AUGUST UPDATE

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The first football game of new head coach Chad Morris’s regime is less than two weeks away, but this past weekend, another SMU sport took the spotlight.  Golfer Bryan DeChambeau made history by winning the U. S. Amateur last Sunday.  The senior beat University of Virginia junior Derek Bard 7 and 6 in the 36 hole final at Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Illinois.

DeChambeau became just the fifth golfer in history to win the U. S. Amateur and the NCAA individual title in the same year, joining select company.  The other four are Jack Nicklaus in 1961, Phil Mikelson in 1990, Tiger Woods in 1996 and Ryan Moore in 2004.

“It’s an honor to be in that field,” DeChambeau told the Associated Press.

DeChambeau is also the fourth SMU golfer to win the U. S. Amateur.  The other three are Hank Kuehne in 1998, Colt Knost in 2007 and Kelly Kraft in 2011.

He beat some impressive opponents in the match play event.  They included Paul Dunne, who played particularly well as an amateur in the British Open, Maverick McNealey of Stanford, the NCAA Player of the Year, and All-American Matt Nesmith from the University of South Carolina.

By virtue of his play last week, DeChambeau gets exemptions into the 2016 U. S. Open, the 2016 British Open, and likely an invitation to the 2016 Masters.

Last week, the athletic department announced the non-conference Men’s basketball schedule.  The first game is at home November 14 against Sam Houston State.  Game time is 7:00 PM.  The two highlight games in the home portion of the non-conference schedule are Michigan on December 8, which will be televised by ESPN2 (8:00 PM start time) and Gonzaga on Saturday, February 13, which also will be televised on ESPN2 and which has a 9:00 PM start time.  (Times referenced are Central.)

Another home game of interest is Brown University on Sunday, November 29 at 2:00 PM.  One of the Brown players is Junior Steven Spieth, the younger brother of Jordan Spieth of PGA tour fame.  Unfortunately, big brother will not be in town to see little brother play basketball, as he has committed to play in the Australian Open that weekend.

SMU had earlier announced that the Mustangs were entered in the Las Vegas Classic on December 22 and 23.  The Mustangs open with a game against Kent State on December 22.  The other game in the classic pits Colorado against Penn State.  On December 23, the winners from those two games play for first place, while the losers play a consolation game.

SMU Athletics, the Mustang Club, and the SMU Alumni Association have secured special seating in Orleans Arena for the event.

There are a total of eight non-conference games at Moody Coliseum.  The Mustangs also play in Ft. Worth against TCU on Wednesday, December 2.

Another notable game on the schedule is game two of the season.  The Mustangs play at Stanford.

As for football, the Mustangs open the season against Baylor at Ford Stadium.  The game will be televised on ESPN on Friday, September 4, the Friday before Labor Day.

A pair of Mustangs have made the watch list for prestigious post season honors.  SMU senior center Taylor Lasecki was named to the Remington Trophy Fall watch list, which is awarded annually to the most outstanding center in college football.  The award is named after Nebraska’s outstanding center, Dave Remington, an All-American in 1981 and 1982.

This is the third consecutive year that Lasecki has made the watch list.  He has made 36 starts on the offensive line in his SMU career, 34 of which have been at center.  There are 63 centers on the list, 17 of which have been nominated previously.

Senior defensive lineman Cameron Smith made the Wuerffel Trophy watch list.  The Weurffel trophy is known as “College Football’s Premier Award for Community Service”.  It is presented by the All Sports Association in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and it is named after Danny Wuerffel, the 1986 Heisman Trophy winner.  The Wuerffel Trophy is awarded to the FBS (Division 1-A) player that best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.

Smith, a senior has appeared in 36 games for the Mustangs including all 13 in his freshman year in 2011.

As for the team itself, incumbent Matt Davis has won the quarterback competition.  The junior led the Mustangs last season in rushing with 613 yards and passing with 855 despite starting just five games.  Prescott Line returns at running back, but head coach Chad Morris noted that true freshmen Xavier Jones and Braeden West have been outstanding.  Morris is also expecting significant contributions at wide receiver from incoming freshmen Kevin Thomas, Alex Honey and Xavier Castille.  Two are likely starters.  James Poche was expected to be part of that group, but he has been ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA.  He can practice this fall and sit on the bench at home games, but will not be allowed to travel with the team.

NOTABLE:

*     Tight end Jeremiah Gaines was awarded the number 23 jersey this season.  Since 2009, a deserving player on the team has been chosen to wear number 23 in honor of Jerry Levias.  Gaines wore number 84 last year.

JUNE UPDATE

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

BASKETBALL:  Summer basketball practice is taking place now.  It began with the first summer school session which is winding up shortly.  Teams are allowed two hours per week of practice on the court with the coaches plus time in the weight room.  These practices are closed to the public and media per NCAA rules.  Players can also play on their own, and they do.  There actually were not all that many players working out during the first summer school session.  Nic Moore for example has been playing with Kansas.  Some of the incoming freshmen did not participate as their high school spring semesters had not ended when the first session of summer school began.

The second session of summer school begins July 6.  More of the players are expected to participate then.

Keith Frazier has been seen in the weight room and is participating.  Officially, SMU has no comment on his status after he sat out the spring semester for academic reasons.

