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.

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Who’s Got Next? Top McDonald’s All-American Match-Ups

Posted by Sean Moran on February 3rd, 2014

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Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

This past week 24 of the top high school seniors in America were selected for the most prestigious prep event in the country, the McDonald’s All-American game. After moving around to different spots for a number of years, this game is now held each year at the United Center in Chicago and gives college basketball fans a chance to catch the soon-to-be top incoming college freshman. NBA general managers and front office staff also descend on the Windy City in order to watch the team practice sessions held the two days prior in order to assess the prospects that will start to enter the NBA Draft in 2015 and beyond. This year’s event features many interesting personnel match-ups that will take place in the practice sessions and in the nationally-televised game. There were also several surprise selections to the rosters and a few noticeable omissions, all of which we’ll cover below.


Top Game Match-Ups

1) Jahlil Okafor, 6’11”, C (#1 overall) vs. Myles Turner, 7’0”, C (#2 overall)

The top two players in the country will face-off at opening tip on April 2. The two big men matched up back in August during the championship of the Adidas Nations tournament in Long Beach, California, but this time around the stage will be much brighter. Jahlil Okafor, the hometown favorite, has been groomed for this day from the time he first stepped on the court for Whitney Young (IL) as a freshman. Myles Turner, on the other hand, was not even a top 100 prospect one year aga, but a scintillating summer and high school season vaulted him up the recruiting rankings and to the top of many NBA Draft boards. Okafor’s game is based on power and a soft touch close to the basket while Turner is a long, lean and versatile center. Okafor has been frustrated this season with the constant double- and triple-teams and will finally face a man-to-man defense when going up against the superb shot-blocker, Turner. Okafor committed to Duke in the fall and Turner is the top uncommitted prospect in the country with the Blue Devils in his final six along with Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas.

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AAC M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on January 23rd, 2014

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  1. After a win over Rutgers in which SMU‘s basketball team allowed one fewer point to the Scarlet Knights than did the football team, Mustangs’ fans are relying on defense to carry the team to its first NCAA Tournament in 20 years. While SMU ranks a decent #69 in offensive efficiency, per KenPom, their #14 defense (keyed by a #1 ranking in two-point field goal defense, allowing 38.4 shooting inside the arc) is the biggest reason for its 15-4 start. The Mustangs have been even better since conference games began, with a 90.2 adjusted defensive efficiency rating, good for second in AAC play behind league-leading Cincinnati. The Bracket Project’s Bracket Matrix, which aggregates 59 NCAA Tournament projections, has Brown’s team averaging a #11 seed, placing SMU firmly on the bubble. We’ll know a lot more about the Mustangs’ chances after they host Memphis and Cincinnati on consecutive Saturdays in early February — if they are to win one or both of those games, their defense will almost certainly be the reason.
  2. SMU coach Larry Brown is thinking way beyond just making the NCAA Tournament. He thinks he can win it all. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t compete for a national championship,” Brown told ESPN Dallas/Ft. Worth. “If we get our share of Dallas kids. We’ll play with anybody anywhere.” He has already enjoyed great success recruiting the Metroplex in his first two seasons, with freshman Keith Frazier (a McDonald’s All-American) set to be joined next year by point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, widely considered a top-three player in the Class of 2014. That said, there are many huge challenges to Brown winning a national championship at SMU, with the biggest hurdle being possibly Brown himself. The Hall of Fame coach — the only man to win both a college (Kansas, 1988) and NBA (Detroit, 2004) title — hasn’t finished a third season at a single job in over a decade. He’s doing a commendable job so far, but going from bad to good is often easier than going from good to great.
  3. DeAndre Daniels has long been an enigma. The UConn junior can carry the Huskies, like he did with 31 points and 12 rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Temple or his 23 points and 11 rebounds in last week’s win over Memphis. But he’s just as likely to disappear in the big moment, like when he went suffered through foul trouble and 1-of-9 shooting while allowing Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell to post 18 points and 13 rebounds in Saturday’s loss. Given UConn’s lack of any other threat in the frontcourt, the Huskies need him to more consistently provide the big numbers of which he has proven capable. Kevin Ollie suggests that it is his effort level that has been inconsistent and that he gets easily knocked off track by a couple of missed shots. If so, that’s the type of individual flaw that could easily cut short an otherwise promising season when win or go home time arrives.
  4. Rutgers wasn’t expected to win much in head coach Eddie Jordan’s first year, but the Scarlet Knights have certainly been respectable in their first few AAC games. Then came a road trip through Texas, where the wheels completely fell off the wagon. After back-to-back double-figure losses to Houston and SMU, Rutgers now stand at 8-11 overall and 2-4 in the AAC. Maybe the Texas swing is a tougher trip than expected – it similarly caught UConn earlier this season – but the most likely explanation is that Rutgers still has a long, long way to go.
  5. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has mixed and matched starting lineups all year, but it seems he might have lucked into his best combination out of necessity. With starting point guard Chris Jones out the past three games with an injury, the insertion of Terry Rozier into the starting lineup has clicked everything into place. The Cardinals have rolled to three straight double-figure wins as a result: by 39 over Houston, 14 at UConn and Wednesday night’s 39-point win at USF. After some struggles early in the season, the Cards are finally looking like the team everybody had in the preseason top three. Next week brings a real test: AAC leader Cincinnati visit the defending champions on January 30.
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Who’s Got Next? Emmanuel Mudiay Check-In, St. Peter’s Picks Up Good Commitment…

