SMU Seeks to Build in Sudden Return to Relevance

Posted by CD Bradley on April 4th, 2014

SMU fell just short of the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, then fell just short of an NIT title in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. And yet the Mustangs exceeded everybody’s expectations for this season and suddenly have a bright future, an unusual place to be for a squad with no discernible success in decades. All of that, of course, is thanks to the surprising decision of Hall of Fame head coach Larry Brown accepting the top job two years ago. The Mustangs had one winning record in the nine years before he arrived, and his 15-17 record last season suggested more of the same. That all changed this time around, when the Mustangs became a national story with the type of success that merited stories in the ;New York Times. It was probably the biggest story involving SMU athletics in the national paper of record since the program received the death penalty for Porsches, polos and ponies in the mid-1980s.

Associated Press Larry Brown coached SMU to the NIT Final at MSG, where he used to coach the Knicks. He hopes to get to another place he's coached: the Final Four.

Larry Brown coached SMU to the NIT Final at MSG, where he used to coach the Knicks. He hopes to get to another place he’s coached: the Final Four. (AP)

A late season swoon (and a weak non-conference schedule) cost SMU its first NCAA Tournament trip since 1993 – the Mustangs were the last team left out this year – but the turned right around and made the most of their #1 seed in the NIT. That earned them the chance at three more home games at the newly renovated Moody Coliseum, where they had suffered only one loss all year, and they won all three. They then mounted a huge rally to knock off Clemson in the NIT semifinals before falling to Minnesota in a close loss in the championship game. Even though it ended in a defeat, the season was a landmark campaign for the school. SMU finished 27-10 overall and 12-6 in the AAC; those 27 wins were the second-most in SMU history, and the 12 conference wins tied for the most in any conference it has played in. They unveiled the “new” Moody to rave reviews and sellout crowds, and they played their first season in the AAC, which offers plenty of future TV opportunities and marquee match-ups with the likes of Final Four entrant UConn (who SMU swept this year), Memphis and Cincinnati.

Best of all for SMU fans, this success should not be short-lived. The Mustangs return their two best players next season — guard Nic Moore, who averaged 13.5 points and 4.8 assists per game, and big man Markus Kennedy, who averaged 12.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game – and eight of their top 10 scorers. They have secured only one recruiting commitment in the upcoming class, but it’s probably the top basketball recruit in school history. Guard Emmanuel Mudiay, a consensus top-five recruit nationally from nearby Arlington, Texas, is the second McDonald’s All-American from the Metroplex to pick SMU in as many years. He’s also the second Burger Boy to choose SMU ever, which illustrates the increase in relevance the program has made since Brown took over. The Mustangs remain a potential landing spot (albeit a long shot) for Texas big man Myles Turner, also a top 10 recruit, who has yet to make his decision.

Brown is 73 and notoriously quick to depart jobs, so he brought a coach in waiting with him to Dallas – Tim Jankovich, who had success at Illinois State and brought Moore with him as a transfer – but has insisted that he intends to stay for a while. “I look in the mirror, I know I’m 73, but in my heart I don’t feel that way,” Brown told the New York Post in a recent interview. “I want to coach because I love it. … I don’t want to stop doing this.” Given the unprecedented success he’s brought to SMU, and new-found promise the recently moribund program now has, SMU fans don’t want him to stop anytime soon, either.

CD Bradley (69 Posts)

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