The NBA draft takes place this week, and there is considerable interest in Emmanuel Mudiay.  Mudiay was the SMU 2014 commit that decided to forego his scholarship to accept an offer to play in China, citing financial reasons.  As luck would have it, he was injured and played only 12 games for the Guangdong Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association.  That computed to about $100,000 per game played.

He was essentially out of sight in China, but not out of mind for NBA teams.  He is projected to be selected among the first 10, and very likely among the first five picks in the draft.

Head Coach Larry Brown still wonders “What if” in regards to Mudiay playing at SMU.  “If we’d had him on our team, we might have been playing for the national championship.  In my heart, I believe we’d have been as good as anybody,” Brown told the Dallas Morning News this week.

GOLF:  SMU’s Bryson Dechambeau claimed the individual championship in this year’s NCAA Golf Championship in Bradenton, Florida.  The junior finished eight under par beating Washington’s Cheng-Tsung Pan by one stroke.  His four day total was 280, a new SMU record.  He became the first SMU golfer to win the individual National Championship.

He qualified for the U. S. Open at a qualifying event in Columbus, Ohio and has earned exemptions to two other PGA Tour events – The Fed-Ex St. Jude Classic in Memphis and the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois.

FOOTBALL:  This month has been a banner month for new head coach Chad Morris’s recruiting efforts.   The Mustangs commits rose to 14 on June 15, when they landed two linebackers from Mansfield Timberview – Michael Badejo and Craig Jim-Lawson.

Billy Embody, an SMU recruiting expert, was interviewed in the Dallas Morning News.  Among his comments about Morris and his staff’s recruiting efforts so far, “It’s so much better than it was a year ago from a talent standpoint.  It’s different in terms of the momentum they’ve built and how active they are on social media.  The recruits are excited.

He particularly sited Badejo as a player that can have an immediate impact.  He also noted that quarterback David Moore is a “ringleader”.  “he’s reaching out to prospects and trying to get others to commit.”

Embody particularly noted the interest high school coaches are showing in SMU and the reception they are getting from Morris and his staff to assist them in their coaching jobs.

Verbal commitments are not binding, and the school does not comment on verbal commitments.  For sure though, there is a buzz to SMU football recruiting that’s been absent for a long time.

He thinks wide receiver Joshua Shelmire can be a sleeper impact player.  He’s 6′-2″ and is a track star with elite speed.

Reader Ryan Phillips wrote with an interesting note.  He sent a list of the top 101 NFL players of the 2014 season.  There were more than 2000 players last season among the 32 teams, so the top 101 represents less than 5%.  There are about 125 division one schools, so the top 101 NFLers mathematically doesn’t allow every D-1 school to have a player on the list.  SMU has two!

Kelvin Beechum, left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, came in at 67.  A key stat for his play was his pass blocking efficiency.  He was second best among all left tackles.

Emmanuel Sanders, a wide receiver with the Denver Broncos, checked in at 42.  His key stat was a drop rate of 1.04, second best of all wide receivers.

MAY BASKETBALL UPDATE

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – Renewals for basketball season tickets went out over the past couple of weeks.  The athletic department isn’t saying, but they already have a good idea of how many are going to be renewed.  At this time, there are very few seats available to be purchased on a season ticket basis without a corresponding Mustang Club donation.  The donations were due March 15 in order for current season ticket holders to renew their seats.

The price of Larry Brown and the success he has brought to the Hilltop doesn’t come cheap.  In most cases, the donation level was doubled to maintain season tickets.  One friend reported that his donation level is now $5,000 per seat for two seats located under a basket on the floor.  With the cost of the tickets added to the donation, he will be paying almost $350 per ticket per game to retain those seats, based upon an 18 game home schedule.

Last season, every ticket available on a season ticket basis was sold.  There are no reports yet on the retention rate, but the betting here is that the doubling of the Mustang Club donations in most cases will deter few from renewing their tickets.

Last week, the American Athletic Conference announced the format for the conference basketball schedule.  With 11 teams in the conference, a school plays eight of the other 10 schools twice, home and home, and just one game against the other two.  For SMU, the “other two teams” are Central Florida at home and Temple on the road.  The Mustangs will play Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, South Florida, Tulane and Tulsa home and home.

The AAC men’s basketball post-season tournament will be hosted by Central Florida at the Amway Center in Orlando on March 10-13.

Michigan and Gonzaga are two of the teams that will play in Moody in non-conference play.  The Michigan game is set for Tuesday, December 8, but the date of the Gonzaga game has not been announced.  An 18 game home schedule is anticipated, so the Mustangs expect to announce seven more non-conference opponents in the near future.

The Mustangs also signed another player, Simeon Carter.  He’s a 6′-8″ power forward from West Charlotte High School in North Carolina.  Carter will join Markus Kennedy, Ben Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Semi Ojeleye as the big men under the basket.  He’s a three star rated prospect that averaged 14.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 4.0 blocks per game for West Charlotte.

Carter also joins Guards Shake Milton and Sedrick Barefield as well as wing Jarrey Foster as the other freshmen in this year’s recruiting class.

The Mustangs have one available scholarship at this point.

Nic Moore has been named to play for Kansas in the World University games in South Korea this summer.  Kansas head coach explained that they could take 12 players and were short because Svi Mykhailiuk can’t go because he is not a US citizen, and Brannen Greene is recovering from recent hip surgery.

