown would have preferred to be in the NCAA Tournament.  “That was our goal, and we didn’t reach it.”

He is happy for seniors Shawn Williams and Nick Russell.  Senior night was the Louisville game, the only game the Mustangs lost at home this year.  Without the NIT bid, it would have been the final home game for Williams and Russell, both of whom are from Duncanville and have been friends from a young age.  The NIT afforded the opportunity to win their final home game.

It’s a great win that sends them to New York to play in the Mecca of basketball – Madison Square Garden.  All in all, it’s a pretty nice consolation prize for not making the NCAA Tournament.

NOTABLE:

*     Clemson was the three seed in the St. John’s region.  St. John’s was the only one seed that did not reach the final four.

*     Tuesday’s game begins at 6:00 PM (CDT) and will be televised on ESPN2.

*     Minnesota plays Florida State in the other semifinal game Tuesday.  Tuesday’s winners will play Thursday in the finals.  As of last year, the NIT no longer has a third place game for the teams that lose in the semifinals.

 

BRING ON LSU

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU beat the University of California-Irvine Anteaters Wednesday night 68-54 in Moody Coliseum in first round NIT action.  The win improved the Mustangs record to 24-9 making this year’s win total the fourth highest in school history.  LSU, the five seed in the SMU region, beat four seed San Francisco later that evening and will face the Mustangs Monday in Dallas in second round action.

Head coach Larry Brown said afterward that failing to get invited to the NCAA Tournament was a difficult pill to swallow.  “This has been my hardest week.  The kids were really down.  That troubled me.”  He particularly noted that seniors Shawn Williams and Nick Russell were especially bummed as they won’t have the chance to get into the tournament next year.

The team kicked away the disappointment though to take the win in a tough game Wednesday.  The 14 point margin of victory belies the difficulty of the game.  Irvine has a 7′-6″ center – Mamadou Ndiaye from Senegal.  The Anteaters utilized a two-three zone for most of the game with Ndiaye in the middle under the basket.  It definitely presented problems for the Mustangs, who have relied all season on inside scoring.

Centers Cannen Cunningham and Markus Kennedy drew the assignment of banging against Ndiaye.  Cunningham freely admitted it was a task.  “You can’t practice for 7′-6″.  He was intimidating at times, but we just found a way around it.”

The Anteaters scored the first seven points of the game and led for all but 25 seconds of the first half.  They were definitely hot from the field shooting 52.2% and held as much as an eight point lead.  SMU closed fast though to cut the halftime margin to one point at 30-29, despite shooting less than 30% in the half.

The Anteaters scored the first five points of the second half, at which point the Mustangs took charge of the game.  The Ponies put together an 11-0 run over a 2:18 span that turned that six point deficit into a five point lead at 40-35.  SMU never trailed again.

SMU’s two highest scorers were Cunningham with 17 points and Ben Moore with 11.  Both came off the bench.  Point guard Nic Moore was the other Mustang in double digits with 10 points.  He also had a game high eight assists.

The team seems to have gotten beyond the NCAA snub.  Brown said he had received conciliatory phone calls from Buzz Peterson and Todd Boyle, who coached teams that also received flagrant snubs from the NCAA at Tennessee and Colorado.  Also, University Park resident and ESPN commentator Fran Frascilla spoke to the team this week.  “He gave the kids some insight how important it is,” Brown said.

Brown is a native New Yorker and remembers the days when the NIT was perhaps the more prestigious post season tournament.  He was philosophical about the situation.  “We have an opportunity to play in a great tournament.  It’s good for our program.”

The Mustangs are the number one seed in the tournament.  They have a great chance to win it all.  By virtue of being the number one seed, they have earned the right to play the next two games at Moody Coliseum if they beat LSU.  Winning both will earn a trip to New York and provide the opportunity to play in Madison Square Garden.

With Wednesday’s win, the Mustangs are 16-1 at home this year, including 10 wins at Moody Coliseum.  Defending National Champion Louisville is the only team to beat the Mustangs in University Park this year.

The UC-Irvine game drew a crowd of 5,033, which is remarkable when you consider that those tickets were sold in a period of less than 72 hours after receiving the NIT invitation.  ”I was amazed at the crowd,” Brown said.

Game two against LSU sold out early Friday morning.  It will be televised on ESPN with an 8:00 PM (CDT) start time.  If the Mustangs win, they play again next Wednesday at Moody against the winner of Arkansas and California.

