Welcoming The Big East Newcomers: SMUPosted by mlemaire on December 12th, 2011
The Big East announced in a teleconference they would be adding five new schools to the fold. Three of those schools, Houston, Central Florida, and Southern Methodist, will play all of their sports in the conference starting in 2013. Of course it is far too early to tell what sort of impact these teams will have in their new conference, but that won’t stop us from pontificating. Next up is Southern Methodist.
The addition of Southern Methodist is the perfect evidence that the decision to add new teams was based on football implications. While the Mustangs’ football team has made improvements under June Jones and is actually a threat to make a bowl game consistently, the basketball program is a barren wasteland filled with mediocrity and little historical success. When compared to tradition-rich basketball programs like Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the Mustangs don’t even really deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.
SMU has never had a winning record in Conference USA and they haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since they won the Southwest Conference in 1993. If you are looking for notable NBA alumni, you will have to look pretty hard until you stumble across Quinton Ross, or even better, Jon Koncak and his perfectly coiffed hair. They brought Matt Doherty in to coach in 2006 and opened a brand-new $13 million basketball facility in 2007, but the added facilities and supposed recruiting prowess have yet to make a difference.
Last season was the team’s best finish in Conference USA, and they only finished 8-8 and were bounced in the first round of the conference tournament by Rice. Unfortunately, they will be lucky if they get back to that point again this season. Currently they sit at 5-3 and their best win is six-point overtime win against Arkansas-Little Rock. They have shown little semblance of solid defensive play at any point, and their offense hasn’t been much better.
Redshirt senior Robert Nyakundi (15.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG) is the team’s best player, and freshmen Jalen Jones (8.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG) and Cannen Cunningham (6.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG) at least give the fans hope for the future, if there are any fans left. The Mustangs are currently averaging less than 1,600 fans at each home game and while that might improve once conference play starts, it’s not going to get much better unless they start winning games.
To put it bluntly, people in the Dallas-Forth Worth area have much better sports teams to follow than SMU. Texas is and always will be the most popular university in the region and SMU might not even rank ahead of Houston in terms of popularity, and maybe even the Oklahoma schools as well.
Doherty was hired to turn around the program because his reputation as a dogged recruiter preceded him and this move to the Big East will undoubtedly sweeten his recruiting pitch. Perhaps the best recruiting job Doherty has done was to recruit former Longhorn Shawn Williams to transfer to SMU. Williams was one of the best players in the state of Texas coming out of high school and he will be the centerpiece of the team next year.
Next year’s recruiting class is solid but certainly not spectacular. Center Blaise Mbargorba oozes potential and should be an instant defensive contributor, but only time will tell whether he can become polished enough to be an impact player in the Big East. New York native Brian Bernardi is the type of rugged and physical guard who will thrive in the Big East, but he might not have enough upside to be more than a solid starter for Doherty.
The eternal optimists will say that Dallas is a fertile recruiting ground and SMU’s jump to the Big East should raise its profile in the eyes of local recruits. But everybody recruits Dallas, including Texas and West Virginia, and convincing recruits that Highland Park is any better will be a tall task. Doherty also has proven he can recruit nationally, so New York and the rest of the Atlantic corridor should be a target, but Doherty will have his work cut out for him making significant inroads there.