AAC Team Previews: Southern Methodist MustangsPosted by Mike Lemaire on November 5th, 2013
Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism.
Strengths: A year ago the Mustangs were hamstrung by one of the shortest benches in the country. It would be a stretch to say that head coach Larry Brown had even a seven-man rotation, as usually just six players played heavy minutes and the rest were given to overmatched bench players just to make sure the starters didn’t collapse from exhaustion. As a result, the Mustangs frequently wore down at the end of games and looked downright tired as the conference slate rolled along without a respite or reinforcements in sight. That weakness has turned into a strength, albeit an inexperienced one. Thanks to three now-eligible transfers and a highly touted and ready recruiting class, Brown could ostensibly go 10-deep without having to worry about being able to field a competitive lineup. It is extremely likely that players like Nic Moore, Keith Frazier, Markus Kennedy and Yanick Moreira turn some of last season’s starters into key bench players and there is no doubt that the Mustangs are better off because of it. Now, it’s doubtful that Brown will stick with a 10- or even nine-man rotation for very long, so he will use the early season tuneup games as a chance to experiment with lineup combinations and find out which players he trusts before he settles on a regular rotation. But given the dire state of the roster last season, just having options in general will mean the Mustangs will be an improved team.
Weaknesses: By most accounts, uber-freshman Frazier is a lethal outside shooter who shouldn’t be afforded even a sliver of open space. But even if he is the shooter everyone says he is and more, the Mustangs still don’t look like they have a lot of outside firepower. Brown recognized the limitations of his roster last season, and as a result, not one player took more than 100 three-pointers on the season and the team ranked 345th in the country (that’s third-to-last folks) in 3FG percentage. Their best returning shooter, reserve guard Brian Bernardi, will be lucky to see the floor much this season, and even though reserve forward Shawn Williams shot a respectable 37 percent from downtown last season, he isn’t exactly the prototypical gunner. Moore is a playmaker, not a shooter, transfer Crandall Head is not even close to the shooter his older brother was, and while Frazier may be accurate from behind the arc, he is also valuable as a slasher who attacks the rim. The best teams in college basketball have balance, and part of having balance is a strong component of outside shooting ability. The Mustangs may play more up-tempo this season and will definitely have better athletes to create their own offense, but their lack of outside shooting may make them an easier team to defend.
Schedule: You probably won’t get Brown to talk about whether the weak non-conference slate is a benefit or not, but it is safe to say that outside of trip to Fayetteville to play a mediocre Arkansas team and a neutral floor test against a good Virginia squad, the Mustangs’ inexperienced roster won’t be tested much before conference play begins. SMU better be ready for a step up in competition once the new year hits, because the team’s first three conference games come against Cincinnati, Connecticut and Louisville. The middle of the conference slate is a bit softer, which is why the Mustangs will need to play well in these weeks if they are serious about the NCAA Tournament, because the end of the regular season includes a road trip to Storrs for a rematch with the Huskies, a visit from the Cardinals, and a road trip to Memphis.
If Everything Goes Right: Frazier is as good as everyone says he is and Moreira is as good, if not better, than everyone says he is. The transfers show very little signs of rust and the offense starts to put things together early enough that the Mustangs upset the Cavaliers. With all the newfound depth and influx of talent, Brown is able to show off his coaching prowess and the Mustangs prove to be more than competitive in conference play, scoring a few key upsets and winning the games they should win to finish fourth in the conference ahead of Cincinnati. That impressive record in conference play and two signature victories over Connecticut and Memphis are enough for the committee to overlook the putrid non-conference schedule and put the Mustangs in the field of 68 where they make some noise before bowing out in the second round and getting everyone excited about what’s to come.
If Everything Goes Wrong: Frazier can’t handle being the go-to scorer from the onset of the season and Kennedy and Moreira prove to be just serviceable big men who are unable to make much of an impact against better competition. The team’s turnover issues continue to plague them and the lack of balance on offense makes it tough for the team to score consistently. Frustrated by his team’s struggles, Brown tinkers too much with lineup combinations, wrecking some players’ confidence and hindering others’ growth. The Mustangs are still better than they were the previous year, but it becomes apparent that they are just a middle-of-the-pack team in the conference as they head for the postseason NIT. To make matters worse, rumors about Brown taking a more high-profile job swirl and do-everything recruit Emmanuel Mudiay reconsiders his commitment and instead opts to suit up for Kentucky, leaving the Mustangs’ program barely treading water heading into next season.
What Will Happen: It would be nearly impossible for Brown to squander all of the new toys he has to play with and so it seems incredibly likely that the Mustangs will be much better this season. That said, their best offensive player is a true freshman and asking him to carry the load is asking a lot of one player, even one of Frazier’s abilities. The added depth and improved roster means that the Mustangs will cruise through their non-conference slate although they will lose to the Cavaliers by double digits, offering up a bit of foreshadowing in the process. Once conference play starts, SMU proves to be slightly better than the dregs of the conference and competes with Temple for the fifth spot in the conference standings. Unfortunately, off shooting nights cause the Mustangs to lose a few games they shouldn’t, and coupled with an RPI-killing non-conference schedule, the Mustangs are only just barely deserving of being in the bubble conversation. They head to the NIT where they play well and bide their time waiting for Mudiay to arrive and energize the program all over again.