Self noted that the Mustangs do a lot of the same things Kansas does, so he felt Moore would be a good fit.

Jordan Tolbert is also planning to play in Europe this summer.  The summer experience of playing for the Angola national team certainly improved Yanick Moreira’s play last year, and almost certainly the experience of international play will help Moore and Tolbert.

SPRING FOOTBALL

BY:  Richard W, Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – There’s an old saying that the two most important sports in Texas are football and spring football.  This past Saturday, there was a spring football game at Ford Stadium for the first time since 2007.  Former head coach June Jones eschewed the practice, but new head coach Chad Morris utilized the game to garner support for the program.

There was an estimated crowd of 5,000 in attendance on a perfect day weather-wise.  The game rules were modified considerably as was the scoring.  The defense for example could earn two points for a sack or a tackle for a loss, while the offense could earn two points for a run of 15 yards or more or a completed pass of at least 20 yards.

Morris said about the offense, “We simplified things and built from the ground up.”

At the key positions, incumbent Matt Davis is the apparent number one quarterback.  He took the field first with Prescott Line as his running back.  Freshman Ben Hicks a mid-term high school graduate that enrolled at SMU this spring is the second team quarterback.  Davis completed 8-13 with no interceptions for 134 yard and two touchdowns.  Hicks was 3-9 with no interceptions for 47 yards and one touchdown.

Line led the running backs by gaining 69 yards on nine carries.  His longest run was 25 yards and he scored one touchdown.  Daniel Gresham had the most carries – 10 – gaining only 14 yards, which included one carry for a six yard loss.  Darrel Colbert netted 24 yards on eight carries, and Darius Durall netted six yards on nine carries.

Courtland Sutton, a redshirt freshman from Brenham, had the biggest day among the receivers.  The 6′-4″, 215 wide out caught six passes for 124 yards and three touchdowns.  Anthony Buffini and Shelby Walker each caught three passes.

The defense looked well ahead of the offense, certainly a good sign for one of the most porous defensive teams in the country last fall.  Kyran Mitchell led with seven unassisted tackles including a sack.

Morris did note though about the defense, “We’re a long way from being where we want to be.”

The offense was ragged with way too many procedure penalties, but the offense improved over the course of the game.

Morris hasn’t officially named anyone as the starting quarterback or running back.  Even if he had done so, he noted before the game, “Nobody’s signing along term contracts on starting.”

For sure though, the excitement over the new coach and the future of SMU football was evident.  Morris spoke about the high school football coaches that came to watch practices.

“The reception of high school coaches, we knew it was going to be big, but I didn’t think it would be this big.”  He estimated that about 1,000 high school coaches came to look at the program during the course of the 14  spring training practices.  “We’ve had as many as 250 to 300 a day come out to practice, and a lot of them stay after to talk football.  It’s been fun.  It’s been unbelievable.”  He’s confident that it will pay off in recruiting.

A number of recruits attended the game Saturday, including four-star prospects Frisco offensive tackle Jack Anderson and Plano East linebacker Anthony Hines.

Three former Mustang players currently in the NFL – Richard Crawford (Chargers), Sterling Moore (Buccaneers) and Kelvin  Beachum (Steelers) were also in attendance.  Head basketball coach Larry Brown took the field and the microphone to thank the fans in attendance and to urge their support of the football team.  He was also presented a framed jersey of the latest All-American player that he coached – Nic Moore.

“There’s so much energy right now,” Morris said.  “Just the participation, the donations; people want to be a part of a winner and we’ve got to put a product on the field to make people feel excited about.  And if we do that, there will be more and more of them coming out.”

Through 14 practices, we’ve actually gotten better, a LOT better,” Morris said.  “I’m excited about the guys we’ve got.  These guys are going to five us everything they’ve got.  They’ll play hard.  We’re going to coach them hard.”

As for how successful the team can be this fall, Morris said about a bowl game, “There is no reason that can’t happen.”

For sure the energy was felt Saturday just being there.  It’s a new day in SMU football.

DEVASTATING

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UCLA plays Gonzaga tonight in Houston in the NCAA round of 16.  The Bruins had little difficulty dispensing with Alabama-Birmingham after the controversial goal tending call provided the winning points over SMU in their tournament opening game.  It’s been more than a week since the Mustangs bowed out of the tournament, but the disappointment, which was described by one SMU fan in Louisville as devastating, hasn’t gone away.

The call is surely the most controversial one from the first 56 games in the tournament.  When the last 11 games have been played, that will likely still be true.  Opinions of the so called expert commentators run the gamut.  Some tell us it was the right call under the rules.  Others think it’s one of the worst calls in NCAA Tournament history.

I don’t claim to know the nuances of the goal tending rules.  However, irrespective of the view from the camera above the basket, I believe there is serious doubt the shot would have hit the rim, which seems to be the basis that the call was correct.

We now know that a goal tending call is not reviewable on video.  However, referees frequently huddle to discuss a call among themselves.  Often, calls are reversed.  It is disappointing that the referees didn’t huddle in this case.  The ref that made the call was a good 30 feet from the basket.  Perhaps one of the other two closer to the basket would have had a different opinion.  From the referees’ standpoint, given the importance of the call, it’s amazing they didn’t huddle to discuss it just for appearance’s sake.