Posted by Sean Moran on January 21st, 2014

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Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Emmanuel Mudiay – The Point Guard of the Future

Larry Brown has SMU off to a strong 3-2 start in its inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference, but in all honesty the Mustangs are really looking forward to next season. That’s when five-star point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, arguably SMU’s best-ever recruit sets foot on the Dallas campus. The 6’4” point guard is currently ranked as the top point guard in the country and No. 3 player overall.


A native of Dallas, Mudiay surpassed Tyus Jones (#4 overall, #2 PG – 2014) as the top point guard in the country last summer due to his unique combination of size and speed. At 6’4” and 190 pounds, Mudiay possesses the physical attributes that NBA scouts love. He is extremely difficult to contain off the dribble and can finish above the rim or dish to teammates for easy baskets. Mudiay is not known for his outside shooting at this point, but so far during his senior season at Prime Prep (TX) he has shown some range in numerous high scoring outbursts. Mudiay’s size and athletic ability make for an easy comparison to John Wall. Given the comparison it was widely assumed that Mudiay would be next in line as a one-and-done point guard for John Calipari at Kentucky. Instead, he chose SMU over Kentucky, Baylor, Kansas, and Oklahoma State on August 24. Why the Mustangs? “He’s a Hall of Fame coach,” Mudiay said, referring to Brown. “He coaches Hall of Fame players. One day I want to play in the NBA. He’s coached at the highest level. I can learn a lot from him.” After six seasons of subpar play under former head coach Matt Doherty, the Mustangs have a newfound confidence which is showing up in the recruiting world. In the 2013 recruiting class, Brown landed five-star shooting guard Keith Frazier (#33 – 2013), another Dallas native. While Frazier is only averaging 5.9 points per game as a freshman, a backcourt of Mudiay and Frazier could develop into one of the top duos in the country next year. With only two seniors on the roster, the Mustangs are a relatively young team that should return its top scorers in Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy next season. SMU last made the NCAA Tournament way back in 1993, but that drought could be over very soon with its recent five-star recruits.

