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NCAA Basketball American Athletic Conference BasketballSMU Mustangs

SMU Mustangs Are College Hoops’ Best Kept Secret

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Brown is a nomad.

Over the course of his 47-year coaching career, he’s made a total of 19 stops, criss-crossing the landscape of the ABA, NBA and college basketball. His most recent stop has him planted on the pristine campus of Southern Methodist University in the affluent Highland Park neighborhood of Dallas, Texas.

As it turns out, this stop may be his best coaching job yet, as the No. 23 Mustangs are riding high with a 19-5 overall record and are fresh off a 23-point thrashing of the then No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats at home in Dallas on Saturday, 76-55. Led by flashy point guard Nic Moore and bruising forward Markus Kennedy — who between them average 25.7 points per game — the Mustangs are 8-3 in AAC play and are making plenty of noise in the new conference, and in the process turning heads nationally.

Earlier in the month, the Mustangs also easily dispatched the Memphis Tigers, 87-72 on their home court, completing a one-two knockout punch over what were at the time, the AAC’s two top teams. As their schedule stands, there aren’t any major challenges left on SMU’s schedule as their remaining opponents have a combined record of 73-63 overall.

While the Wichita State Shockers and the San Diego State Aztecs may be the sexiest mid-major powers as of late, the Mustangs are proving one game at a time they’re the nation’s best kept secret, and could be a force to be reckoned with come March Madness.

The biggest challenges remaining for SMU come on February 23rd as the Mustangs travel to Storrs to take on the Connecticut Huskies and on March 5th when the Louisville Cardinals make a trip to Moody Coliseum for the next to last game of the conference slate, which wraps up with a road game at Memphis.

If the Mustangs can earn any kind of a split in this three-game gauntlet, and finish among the top three teams in the AAC, their apparent rise to respectability once again can be crowned with a middle-tier seed in the NCAA Tournament.

No matter how you cut it, they’re surpassing expectations, by a long shot.

Among those who follow basketball in the Lone Star State, SMU has always been considered a sleeping giant. A program with the resources, location, facilities and personnel to become a player in the state’s recruiting arms race if led by the right folks.

This tipping point appears to have finally tipped.

While Larry Brown has certainly burned his share of bridges, and made his share of enemies along the way, taking this SMU team to the NCAAs for the first time since 2000 would be an achievement to hang his hat on.

For all we know, however, it may be just enough for Brown to finally hang up that hat, to walk away from the game he loves and has done so much for over almost five decades. Just to spite us, though, he may have a greater intent of building the Mustangs back into the regional power they’ve always had the potential to be.

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Kris Hughes is a Senior Writer and the Hiring Manager for Rant Sports.

You can follow Kris on TwitterGoogle Plus or Facebook.