The SMU Mustangs took a major step toward inclusion in the NCAA Tournament Saturday night with a statement blowout of the seventh-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats 76-55 in Dallas, Texas. Having not lost on their home floor this season and with wins now over three ranked teams, the Mustangs (19-5, 8-3 AAC) have served notice to the country that they aren’t a bubble team from a new conference, but rather a team that’s a forced to be reckoned with in its conference and one that might make some noise nationally come March.
SMU’s 21-point destruction of Cincinnati was its second win over a top 25 team in eight days. On Feb. 1, the Mustangs also put a solid beat down on then-No. 22 Memphis, 87-72. In between, the Mustangs won a game they were supposed to by a convincing margin, blasting Temple 75-52. Earlier this season, also at home, SMU knocked off then-No. 17 Connecticut, 74-65. Those three wins would shine on any team’s resumé. But when you consider that the Mustangs have that perfect record at home and who they have lost to, the case for including SMU in the NCAA Tournament is now a pretty easy one.
Of SMU’s five losses, one came on a neutral floor by just three points to Virginia. The Cavaliers are currently ranked 20th in the country and are in second place in the ACC with a 10-1 record, trailing only top-ranked Syracuse. SMU has road losses to Arkansas, Cincinnati and then-No. 12 Louisville. A 78-71 conference loss at South Florida (3-8 AAC) on Jan/ 28 is the only result on SMU’s schedule that might make the Selection Committee scratch their heads a bit. But wins over three ranked teams and the near miss vs. Virginia should erase any doubts.
Head coach Larry Brown‘s team has, as of the current rankings, three more games vs. top-25 opponents. The Mustangs host Louisville and play road games at Connecticut and Memphis. With the Bearcats, Tigers and Cardinals joining SMU as the top four in the AAC, even a loss or two in that stretch shouldn’t hurt SMU’s postseason chances. The Mustangs put four players in double figures on Saturday, including 15 points each from guard Nick Russell and forward Ben Moore. Nic Moore leads the team in scoring at just short of 14 points per game. SMU’s success has been fueled by shooting. The Mustangs are in the top 10 in the country in field-goal percentage (49 percent).
If SMU keeps up its current form, it has a chance to run up 23 or 24 wins before conference tournament play even starts. That should be more than enough for the Selection Committee to view the Mustangs favorably not just for getting into the tournament, but for drawing a quality seed.