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Seven Sweet Scoops: Luke Kennard Recruiting Battle, Rashad Vaughn Drawing Scrutiny, and More

Posted by Sean Moran on December 20th, 2013

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Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

1. Recruiting Battle Heating Up For Two-Sport Star


Last week, five-star shooting guard Luke Kennard scored 51 points in front of Thad Matta. This past Tuesday he went for 37 points in front of John Beilein. Despite just beginning his junior season, Kennard has already seen his fair share of recruiting attention in both basketball and football. The 6’4” guard is currently ranked as the No. 4 shooting guard and No. 15 overall player in the class of 2015 but was also named first-team All-State for his quarterback play. The Ohio native is currently averaging 40 points per game and in August was named as one of Reebok’s top 25 most dynamic athletes. Louisville offered him a football scholarship, but Kennard has received offers from the nation’s elite in basketball as well. In addition to Ohio State and Michigan, he is being heavily recruited by Kentucky, Louisville, Indiana, UNC, Duke, Florida and Michigan State.

2. Vaughn Recruitment Drawing Scrutiny

Five-star senior shooting guard Rashad Vaughn is one of three remaining Top 100 prospects in the class of 2014. The No. 2 shooting guard in the country and No. 13 prospect overall recently left his home state of Minnesota to play his senior season at basketball powerhouse Findlay Prep (NV). Now his hometown newspaper, the Star Tribune, is questioning the role of Vaughn’s mentor, Pete Kaffey. As noted in the article, Kaffey, 27, began a mentoring role when Vaughn was a fifth-grader. Last year, Kaffey spent the season as an assistant coach at Vaughn’s high school, Robbinsdale Cooper (MN) High and also accompanied Vaughn on various unofficial visits to colleges and AAU tournaments and camps throughout the summer. When he decided to transfer he chose Findlay Prep, a program well known “as a pipeline for NBA talent” and also a school that happened to have an assistant coaching position waiting for Kaffey. While there are no allegations of wrongdoing at this time, it will be interesting to see where the 6’5” scorer lands and if Kaffey ends up working in some capacity on the college staff. Right now Vaughn is expected to narrow his college list down to five finalists which will include UNLV and Iowa State along with possibly UNC, Kentucky, Minnesota or Kansas.

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AAC M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 15th, 2013

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  1. Two games into his senior season, Cincinnati forward Titus Rubles has been appointed a team captain alongside fellow seniors Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson. Mick Cronin delivered the good news via a phone call this week, telling Rubles he’d earned the distinction and praising him for his leadership, particularly on defense. Cronin described subtle defensive plays Rubles had made in late-game situations this season and said, “You hear coaches talk about intangibles and how important it is to have veterans…You’re not going to win if you don’t have those kind of guys. He is as valuable to this team as Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson.”
  2. The projected front-runners in this year’s AAC race are well represented in Sports Illustrated’s new College Basketball Preview, with Louisville, Memphis and UConn appearing in the preseason rankings at #1, #13 and #14, respectively. Luke Winn writes that “no team’s guards are more difficult to defend without making contact than Louisville’s Russ Smith and Chris Jones,” and predicts that the new hand-checking rules will particularly benefit Rick Pitino’s squad. SI staff was evidently much less optimistic about the rest of the league, though, as Cincinnati was the only other AAC team to make the projected NCAA Tournament bracket that was featured in the print edition. The early predictions pick the Cardinals to earn a #1 seed (and ultimately win the whole thing), while tabbing Memphis and UConn as #4 seeds and Cincinnati as an underwhelming #11 seed. The predictions underscore the perception of the AAC as a top-heavy, four-bid league in which quality declines precipitously outside of the top three teams.
  3. Josh Pastner’s much-hyped four-guard lineup lived up to its billing during the Tigers’ debut against Austin Peay last night, with seniors Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson and Missouri transfer Michael Dixon combining for 53 points and 25 rebounds. Each of the four ended up in double figures during the 95-69 romp, as Jackson chipped in game highs of 16 points and seven assists and Johnson recorded his first double-double at Memphis. Some uncertainties from the offseason continued to manifest: For example, Commercial-Appeal beat writer Jason Smith noted that Austin Peay’s 48 points in the paint reflect how often the OVC ball-handlers managed to beat the Tigers’ questionable full-court press. And while Memphis’ guards continued to prove effective at rebounding by committee, bigs Shaq Goodwin, Austin Nichols and Dominic Woodson collected only seven total defensive rebounds.
  4. After convincing blue chip 2014 point guard Emmanuel Mudiay to stay close to home at SMU, Larry Brown declared that “we’re going to be relevant pretty quickly.” Brown credited local McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier and the 2013 class with building a foundation that Brown can use to persuade more quality in-state talent to follow in Frazier and Mudiay’s footsteps. The coach described his new signee, a consensus top-five recruit in his class thus: “As good a player as there is in the country.” Mudiay’s presence at SMU, even if it’s only for a year, will broaden the program’s appeal nationally and provide a boon to recruiting that may be felt several years after his departure.
  5. WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford points out that contrary to the impression that Louisville is getting out of the AAC early on the cheap, the league will continue to collect a lucrative dividend  for the next six years based on the NCAA Tournament performance of Rick Pitino’s Big East and AAC teams. Due to the way NCAA Tournament units are disbursed to conferences, the timing of Louisville’s recent National Championship and 2012 Final Four is especially favorable for the AAC. Perhaps the parting of ways would not have gone as amicably had Mike Aresco and company not stood to gain a total of $13.1 million, plus whatever the Cardinals earn based on the 2013-14 NCAA Tournament, with or without Louisville in the fold. Crawford notes that this is standard practice in the recent realignment saga, and that the university’s share of larger revenues distributed among ACC members will more than offset the NCAA money it leaves behind with the American.
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AAC M5: 11.11.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 11th, 2013

