Four Thoughts on SMU’s Pasting at Gonzaga

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 18th, 2014

SMU didn’t exactly make a great impression in its nationally televised showdown with Gonzaga last night. The final score was 72-56 and that was after the Mustangs closed the gap late against the Bulldogs’ scrubs. It started early when Larry Brown’s team gifted Gonzaga way too many open looks, and continued in the second half as the Mustangs suffered through a poor shooting performance — at one point in the second half, they were 3-of-23 from the field — so bad it’s unlikely to be repeated this season. The second half got so out of hand that it gave the Gonzaga student section time to audition some new chants for this season (the “You need Mudiay” version was the best of the bunch, in my opinion). The Mustangs are too experienced and talented to be blown out so easily, but despite a disappointing showing in a marquee match-up during the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon, there were a few positives to take away from the game. Gonzaga is really good and Spokane is a difficult place to play, so I don’t think that this game will be reflective of the team that SMU will become by the end of the season.

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Here are the four things that stuck out to me about last night’s game:

  1. Did I mention how good Gonzaga is yet? The Bulldogs haven’t been a true mid-major team in years, but this may be the season that Mark Few’s club looks the least like a punchy underdog. Gonzaga has more size than almost any team in the country outside of Kentucky; it has one of the best point guards in the country in Kevin Pangos; it has plenty of shooting; and its rotation might be legitimately nine-deep. The Bulldogs fed off an explosive atmosphere in having their way with the Mustangs all game long. Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are a pair of frontcourt players with NBA futures, and Pangos is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the country. What am I trying to say is that there is no shame in losing to the Zags in their building this early in the season.  At one point Fran Fraschilla said that if there are “12 teams in the country better than Gonzaga, they must be really good.” Yeah, there is no way that there are 12 teams in America better than that team right now.
  2. Nic Moore was exposed defensively. It’s unfortunate that size matters so much in basketball because if Moore was the same size as Pangos, we might be talking about him as one of the best point guards in the country. Alas, Moore is just 5’9″, and no matter how hard he works on and off the ball, that presents some issues for him defensively. Pangos is going to make a lot of really good guards look mediocre this season, but he abused Moore all game long and his size advantage played a big role in his ability to do that. Moore couldn’t stop Pangos from shooting over him and Pangos used his larger frame to keep Moore on his hip for drives all night long. Larry Brown is going to have to get creative this season because he can’t afford to have Moore off the floor on the offensive end, but he is going to struggle to keep him hidden on the defensive end. What’s even more disconcerting is that at 6’2″ and 190 pounds, Pangos isn’t all THAT big. What will happen when Moore is forced to guard guys like Memphis’ Kedren Johnson (6’4″, 215 poinds) and Cincinnati’s Troy Caupain (6’4″, 200 pounds)? Let’s make this very clear: Moore is still going to be one of the best and most valuable guards in the conference this season, but dare I say this is where SMU misses having a lead guard with size like… say… Emmanuel Mudiay.
  3. SMU’s frontcourt can compete with anyone. This will be especially true once the Mustangs get big man Markus Kennedy eligible, but even without him, this team has impressive size and length. The Mustangs’ perimeter defense was putrid as it allowed Gonzaga to shoot 41 percent from downtown, but the team’s length and athleticism inside bothered the Bulldogs who attacked the rim, and they were very active on the glass (18 offensive rebounds). Yanick Moreira has seen better nights, as he was 1-of-11 from the field, but some of those were bunnies he will make more often than not and he definitely impacted the game defensively. Cannen Cunningham will be one of best backup big men in the conference and is a luxury that few teams in the country have at their disposal. Ben Moore and Justin Martin are going to need time to put it all together, but they both showed flashes of their abilities last night, and even Sterling Brown is a versatile defender who attacks the glass from the wing. They were clearly overshadowed by Gonzaga’s equally impressive front line, but there isn’t another team in the AAC with the same kind of talent and consistency in the frontcourt, and the good news is that they will get the best of the bunch back after the holiday.
  4. Keith Frazier is still the X-factor offensively for this team. You can tell by how often Larry Brown called him over to have a chat during a stoppage in play that Frazier still has a lot to learn. Brown never looked exasperated or ready to bench him, but you could tell that there was some frustration in Brown’s expressions during those conversations. Frazier finished with seven points on two three-pointers and a free throw but really was a non-factor throughout. All it takes is one glance at Frazier’s shot to see why Brown gets so frustrated. The sophomore and former McDonald’s All-American may have one of the prettiest strokes in the country, and he has enough handle and size to also be a dangerous slasher and an above-average defender. Frazier and Moore are going to take the lion’s share of the team’s three-pointers this season, but Moore has other responsibilities, which means Frazier’s primary job is to create offense. Transfer Ben Emelogu has been the starter in the team’s first two games and he will take some threes as well, but he isn’t nearly the shooter that Frazier is. The team would arguably be better off with Frazier passing Emelogu as the starter and letting Brown use Emelogu’s versatility off the bench. The reason that this hasn’t happened yet is because Frazier is still learning on the fly. That’s okay, of course — he is still just a sophomore and probably isn’t used to being a role player. But he needs to figure it out sooner than later if SMU is going to make any noise in March.
mlemaire (324 Posts)

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