NOTABLE:

*     On Thursday, Larry Brown was named to be one of five finalists for the 2014 Naismith Coach of the Year Award, which is presented by the Atlanta Sports Council.  Brown won the award in 1988 as the head coach of Kansas.  The other four finalists are John Beilein (Michigan), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Billy Donovan (Florida) and Gregg Marshall (Wichita State).

*     Wednesday’s win was SMU’s first ever in the NIT Tournament.  They had lost first round games in their two previous NIT appearances.

SAD DAY AT MOODY

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – It was a sad day for Mustang fans at Moody Coliseum Sunday afternoon.  The doors opened at 4:00 PM for an NCAA Selection Show Watch Party.  Two hours later, SMU fans left disappointed, as the Mustangs were not picked.  Just a day earlier, ESPN’s expert “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi listed SMU as one of five “locks” for the Tournament from the American Athletic Conference.  Obviously, Lunardi missed this one.

The first clue came when Louisville was announced as the number four seed in the Midwest Region.  Louisville was the first team from the American Athletic Conference to be named, and the Midwest was the third region to be identified.  It didn’t seem logical that five teams from the conference would get jammed into two regions.   Plus, Louisville surprisingly received a four seed.  They have won 12 of their last 13 games including the conference tournament to claim the automatic bid.  They are the defending national champions, and many experts thought they deserved consideration as a one seed.  They are clearly one of the top dozen teams in the country and should have been seeded no worse than a three.

“When I saw Louisville was selected as the four seed, I figured that they (the selection committee) didn’t have a lot of respect for our conference,” head coach Larry Brown said afterward.  Realistically, he noted, “…when we didn’t beat Houston (in the conference tournament), I kind of thought this could possibly happen.”

That’s how it wound up.  In the East Region, Cincinnati received the fifth seed, Connecticut was selected as the seventh seed, Memphis was the eighth seed and SMU got left out.

Clearly the opportunities were there for the Mustangs.  They lost their final three games.  Winning one of those games probably was enough to take the bid.  Two of the three losses were against ranked opponents, and only one was played at home; but the bottom line is the Mustangs didn’t play very well in those three games.  Shot selection wasn’t as good, the opponents’ shooting percentage was better, and the Mustangs missed too many free throws.  Most of all, the team did not react well to adversity on the court.  All three of the games were winnable, and losing to Houston in the tournament was the death knell.  Houston’s RPI was more than 150.

Later in the evening, SMU announced they had accepted an invitation to the NIT Tournament.  The field of 32 has four regions, and the Mustangs are a number one seed, obviously indicating they are one of the four best teams that did not get selected for the Big Dance.  They will host UC-Irvine Wednesday night at 8:00 PM (Central); and should they win, they’ll face the winner of LSU-San Francisco in the second round.  Arkansas is the three seed in the region and California is the two.  One of those two could well be the third round opponent if SMU wins the first two games.

The other three number one seeds in the NIT are Minnesota, St. John’s and Florida State.

Candidly, the NIT may be a better situation for SMU.  They may end up hosting as many as three more games for their fans in Dallas.  If they win three games, the semi-finals and finals are played in New York’s Madison Square Garden.  The Garden is the Mecca of basketball, literally analogous to Yankee Stadium in baseball.  While not making the NCAA Tournament is a disappointment, there is still a marvelous opportunity for the Mustangs to finish this season on a high note.

The Ponies have a very good nucleus returning and will likely be ranked next year from the start of the season.  All of the returning players are likely to play in the NCAA Tournament before they graduate.  It is regretful that this year’s seniors Shawn Williams and Nick Russell will not have the honor of appearing in an NCAA Tournament, but if the Mustangs can return to the level of play they achieved just two or three weeks ago, they can win the NIT.  That’s no small consolation prize for the disappointment of the NCAA snub.

SKID HITS THREE

 

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

SMU’s men’s basketball team’s losing streak reached three Thursday afternoon in Memphis as they lost to Houston 68-64 in the American Athletic Conference quarter-finals.  The adage is that it’s tough to beat a team three times in a season; and the Cougars, who the Mustangs swept in conference play, proved to be tough.

The Mustangs got off to a good start as they scored the first seven points of the game.  However, the Cougars rallied back to take a two point lead with about eight minutes until halftime.  SMU finished strong though closing the half with a 16-6 run to take a nine point lead at 38-29 into the locker room.