The bottom line though is that I’m not joining other SMU fans in Houston to see the Mustangs play Gonzaga tonight.  People from Los Angeles have taken our place.

The call aside though, this game was clearly in the Mustangs’ control, and they let it get away.  The crushing play was the errant pass with 25 seconds remaining.  SMU had the ball and a two point lead.  Getting the ball to Nic Moore, an 88% free throw shooter was imperative.  Instead, the pass was thrown away, not even close to the intended target, and UCLA had the ball with the opportunity to take the lead.  They were just a goal tending call away from taking the lead for good.

Even after UCLA scored on the goal tending call, there were 13 seconds left in regulation.  Nic Moore got two good looks at the basket, but neither shot fell in.

For sure, it was one of the poorer games played by the Mustangs this year.  For much of the game, the Ponies looked lethargic and unenergetic.  Both teams seemed to have the jitters at the start.  More than two minutes elapsed before either scored.  The second half started even more slowly.  Neither team scored in the first three minutes, and SMU didn’t score for 5-1/2 minutes, when Markus Kennedy hit a pair of free throws.  The Mustangs scored just five points over the first 10 minutes.

However, after UCLA took their largest lead of the game (10 points) with 12:56 remaining, the Mustangs paradoxically scored the next 19 points to take their biggest lead of the day at nine, as UCLA didn’t score for more than eight minutes.  The game looked all but in the bag for the Mustangs holding a seven point lead with 1:25 remaining.

We all know what happened from there.  As bad as we all feel about it, we can only look toward next year.  Three seniors depart from the eight man playing rotation that finished the season – Ryan Manuel, Cannen Cunningham and Yanick Moreira.  They were significant contributors and will be missed.

However, the other five return – Nic and Ben Moore, Markus Kennedy, Sterling Brown, and Ben Emelogu.  They’ll be joined by Keith Frazier, who surely will regain his eligibility, and transfers Jordan Tolbert (Texas Tech) and Semi Ojeleye (Duke).  Tolbert and Ojeleye are inside players listed at 6′-7″ and 6′-8″ respectively.  Particularly, Ojeleye will be expected to fill the gap left by Cunningham and Moreira’s departure.

The Mustangs have signed three freshmen:  Shake Milton, Sedrick Barefield and Jarrey Foster.  Milton is the most highly regarded, but Barefield is a terrific long range shooter.

That leaves two available scholarships.  The coaches are surely looking for another inside player.

This year’s team was better from last year’s experience.  Failing to make the NCAA Tournament proved to be positive motivation.  Last year’s team had bad losses at Temple and South Florida in conference play and to Houston in the conference tournament.  Winning perhaps just one of those games might have made the difference in receiving an NCAA bid.  This year’s team took care of business in the trap games.  They had no bad losses.  They probably had the bid in hand after winning the regular season conference championship, but made sure by taking the conference tournament.

The experience of finishing second in the NIT helped this year’s team too.  The NIT provided three extra weeks of games and practice.  It provided three more home games in the newly renovated Moody Coliseum to bond with Mustang fans.  There were quality wins over teams from the ACC, PAC 12 and SEC.  The NIT experience was undoubtedly more beneficial to this year’s team than a one and done scenario in the NCAA Tournament would have been.

Likewise, this year’s NCAA Tournament experience should benefit next year’s team greatly.  Getting in the tournament was a worthy goal this year.  Next year though, an NCAA bid is expected, and a one and done scenario in the tournament will be a disappointment.  Going farther into the tournament is an expectation, not a hope.

SMU basketball has come a long way in the three years since Larry Brown accepted the head coaching job.  The best part is that the good times have just begun.

ONE AND DONE

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

SMU’s trip to the NCAA Tournament proved to be a short one, as they lost to UCLA Thursday afternoon 60-59 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.  The Bruins went on an 8-0 run over the final 1:25 of the game to erase a seven point Mustang lead and advance to Saturday’s round of 32.

The final UCLA basket was scored on a controversial goal tending call.  The hectic shot from Bryce Alford, who had already hit eight three-point shots in the game, appeared to be short and to the right of the rim, but was called goal tending when Yanick Moreira swatted it away.  The rules do not allow for a television review of a judgment call.  There were still 13 seconds remaining in regulation play, and the Mustangs got two shots at the end for the win, but neither fell.

SMU finishes the season with a 27-7 record.  27 wins ties last year’s team for the second most in a season, and 54 wins over two consecutive seasons is an SMU record.  All seven losses were to teams that received bids to the NCAA Tournament.

Nic Moore’s 24 points led the Mustangs.  Six of his seven baskets were three-point shots.  He was 4-4 from the free throw line.  Markus Kennedy also scored in double digits with 16 and led the Ponies with nine rebounds.

Alford, the son of Bruins’ head coach and former Dallas Maverick Steve Alford, hit nine three-point baskets on 11 tries to set a new UCLA record for three-point shots made in a game.  His 27 points led all scorers in the game, and Norman Powell was the other Bruin in double digits with 19.  Kevon Looney was the game’s leading rebounder with 10.

