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SMU Basketball Can’t Be Trusted Entering NCAA Tournament Off Loss to Houston

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Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

One of the better stories in college basketball this season has been what veteran head coach Larry Brown has done to turn around the fortunes of the SMU Mustangs.

Long an afterthought or a team never thought of at all on the national scene, the Mustangs have enjoyed a resurgence in 2013-14. Heading into Thursday’s AAC tournament quarterfinal against their old Southwest Conference rivals Houston, SMU was 23-8 had a short stint in the Top 25, and a owned a fifth-place finish (12-6) in what turned out to be a pretty strong AAC in the conference’s first season.

Losses at the end of the regular season to Louisville and Memphis, two of the top four teams in the AAC, weren’t a major concern for SMU. But after Thursday’s 68-64 loss to the Cougars that bounced the Mustangs from the conference tournament, you have to wonder just how much this SMU team has to offer now in the NCAA tournament. The losses to Louisville and Memphis weren’t likely to harm SMU’s NCAA Tournament seed all that much. Both were ranked in the Top 25 and the Memphis game was on the road. But Thursday’s loss to Houston will affect SMU’s seed, which in turn will make its path through the c that much more difficult.

Two major issues for SMU in the Houston loss were first the shooting of guard Nic Moore, who went 0-for-9 from the field and only managed to salvage a somewhat decent game by going 8-for-10 from the free-throw line and dishing eight assists. Moore must be a lot better from the field for the Mustangs to be any kind of threat to get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. The poor shooting was uncharacteristic for Moore, who went 8-for-14 in the games against Louisville and Memphis.

Also troubling was center Cannen Cunningham. Off the bench, he had 12 points and five rebounds in the first half, after which the Mustangs had a 38-29 lead. In the second half, however, Cunningham scored just two points, didn’t get a rebound, and SMU managed just 26 points over the final 20 minutes. Cunningham’s 14 points still led SMU in scoring, which tells you that too many other players stepped up when necessary. Forward Markus Kennedy did have 13 points and nine rebounds.

You could excuse SMU’s prior two losses in this streak based on the competition. But losing to Houston on a neutral site isn’t acceptable given how far Brown has brought this Mustangs club this season. They’ve beaten the likes of Connecticut (twice) and Cincinnati. But regular-season losses to South Florida and Temple, and now Thursday’s loss to Houston, have to make one wonder if SMU isn’t a higher-seeded team you look to have upset in your March Madness brackets when the tournament starts next week.

Ed Morgans is an ACC Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @writered21 and add him to your network on Google.

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NCAA Tournament Profile: SMU Mustangs

Record: 27-6

RPI: 13

BPI: 24

Conference: AAC Conference

How They Qualified: AAC Conference Tournament Champions

Region: No. 6 seed in South

Can you imagine how good the SMU Mustangs would have been with Emmanuel Mudiay on the team this year? Just in case you are out of the loop, Mudiay should go in the top five in the upcoming draft. Even without him, the Mustangs have put together a solid resume. Most importantly, and unlike last season, they are not being snubbed to the max when it comes to making the NCAA tournament.

The Mustangs haven’t had the toughest schedule, but they did challenge themselves some by playing the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Indiana Hoosiers, Arkansas Razorbacks and Michigan Wolverines in their out-of-conference schedule. It’s games like those that help prepare a team for the tourney.

 

What You Need to Know:

Leading Scorer: Nic Moore (14.3 PPG)

Leading Rebounder: Yanick Moreira (6.4 RPG)

Leading Passer: Nic Moore (5.3 APG)

Bad Losses: None

Good Wins: Tulsa (twice), Temple (x3)

 

This team may be lacking in star power, but none of that matters in the tournament. Heck, the Duke Blue Devils had one of the biggest stars in college basketball last year (Jabari Parker), and they ended up going down to the Mercer Bears right away. I don’t remember Doug McDermott leading his team to a title last year either.

No offense to those players, but the NCAA tournament does not reward teams just because they are well-known and have — you guessed it — star power.

Larry Brown is the head coach, so I guess there is one star for ya. All that aside, Moore and the other three guys who are averaging 10+ points per game have to show up. Entering the season with a decent amount of hype, SMU isn’t necessarily a dark horse pick, but at the same time, not many people are expecting a Final Four run by Brown’s team.

Let’s remember that the Mustangs have only lost six games in 2014-15.

The SMU Mustangs are dancing!

Trevor Lowry is a Content Associate at RantSports.com. If you’re a tweeter feel free to follow him @TheTrevorLowry, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

The SMU Mustangs may have been snubbed out of last year's dance, but no one should lose focus of them this time around.

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