The Ponies again started strong, extending the lead to 10 points over the first two plus minutes after halftime.  The Cougars however weren’t dead.  They put together a 16-4 run to take a two point lead at 48-46.  UH never trailed again as the run continued to 23-5 giving the Cougars an eight point lead, their largest of the game, with just less than 10 minutes left in the game.

SMU however rallied to be in the game until the final 10 seconds.  A Nick Russell free throw with 3:55 left put the Mustangs within two at 61-59, but that was as close as the Mustangs got.  The opportunities to win were there.  SMU simply didn’t shoot the ball well in the second half, making just five baskets in 20 attempts (25%).  They also missed seven free throws, after going 4-4 in the first half.

Cannen Cunningham off the bench led the Ponies with 14 points, 12 of which were scored in the first half.  Markus Kennedy with 13 and Nick Russell with 10 also scored in double digits.  Keith Frazier scored eight points including a pair of three pointers, the 16th time this year that Frazier has scored at least seven points.  Kennedy led the Mustangs and tied Houston’s TaShawn Thomas with nine rebounds.

Nic Moore, the Mustangs’ leading scorer on the season was especially disappointing when it counted.  He failed to make a field goal in the game, going 0-9 from the field which included 0-3 from three point land.  He also drew a costly technical foul in the second half after the Ponies had fallen behind.  He pushed a Houston player that had fouled him.  Instead of the Mustangs getting the ball with a chance to cut the Cougars’ lead to two or three, UH made a free throw and a basket to push their lead to eight points.

Four Cougars tallied in double digits led by Jherrod Stiggers with 19 off the UH bench.  Stiggers hit five three pointers.  L. J. Rose was a perfect 3-3 from behind the arc to put 16 on the board.  Thomas and Danuel House scored 14 and 11 respectively.  The Cougars shot almost 50% from behind the three point line (9-19).

Most “bracketologists”, including ESPN’s Joe Lunardi consider the Ponies a lock for the NCAA Tournament.  Thursday’s loss though adds some vulnerability.  UH at 17-15 with Thursday’s can only receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament by running the table in the AAC Tournament.  Two more wins is a tall order for sure, especially since they’ll be facing Louisville Friday night in the semi-finals.  However, if the Cougars pull off the miracle, SMU, which finished the season at 23-9 could be even more vulnerable as it is questionable as to whether the selection committee will take six teams from the conference.

The Moody Coliseum doors will open to fans at 4:00 Sunday afternoon.  The selection show begins at 5:00 PM (Central) on CBS.  There undoubtedly will be a good crowd to support the team.  Hopefully, Mustang fans will go home with a smile after watching their team get picked for the Tournament for the first time in 21 years.

TID BITS:

*     The All-Conference teams were announced Wednesday.  Nic Moore made the first team, and Markus Kennedy was named to the second team.

*     Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier was named as Player of the Year in the conference.  Memphis forward Austin Nichols was named the Freshman of the Year.  Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin won the Coach of the Year Award.

ANOTHER MONDAY UPDATE

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

Head coach Larry Brown met with the media this morning via a conference call.  He opened with a statement, “We’re excited we’re playing in the first American Athletic Conference Championship.  It’s a step up from Conference-USA.”

SMU was of course a member of C-USA last season and bowed out in their opening tournament game.  Brown noted about the AAC, “I have a lot of respect for the teams and coaches.  Last week, we had five teams ranked in the AP Top 20.”

When asked to comment on his Mustangs, Brown said, “Our depth is one of the best things we have.  We’ve played 11 guys.  They’ve all contributed.”  SMU comes into the game having lost two straight games for the first time this season, though it’s noteworthy that both opponents are ranked in the Top 20.  “We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball.  We have to rebound better.  That’s the two areas we’re working on now.”

The Mustangs had a season high 23 turnovers against Louisville last week and 17 more against Memphis.  They failed to out-rebound either opponent last week.

This afternoon, the AP released this week’s poll of the Top 25, and all five AAC ranked teams are still ranked.  SMU fell to 25 from 18th last week.  Louisville having won nine of their last 10 including wins over two ranked opponents last week, moved up to fifth.  Cincinnati is 13th, Memphis is 19th, and Connecticut is 21st.

Brown was also asked about his vote for Conference Player of the Year.  It is generally considered a three player race between Louisville’s Russ Smith, Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick and Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier.  Brown didn’t reveal his vote, but noted, “I don’t know how you choose between any of those guys.  That’s a really tough choice to make.”