Larry Brown was suffering from bronchitis.  He considered turning over the reins for this game to Associate Head Coach Tim Jankovich, but decided to tough it out.  Brown looked bad on the SMU bench and had little voice when interviewed at halftime.  He did not appear on the local radio broadcast after the game as is customary.

The Mustangs trailed by four points at half time (34-30) and started slowly in the second half.  UCLA built a 10 point lead by out-scoring SMU 6-0 over the first 5-1/2 minutes after intermission.  A pair of free throws ended UCLA’s scoring run, but the Mustangs still looked sluggish and trailed by 10 points at the 13 minute mark.

Suddenly, the Ponies came alive.  They went on an improbable 19-0 run that erased the 10 point deficit and built a nine point lead, their largest of the game.  Nic Moore scored 11 of the 19 points to spearhead the surge.  They appeared to have the game well in hand when a Ryan Manuel dunk gave SMU a seven point lead at 59-52 with 1:25 remaining.

Over that 1:25, the Mustangs missed three shots and threw the ball away on another possession to open the door for the Bruins.  Powell hit a pair of free throws and Alford hit two three point shots with the second one being ruled good on the controversial goal tending call.  The win that had looked to be in hand with little more than a minute remaining, was suddenly gone and SMU’s season was over.

It’s a bitter ending for all the Mustang nation, but especially for three seniors – Moreira, Manuel and Cannen Cunningham.  They’ll be replaced next year by hopefully an academically eligible Keith Frazier, and transfers Jordan Tolbert (Texas Tech) and Semi Ojeleye (Duke).  The Mustangs also have three freshmen committed, all of whom could contribute.  Shake Milton from Oklahoma is the most highly regarded on the trio.  SMU still has two scholarships available assuming everyone returns.  Returning players include Nic Moore, the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and Markus Kennedy, a second team All-Conference selection for the second year in a row.

 

ON TO THE NCAAs

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

SMU claimed complete dominance of the American Athletic Conference Sunday afternoon by adding the post-season tournament championship and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to the regular season championship they earned last Sunday.  They won the rubber match over Connecticut, 62-54 at the XL Center in Hartford, after the teams had split the regular season series with the home team winning each game.

The Mustangs seemingly had this game in hand all the way.  They ran the lead into double digits at 20-10 with 6:20 remaining in the first half, led by 14 at halftime, and held a 17 point lead in the second half with less than 14 minutes left in regulation.  That’s when momentum shifted to the Huskies, who cut the lead to as a few as five points.  The Mustangs however made 10 of their final 11 free throws over the final two plus minutes to salt the win away.

Head Coach Larry Brown said after the game, “I just want to admire what Connecticut was able to do after we got such a big lead and the character they showed to come back.  It’s never easy playing against Kevin (Connecticut Head Coach Kevin Ollie), and it’s amazing when you play in an atmosphere like this and you realize the tradition they have and you understand why.”

As for his team, Brown continued, “These seniors have been amazing.  Matt Doherty should be up here with me because he left me with an unbelievable group of guys.”

Markus Kennedy led the team in scoring with 14 points and was named tournament MVP.  Nic Moore and Yanick Moreira were also double digit scorers with 11 points.  They made the All-Tournament team.  Ben Moore was the fourth Mustang in double digits with 10, and Sterling Brown was the top rebounder in the game with 12.

SMU’s record improved to 27-6, tying last year’s team for the second most wins in school history.  The 1987-88 team won 28.  Connecticut finished at 20-14 and became the sixth defending National Champion that failed to receive a tournament bid in the following year since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

SMU was placed in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament with a six seed.  They will open play next Thursday at approximately 2:15 PM (Central) against 20-13 UCLA in Louisville, Kentucky. The game will be televised on TruTV.  The American Athletic Conference claimed one more bid with Cincinnati getting the eight seed in the Midwest Region.  Temple (one seed), Tulsa (two seed) and Connecticut (four seed) received bids to the National Invitation Tournament.

The Mustangs viewed the NCAA Selection show as a group with family and friends from a private room in the XL Center. This year they watched to see where they would be playing in the NCAA tournament as they were assured of a bid from winning the conference tournament.  It was a stark contract from last year, when they were joined by fans in Moody Coliseum to sadly watch the selection show in which an NCAA bid never came.

Head Coach Larry Brown issued a statement to Mustang fans after the game, saying, “I don’t know that there’s a whole lot to say except that SMU is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993 because of these guys.  I am very proud of this team and I know you are too.  Thank you for your support.  It means a ton to me and the whole team.”

There is no question that the American Athletic Conference does not receive the respect it deserves from the selection committee.  Last season, AAC Champion Louisville was ranked in the top 10 for most of the season and received just a four seed.  This year, Louisville has moved on to the Atlantic Coast Conference.  They have lost four impact players from last year’s team and are clearly not as good, yet Louisville again received a four seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The AAC should have received at least one more bid, if not two.  Temple and Tulsa can’t be feeling very chippy about the selection process at this point in time.

But that’s another story for another time.  This weekend, if the Mustangs beat UCLA, and they will most surely be favored on the betting line to take the Bruins, they will face the winner of three seed Iowa State and 13 seed Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday.  The Mustangs need to win both games to set a new school record for wins in a season, not to mention to reach the “Sweet 16″ in Houston.

