Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs notched their 20th win Friday night on the road at Rutgers, 77-65. The Mustangs won for the eighth time in nine games with the typical Brown weapon of choice: defense. The Mustangs held the Scarlet Knights to 41 percent shooting, but most importantly, held them to 21.4 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
Defense has been Brown’s calling card for his entire coaching career. His defense has made him the only coach to win both an NBA title and an NCAA title (he also won an ABA title as a player). If you are looking for a reason how a 73-year-old man who last coached Division I Basketball in 1998 has turned a forgotten program around in less than two years, simply look at the Mustang defense.
The Mustangs are ranked 17th in the country in total defense, and even more importantly, they are ranked second in team field goal percentage defense at 36.7 percent. In a season where more and more teams are moving to zone principle defenses and man-to-man defenses, relying on switching on every pick or screen due to the changes in how officials call fouls, Brown’s “old school” defense can be considered “new school.”
Guard your man, don’t get screened, help the helper and do it without fouling — that is the formula of this defense. The Mustangs don’t allow open looks, and every shot taken is contested. This is defense designed to make every point scored a mentally exhausting journey for the opponent. Brown’s defense has the Mustangs ranked in the top 25 for the first time in year 29 years, and is truly the work of a genius.
One would expect a team of Brown’s to be excellent defensively eventually, but what is truly amazing is that SMU is not full of “his” guys. The Mustangs are full of transfers and players recruited by former coach Matt Doherty. The scary part for the rest of the AAC is that the Mustangs will only keep getting better, and March is just around the corner.
Defense wins championships at every level, something Brown knows better than anyone.