The All-Rookie team will be released tomorrow.  There is a luncheon scheduled Wednesday at the Gibson Guitar Factory at which time the following conference awards will be presented:

Player of the Year                                                                                                                             Rookie of the Year                                                                                                                        Coach of the Year                                                                                                                       Defensive Player of the Year                                                                                                          Scholar-Athlete of the Year                                                                                                                Most Improved Player                                                                                                                        Sixth Man Award                                                                                                                 Sportsmanship Award

There are two first round games on Wednesday evening.  SMU will play Houston at noon (Central) on Thursday in a second round game that will be televised by ESPNU.

BAD NEWS AND GOOD NEWS

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The day started with bad news for the Mustangs as they lost to Memphis 67-58.  SMU surged to a seven point lead at 24-17 with 7:05 left until halftime and finished the first stanza leading 30-26.  Memphis came roaring back to start the second half by scoring the first seven points.  Later, the Tigers ran off nine straight points to take the lead for good at 45-37.  They eventually ran the lead to as many as 14 to celebrate Senior Day.

SMU and Memphis completed the regular season with identical records of 23-8 overall and 12-6 in conference.

When the day began, just three seeds for the AAC post-season tournament were tied down.  There was much to be decided by Saturday’s games.  A Mustang win would have secured the number three seed and a second round matchup with Houston, the six seed.  The loss threw the possibility in play that the Mustangs would end up with a four or five seed facing Memphis next Thursday again.  With the tournament set in Memphis, Houston was the obvious preferred opponent.

The good news came later.  By the end of the day when all the results were in, the Mustangs still earned the three seed.  They tied for third place with Connecticut and Memphis at 12-6, but took the third seed by virtue of their 3-1 record in the head to head competition with the other two.  SMU will face UH Thursday at noon (Central) in a game to be televised on ESPNU.

The third place conference finish is the best for SMU since they finished third in the Western Athletic Conference in 2002-03.  The Ponies swept Houston (16-15 and 8-10) in the regular season, first beating them at Hofheinz Pavilion 75-68 in January, and then completing the sweep at Moody Coliseum with a 68-64 win last month.

Cincinnati won a coin flip to gain the number one seed after finishing in a tie at 15-3 in conference play with Louisville.  Cincinnati will play at 6:00 PM Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s game between eight seed Temple and nine seed Central Florida.  Louisville as the two seed will play Thursday at 2:00 PM against the winner of Wednesday’s game between seven seed Rutgers and 10 seed South Florida.  Memphis and Connecticut as the four and five seeds will play Thursday at 8:00 PM.

All four of these quarterfinal games will be televised on ESPNU.

If SMU beats UH Thursday, they’ll play the Louisville-Rutgers/South Florida winner at 6:00 PM on Friday.  That game will be televised on either ESPN or ESPN2.  The tournament finals are scheduled Saturday at 5:00 PM and will be televised on ESPN.

NOTE:  All times listed above are Central Daylight Time.

 

THOUGHTS ON LOUISVILLE

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU’s basketball team missed a golden opportunity to step up and be recognized as one of the top teams in the country when they lost to Louisville Wednesday 84-71.  The Mustangs had risen to 18th in both polls this week.  They had played Cardinals to an eight point game in losing at Louisville in early January in just their third conference game.  This young Mustang team has seemingly been growing and maturing with every game.  The losses on the road to South Florida and Temple were set backs for sure, but that’s to be expected with a young team such as this one.

Louisville is the defending national champion and they came into the game having won seven of their last eight games.  A Mustang win would have been the fifth this season over a ranked team.  It would not only improve their standing in the eyes of college basketball, but would go a long way toward receiving a better seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

SMU came out with tremendous energy, running up a 10 point lead over the first seven minutes, which they stretched to14 six minutes later.  This edition of Mustang basketball has been noted for their defensive prowess, and the defense led the way early.  Louisville is one of the top ranked teams in the country in turnover margin largely because they don’t turn the ball over much, averaging just 10.3 per game.  SMU forced 10 turnovers in the first half alone, most of which came in the first 13 minutes as they built that 14 point lead at 26-12.

Unfortunately for Mustang fans, the rest of the game was pretty much Louisville’s.  The Cardinals closed out the half with a 20-4 run to actually take a two point lead into the halftime dressing room.  The Mustangs made an early charge in the second half by opening with a 7-1 run to take a 37-33 lead; but once Louisville overtook them at 39-37, the Ponies never led again.