Despite what the selection committee thinks, this team has a realistic chance of going deep into the tournament.  They have a front line of four big men that present problems for most teams, and with four post players, they are not sidetracked by foul trouble.

“We have four big people that we feel can contribute.  They all can catch, they all can pass, they’re all a post presence,” Brown said.

Guard play is also extremely valuable in the NCAA Tournament.  SMU is led by point guard Nic Moore, their leading scorer and assist man, who is also the AAC Player of the Year, and a first team All-Conference selection for the second year in a row.  The other two usual starters – Ryan Manuel and Sterling Brown – are good athletes that are very good defenders and have some offensive skills.

This team is good, and it’s balanced.  They will present match-up problems for a lot of opponents.  The tournament isn’t always won by the best team.  For evidence thereof, look no further than last season.  Connecticut ran the table taking six games despite being a seven seed.  SMU beat them twice in the regular season last year and didn’t even get an invite to the tournament.  They probably weren’t even a top 20 team, but they came home with the championship trophy.

When Ron Washington was the manager of the Texas Rangers, he said about post-season play that the best team doesn’t always win.  A team just needs to be the best team on the day they play.  For SMU, the message is clear.  They need to be the best team on six days to bring the NCAA Tournament Championship back to the AAC this year.  It’s a long shot, but it is in the realm of possibility.  Larry Brown has coached an NCAA champion before.  He could do it again this year.

OFF TO HARTFORD

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The Mustangs’ Men’s basketball team departed for Hartford, Connecticut after practice Wednesday.  They open the American Athletic Conference post-season tournament this morning at 11:00 Central against East Carolina, 81-80 first round winners over Central Florida in overtime.  Hopefully, the Mustangs’ stay will extend through Sunday evening’s NCAA selection show, as the plan is to return to Dallas immediately if they lose Friday or Saturday.

There was definitely excitement over capturing the regular season championship last Sunday.  Nic Moore admitted he had enjoyed the celebration.  “I had my family here, so that was always fun to be able to celebrate with them.  I guess it was a good night afterwards.”

However, by Tuesday the team was definitely focused on the task at hand – this weekend’s conference tournament.  They are still haunted by last year’s loss to Houston in the Mustangs’ opening game in the conference tournament, which likely cost them an NCAA Tournament bid.  Moore noted, “It just shows that anybody can be beat if you don’t have the right focus.  If we don’t have the right focus, that it could be the same thing as last year.  Hopefully, we’ve got that mind set where we can play together and be positive.  We’re stoked.”

Certainly, this Mustang team has continued to improve even with the loss of Keith Frazier.  Markus Kennedy attributed the improvement to attitude, “I think the bonding that we’re doing.  We’re spending a little bit more time together.  Everybody is becoming more of a family.”

He says the team needs solid contributions from the Bens – Moore and Emelogu – with the possibility of three games in three days this weekend in the conference tournament.  “We’re going to need everybody.  Both Bens are capable of having great games offensively and defensively.  We only go eight deep.”

Head coach Larry Brown was also asked about the loss to UH in last year’s tournament and said, “I don’t know if I’m going to harp on what happened last year.  I don’t think this is the time and the place.  I think what we gotta talk about is what we need to do better.  The hope is that we build on the things that are important.”

Brown echoed Kennedy’s thoughts on the bench, “We need to get Ben Moore and Ben Emologu more involved where they become a factor.  If we play two or three nights, your bench becomes more critical.”

As for this weekend, Brown mentioned a familiar theme, “We gotta rebound, defend, share the ball, take care of the ball.  I think that is critical.”

If the Mustangs do those things, they likely win games not only this weekend, but the next one too.

SMU has all but officially wrapped up an NCAA bid with 24 wins, no bad losses, and a regular season championship.  However, there is much to play for this weekend.  Winning the conference tournament will most certainly improve the team’s seeding and up SMU’s chances of advancing in the big dance.

AWARDS:  On Tuesday, the AAC announced All-Conference teams.  Nic Moore joined Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright as unanimous selections to the first team.  The other three were Austin Nichols (Memphis), Will Cummings (Temple) and James Woodard (Tulsa).

Markus Kennedy and Yanick Moreira were named All-Conference second team.  The other three were Cincinnati’s Octavia Ellis, Tulane’s Louis Dabney, and Tulsa’s Shaquille Harrison.

A day later, Kennedy won the Sixth Man of the Year Award.  Moreira also won the Conference Most Improved Player award.  Other awards went to UConn center Amida Brimah for Conference Defensive Player of the Year and to Shaq Goodwin (Memphis) for the Conference Sportsmanship Award.

On Thursday, the AAC announced that Nic Moore was the conference Player of the Year.  Moore averaged 14.4 points and 5.3 assists per game to lead the Mustangs.  Those figures were fourth and second in the conference.  He also led the conference in free throw shooting percentage (87.5%).  His importance to the Mustangs; regular season championship was probably the difference maker in winning the award over Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright, who had superior scoring figures.

NOTABLE:

*     There will be no NCAA Selection Show watch party with fans this year, as there was last season at Moody Coliseum.  Obviously, if they win the first two games and play in Sunday’s tournament finals, they will watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show in Hartford.  If the team loses either Friday or Saturday and returns to Dallas, they will gather privately to watch the selection show on Sunday.

