BY: Richard W, Humphrey
It was another good week for the SMU Men’s basketball team. They played just one game, but what a game it was, as they overcame a 10 point deficit in the final 14 minutes to beat the Temple Owls by nine. The current winning streak is up to four games, and the Mustangs have won 12 of their last 13, and 20 of their last 22.
The slow start against Temple was probably predictable, and perhaps should have been expected. First, Temple is good. They have beaten Kansas, and rolled into Moody Coliseum on a seven game winning streak. With the Mustangs coming off the overwhelming blowout win in the previous game against the defending National Champion Connecticut Huskies, a let down was perhaps inevitable. Fortunately, the Mustangs found a way to win and maintain their grip on first place in the American Athletic Conference with a 13-2 conference record.
The lead is down to one-half game after Tulsa beat Temple Sunday evening to improve to 12-2 in conference play. Temple looked spent after Thursday’s tough loss to SMU, and was really hurt by their leading scorer and assist man – Will Cummings – getting into foul trouble.
It’s essentially a two team race for the AAC championship at this point. Six teams have already been mathematically eliminated, including Connecticut. Temple, Cincinnati and Memphis trail SMU and Tiulsa in the standings with five losses, so the best any of those teams can do is tie SMU for the championship. I.E., one more SMU win eliminates everyone but Tulsa for the conference championship.
The championship could well come down to the final game of the season when Tulsa and SMU square off in Moody Coliseum March 8. Both teams however have some bumps in the road to get to that final regular season game with the championship on the line. Tulsa hosts Tulane and travels to Memphis this week. Their last home game is against Cincinnati next week, before travelling to Dallas for the finale.
SMU has a pair of road games this week, neither of which are a walk in the park. They play Thursday at Memphis and Sunday at Connecticut, a game that will be televised on CBS, the Mustangs first regular season appearance on CBS since the 80′s. They then get a full week off prior to hosting Tulsa.
SMU moved up from 25 to 21 in both polls last week and stayed at 21 this week. That’s not surprising as there weren’t many losses last week among Top 25 teams. The Dallas Morning News does their own poll of the top 10 teams in Texas, and for the second week in a row, SMU is number one in that poll, with Baylor, which is currently ranked ahead of the Mustangs at 19th and 20th in the national polls, at number two.
The personality of this Mustang team continues to take definition. The inside game with big men Yanick Moreira, Markus Kennedy, Cannen Cunningham and Ben Moore is proving to be too much for most teams to handle.
With Nic Moore as the point guard, this team has all the offensive weapons to go far. Moore is the team’s best three point shooter now that Keith Frazier is no longer eligible. He leads the Mustangs in scoring and leads the conference in assists. He is a serious candidate to be the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, and he should be in the conversation for being the national college Player of the Year.
The other two starters – Ryan Manuel and Sterling Brown – are strong defenders that are capable of double digit scoring on any given night. Both are showing more offensive prowess of late. Manuel made two three point shots late against Temple, which the Owls’ head coach Fran Dunphy said were “crushers” to them.
The bottom line is that this is a great passing team with tremendous offensive weapons that can run with any team in the country and it plays good defense. The picture of what this team is has emerged, though there is still much improvement left to attain.
Head coach Larry Brown said recently, “This team is different. It’s different from what we thought it would be, and it’s different from last year’s team.” Of course, he thought that the team it would be included Emmanuel Mudiay and Frazier; and Brown says that the team would be in the top five and the biggest story in college basketball if those two were here. But they aren’t, and the team continues to improve.
Winning the regular season championship assures only an NIT post-season bid. However, SMU will likely have an NCAA bid locked no matter what happens in the conference tournament if they hold off Tulsa for the regular season title. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi published a new bracket prediction today. He has SMU projected to be a six seed in the East facing 11 seed LSU in Louisville.
Of course, the Mustangs were ranked in the top 25 last year at tournament time and didn’t get a bid, so this is no time for the Ponies to feel smug with what they’ve accomplished so far. The regular season championship is in their grasp, and the conference tournament championship with the automatic NCAA bid is within reach too.