Cardinals guard Russ Smith was absolutely on fire in the second half.  Smith is one of three strong candidates for the AAC Player of the Year Award, and he showed Mustang fans why.  After a quiet first half in which he was held to four points, he exploded to score 22 in the second half.  He was 6-6 from behind the three point arc.  Afterward, even Larry Brown said, “He was phenomenal.”

The pace of the game was furious.  It started fast and never really slowed down.  It was also an extremely physical game.  The referees called 46 fouls in the contest, but the physicality never backed off.  There were some sore bodies Thursday morning.

After losing the early second half lead, the Mustangs made a run to close the gap to one point at 55-54 on a Keith Frazier three point shot with 8.5 minutes left in the game.  From there, the teams seemingly traded baskets, but Louisville pulled away as theirs were three point shots, and SMU’s were twos.

This seemed like a perfect place to play Frazier.  He’s a solid three point shooter, and it was obvious that SMU needed to make some threes to keep up with the Cardinals.  However, Frazier sat most of the balance of the game, and Louisville ran the lead to 10 points with 4:22 remaining.

From there, Louisville worked the clock; SMU was forced to foul and hope for Cardinal misses.  Louisville didn’t miss enough and finished with the 13 point lead, their largest of the game to tag SMU with their first home loss of the season.

Brown sounded dejected in the post game meeting with the media.  He has mentioned a number of times how his team looked intimidated when they went to Fayetteville to play Arkansas, looked intimidated in their first conference game in Cincinnati, and looked intimidated when they played in Louisville.  They lost all those games.  Brown was hoping that the experience of beating the ranked teams and competing for the conference championship would have brought the confidence to avoid being intimidated.

It didn’t happen though.  Physically, SMU matches up fine with Louisville.  The athletes are in place to win.  However, Louisville still has the mental edge.  When the Ponies ran out to the early double digit lead, the Cardinals never panicked.  They had the poise and confidence to overcome SMU’s fast start.  They played hard, made a couple of defensive adjustments and took control of the game.

Once the momentum turned, there was bad body language with the Mustangs.  They continually griped about referees’ calls, and a couple of times looked to be fighting among themselves over mistakes on the floor.  Nic Moore was especially disappointing.  As the team leader, he sets the tone.  He got himself into foul trouble with two early fouls in the game that limited his first half play to nine minutes.  In the second half, he picked up two foolish fouls in the space of 10 seconds and was out of the game four minutes into the half.  He finished with just 19 minutes played.  Three of those fouls were senseless.  He’s been the team’s most important player this year, but he isn’t much help sitting on the bench.  If he is to be the leader of the team, he needs to be more prudent in his play on the court.

Most people assume that the Mustangs have done enough to receive an NCAA bid with 23 wins, no worse than a 12-6 conference record in a very good conference, and four wins over ranked teams.  However, that may not necessarily be true.  The regular season concludes with an 11:00 AM (Central) tip at Memphis tomorrow.  A win secures the third seed and a second round matchup with Houston in the conference tournament.  A loss will likely doom them to the four or five tournament seed, where they would face either Memphis again or Connecticut after their first round bye.  Both are ranked in the AP top 20 this week.

One more win should seal the deal for a bid.  However, losses in both the conference finale and conference tournament opener would present a resume to the NCAA selection committee with three consecutive losses to end the season.  Even if they make the tournament, they are likely to be seeded eight, nine or 10 with a locational assignment far from San Antonio, the preferred first round NCAA site.

This Mustang team has accomplished much in a breakout season.  For many they have already exceeded expectations; but there is still much to play for.  Two or three more wins over the next week will improve the team’s seeding in the NCAA Tournament and give the Mustangs a great chance to win a couple of games to reach the Sweet 16.  The opportunity is there.  The talent is there.  The poise and confidence of the team will determine the final epitaph of this season.

In any event, this team has just two seniors.  A marvelous nucleus will return next year for what should be an even better season.

TIDBITS:

*     On the Women’s team, three players received All-Conference recognition this week.  Keena Mays was a unanimous selection to the All-Conference first team after averaging a league high 20.8 points per game.  She scored at least 20 points in 17 of 29 games this year, and scored at least 30 points in four games, an SMU record.  Akil Simpson earned second team All-Conference honors.  She averaged 13.7 points per game and led the team with 8.3 rebounds per game.  Kiara Perry was named to the All-Freshman team.  She averaged 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

*     The Men’s team will stay in Memphis after tomorrow’s game and await their second round conference tournament game next Thursday.