*     Cannen Cunningham started last Sunday instead of Ben Moore on Senior Day.  He played extremely well turning in a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.  When asked if Cunningham would start this Friday, Brown said, “I will think about it.  I look at Markus and Cannen as starters just like Yanick and Ben, so I don’t know.  Cannen was great.  It’s his senior year.  Who knows?”

*     NCAA rules provide for players that are eligible to play to travel with the team.  Consequently, Keith Frazier (academic ineligibility), Jordan Tolbert and Semi Ojeleye (transfers) did not make the trip to Hartford.

*     In addition to East Carolina, the first round winners in the conference tournament were Houston, 66-60 winners over Tulane for their fourth win in a row, and Connecticut, which routed South Florida 69-43.  Houston plays two seed Tulsa and UConn plays three seed Cincinnati in the second round.

THE LAST TIME – A REMEMBRANCE

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSTIY PARK, Texas – Sunday afternoon, confetti filled the Moody Coliseum air shortly after the game clock wound down to zero with the scoreboard reading SMU 67 – Tulsa 62.  The Mustangs had won their first conference championship in 22 years.  Fans filled the court mixing with the players as nets were cut and the championship trophy was presented.  It was a great accomplishment for this team from which so much was expected.

The American Athletic Conference’s automatic bid goes to the winner of this weekend’s post-season conference tournament, but with 24 wins, no bad losses, and a conference championship; this team is all but in the NCAA Tournament.

Bryan Ballowe is a Dallas business man, an SMU grad with undergraduate and graduate degrees earned on the Hilltop.  He watched Sunday’s game from section 203.  Like most in the arena, he was adorned in SMU garb, but his was a bit different than most, if not all in the crowd.  He was wearing a ring from the last SMU conference championship in 1993.

As a freshman in 1992, Ballowe walked on and made the SMU basketball team.  It was not a team that greatness was expected.  They opened the season with a 6-4 record before starting conference play.  Two of the losses were to ranked teams at the time of the game; #20 Tulane on the road in overtime, and #13 Arkansas at home by 19 points.

SMU opened conference play with a 102-92 win over Texas in Austin.  The game wasn’t as close as that score indicates, and Ballowe said the win was a turning point.  “We realized we were good.”

It turned into a three team race, with Houston and Rice being the other teams in contention.  The Mustangs split with both opponents, winning in Dallas and losing in Houston.  The UH games were 10 point margins each time, and Rice won easily in Houston.  The Rice game at Moody Coliseum was special though.  Chad Allen hit a three at the buzzer to tie the game and send it to overtime, and SMU pulled out a one point win.

Just like this year’s edition of the Mustangs, the conference championship came down to the last day of the season.  SMU and Rice were both 11-2.  SMU played first and beat Texas 86-80 to secure no worse than a tie for the championship.  Rice played Texas A&M later.  The Aggies were not very good that season under head coach Tony Barone, but the Aggies were good enough on March 6.  They tagged Rice with their third conference loss to give SMU the title.

John Shumate was the SMU head coach, and he was named Southwest Conference Coach of the Year.  He was never a fan favorite, and his tenure as head coach lasted just two more years.  He’s never been a head coach again and retired as an assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns in 2010.  Ballowe has a different point of view.  “I liked John Shumate.  He gave me a chance to play.”

The key players on that Mustang team were Seniors Tim Mason, Gerald Lewis and Mike Wilson.  The least any of the three played was 865 minutes, while no one else on the team played as many as 700.  Lewis was the point guard.  Wilson “was a great athlete, but he couldn’t shoot.  Tim (Mason) was the heart and soul of our team,” Ballowe said.

Wilson and Lewis won first team All-Conference accolades.  Mason was named to the second team, and Lewis made the All-Defensive team.

Junior Chad Allen and Senior Greg Kinzer were usually the other two starters, so it was a veteran team.  Ballowe said it was a really balanced team with quality ball handling from the guards and size inside.  Counting two more non-conference wins after opening conference play, the Mustangs finished the regular season with a 20-6 record.

The rest of the year didn’t go so well.  As the conference champion, the Ponies went into the SWC post season tournament as the number one seed, and their first game was against eight seed TCU, which had won just five games during the regular season.  The Mustangs had beaten them both times, 79-65 at Daniel Meyer Coliseum and 70-63 in Moody.

“We laid and egg,” Ballowe said about the game.  TCU somehow pulled out a 72-71 win to knock the Mustangs out of the tournament and the chance for the conference’s automatic bid.  He admitted the team was mentally already in the NCAA Tournament.

There was some doubt that SMU would receive an NCAA bid with their 20-7 record, but on selection Sunday, they were tabbed a 10 seed facing seven seed Brigham Young at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago, home of the DePaul Blue Demons.  (The Rosemont Arena is now known as Allstate Arena).

Ballowe admitted there was some intimidation from the surroundings.  “Rosemont was bigger than any place we had ever played in.  We got lost in the moment.  We were the better team.  We had better athletes.”  Unfortunately, Brigham Young came away with an 80-71 win to end the Mustangs season at 20-8.

Still, he says the whole experience was great. “It was the best experience of my life to play with some of the best athletes I’d ever seen.  It was exciting in that one year I was watching the tournament on TV as a senior in high school and the next year, I was playing in it.”