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  1. In the most high-profile AAC contest of the opening weekend, UConn avoided a last-minute collapse against Maryland in the Barclays Center. While The UConn Blog expressed some alarm over the shaky play of Shabazz Napier in the final 10 minutes, the Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore focused more on the fact that the win was made possible by the depth at Kevin Ollie’s disposal this year. After the game, Ollie said “I’ve got 10 guys who can start. I truly believe that,” adding “if we take care of the ball and get good shots, we’ve got a lot of weapons, a lot of guys who can do a lot of things.” UConn’s depth stands in stark relief against their situation last year, when Napier and Ryan Boatright scored 45 percent of the Huskies’ points. Amore points out that this is the first time Ollie has had the luxury of implementing any sort of substitution philosophy.
  2. As our own C.D. Bradley points out, the unexpected departure of junior Jalen Jones is likely symptomatic of instability and potential chemistry issues at SMU, as coach Larry Brown strives to mesh new talent with returning players. Despite averaging 14 points on 50 percent shooting and nearly eight rebounds per game last season, Jones seems to be a casualty of recruiting as he faced additional competition from AAC preseason Rookie of the Year Keith Fraizer and 2014 blue chip commit Emmanuel Mudiay. The loss of their leading scorer deals a major blow to the Mustangs, whom many had identified as a possible dark horse in the AAC race.
  3. Aside from the steady play of Victor Rudd, South Florida fans got a good look at the future of the program as freshmen big men Chris Perry and John Egbunu both contributed to the Bulls’ opening win. Despite the absence of Anthony Collins from the lineup, the two combined for 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, and Stan Heath said afterward that “for a period of time, we played them both together and I can definitely see that as a future combination.” The coach was particularly complimentary of Perry, saying that he “doesn’t know how good he can be. When he figures that out, when that light bulb really clicks on, he’s an all-conference type player.”
  4. Attempting to replace 70 percent of last season’s scoring, Temple coach Fran Dunphy admitted to “flying by the seat of your pants” in the Owls’ first game of the season. The coach deployed a number of lineups during his team’s 78-73 win over Penn, noting afterward that “we’re still figuring it out, we’re a work in progress.” Aside from returning starters Will Cummings and Anthony Lee, City of Basketball Love notes that each player in Dunphy’s eight-man rotation either played a minor role last season or was not yet on the roster. Senior Dalton Pepper made the most of his first opportunity to start at Temple, scoring a career-high 19 points, while sophomore Quenton DeCosey and true freshman Mark Williams rounded out Temple’s first starting lineup of 2013-14.
  5. University of Louisville administrators had Luke Hancock wear Google Glass during the unveiling of the Cardinals’ National Championship banner, and it’s worth a watch. Apart from learning about Luke’s fascination with secret agents and Ghostbusters, it’s interesting to experience high-major pregame lineups from a first-person perspective. Hancock sat out his team’s first game and is expected to miss two more with an Achilles injury, and his absence was noticeable as the Cardinals shot just 22 percent from beyond the arc in their win over College of Charleston.
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Dissecting a College Hoops Revival in the DFW Metroplex