Hopefully, the current Mustangs can learn from their predecessor champions.  The goal is not reached.  This year’s Mustang team, which came in at 21 in the AP and 22 in the coach’s poll this week, is too good to just go to the NCAA Tournament.  Tulsa coach Frank Haith said after Sunday’s game that SMU is one of the top teams in the country and can go far.  As he put it, “they have a great point guard, great post players, and a Hall of Fame coach.”  That’s all the elements to even win it all.

This week is important.  Winning the conference tournament will likely improve their NCAA seeding by one or two lines.  These Mustangs have worked hard and overcome considerable adversity to get into this position.  They need to take advantage now.  These days have arrived seemingly suddenly, less than three years since Larry Brown accepted the position as head coach.  They can go away just as fast.  The time is now.

TWENTY-TWO THIS WEEK

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

Sunday’s 81-73 loss to Connecticut dropped the Mustangs a notch in both polls this week as the Mustangs came in at 22.  SMU also dropped a notch to second place in the Dallas Morning News’ poll of the top 10 teams in Texas.  Baylor, ranked 14th (AP) and 16th (Coach’s), took over the top spot in the Morning News’ poll, and then promptly lost to Texas Monday night.

Certainly, Sunday’s loss was disappointing for SMU fans.  The team played poorly in the first half.  They were seemingly out of character offensively as they did not get the ball inside, which is their biggest strength.  With Nic Moore having an off day shooting the three point shot, the Mustang’s offense was ineffective early. It was definitely a game that the Mustangs missed Keith Frazier.

In the second half when the Mustangs used almost 12 minutes to overcome the six point halftime deficit and take a two point lead, the offense was back to normal – they got the ball inside.  Markus Kennedy had a big second half, scoring 16 of his team leading 18 points after intermission.  Getting the ball inside, and then kicking it out makes the three point shooting more effective too.  All four of the Mustangs made threes came in the second half.

Head coach Larry Brown noted after the game, “We scored enough points to win.”  He blamed the loss on the defense, and for sure the 81 points UConn scored are the most for any SMU opponent this season.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi published a new bracket projection on March 2 updated for the results of the weekend  SMU is still projected to be a six seed in the South Region playing Boise State in Louisville in game one.  Lunardi still has the American Athletic Conference getting four bids, with Temple and Tulsa as 11 seeds, and Cincinnati in a play-in game with Purdue for another 11 seed.

Announcers at the SMU games of late feel that the Mustangs are a lock for the tournament.  Certainly the non-conference schedule with Gonzaga, Indian, Michigan and Arkansas is tougher than last year.  There are no bad losses like last year’s Mustangs had in conference to South Florida and Temple.

It’s sobering to remember though that a year ago, the Mustangs had the same 23-6 record and was ranked between 20 and 25 in the polls.  They finished with regular season losses to Louisville at home, Memphis on the road, and Houston in the second round of the conference tournament after earning a bye as the third place team.  On NCAA tournament selection Sunday, there was no bid.  An NCAA bid is not a lock at this point.

The good thing for this year’s team is that they have the regular season championship in their control.  A win over Tulsa this Sunday does it, and it would be difficult to keep the Mustangs out of the tournament as the regular season champion, though the conference’s automatic bid goes to the winner of the conference tournament. .

This weekend’s loss should serve notice that Connecticut is not to be counted out of the NCAA Tournament.  The Huskies are currently in fifth place with a 10-6 record, one game behind Cincinnati and Temple at 11-5.  Their overall record is 17-11.

The tournament will be played at the XL Center in Hartford with UConn as the host.  They have already tagged the top two teams in the conference record-wise – SMU and Tulsa – with losses when playing at home.  It’s not a stretch at all to see the Huskies running the table and to grab the conference’s automatic bid.  Connecticut hosts Memphis Thursday and plays at Temple on Saturday; so they have two more chances to add to their tournament resume before the conference tournament.  Winning those two games and a couple in the conference tournament may be enough to get the defending national champions invited back to the big dance.

Thanks to reader Ryan Phillips for recommending a wonderful web site – teamrankings.com.  The site currently has a mathematical calculation of the chances for each team in the conference to win the post-season tournament.  SMU of course has the best chance – 31.71%.  Connecticut though is second out of deference to playing at home at 27.25%.  Cincinnati (14.28%), Tulsa (10.84%),  Memphis (8.12%) and Temple (6.12%) round out the top six.  Each of the other five teams have less than a 1% chance to win.

It was less than three years ago that Larry Brown was introduced to media and fans as the new head coach of the Mustangs.  It was a beautiful April day for the gathering on the plaza just outside Moody Coliseum’s west entrance.  It was gala event with luminaries such as Kansas head coach Bill Self in attendance to support Brown.  There was mention of the renovation to Moody Coliseum, which was already underway.  Brown promised good things on the court.  Hope filled the hearts of SMU fans.

Now fast forward to March 8 when the Mustangs will take the court to win a conference championship. Moody Coliseum’s renovation is complete, and it’s a show palace.  It’s nice to know that those dreams three years ago have at least partially come true.  SMU has the opportunity to win a conference championship for the first time in more than a decade, and Mustang fans have hopes and dreams, not to mention reasonable expectations for even bigger accomplishments.