Posted by David Harten on November 6th, 2013

Say what you want about USC vs. UCLA on the west coast, but if you want to see a remarkable arms race between neighboring programs, look to the south. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, SMU began to show the rest of the college basketball world it is finally making a move when the school hired Larry Brown prior to last season. TCU did the same in a more subtle manner, moving to the Big 12 in 2012 and hiring Trent Johnson away from LSU. Quietly, two teams who have been mediocre at best in their respective hoops histories were beginning to make DFW hardwood relevant outside of the Mavericks.

Dallas-Area College Hoops Appears to be on the Rise

Dallas-Area College Hoops Appears to be on the Rise

Johnson’s first season in Fort Worth went as expected, as the Horned Frogs transitioned to a much more difficult conference. Outside of a home upset over Kansas (probably the biggest single upset of the 2012-13 season), TCU tacked on one more win in conference play and trudged to a 2-16 league record. But off the court, Johnson has steadily done his best to push the Horned Frogs toward the middle of the Big 12 pack, which seems like an impossible task for a program that has only been to seven NCAA Tournaments (none since 1998). It started with his first recruiting class, when Johnson landed journeyman guard Trey Zeigler, even if just for the one upcoming season. He also made a splash in recruiting circles by landing Dallas-area center Karviar Shepherd, who ranked as the 69th-best player in the class. To show future recruits their own commitment to building the program, the university has also announced a $45 million renovation to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.

Down the road in Dallas, SMU started its road to relevancy by hiring legendary (albeit well-traveled) coach Larry Brown prior to last season. After controversially picking through his roster and cutting certain players, the 73-year old Brown landed his first solid recruiting class with point guard Sterling Brown (ranked no. 82 by Scout.com in the 2013 class), shooting guard Keith Frazier (ranked no. 33) and junior college power forward Yanick Moreira, a consensus top five JuCo prospect. Regardless of his age, Brown has an astute basketball mind that will help the Mustangs drive toward relevance in the newly-formed American Athletic Conference. Couple all this with the fact that SMU also pledged a healthy chunk of change to update the basketball facilities – $47 million worth, to be exact – and you have the start of something brewing in Dallas. The Mustangs will need all of this and more to return to their first NCAA Tournament since 1993.

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AAC Team Previews: Southern Methodist Mustangs

Posted 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.

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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.

Larry Brown Has A Lot Of New Toys To Play With This Season (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Larry Brown Has A Lot Of New Toys To Play With This Season (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

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.

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SMU and Expectations: Beware The Tag of “Team On The Rise”

Posted by mlemaire on October 24th, 2013

If you were thinking of making a late jump on to the SMU bandwagon, act quickly, because if the Mustangs win their first few games to start the season, there won’t be any room left. In the course of just one summer, SMU has gone from an also-ran program with a famous coach to a “team on the rise” and trendy sleeper pick to make the NCAA Tournament. Kudos to Larry Brown who has proven that all you need to do to make people forget that you went 5-11 in Conference-USA last season is to use the phrase “all five starters returning” as often as possible, land a few high-profile transfers, and convince one or two high-profile recruits to commit (heck, it doesn’t even matter if one of them won’t be on campus for another year).

Larry Brown and SMU Had A Good Offseason, Now Let's See How It Translates On The Court (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

It’s Been An Offseason Of Good Feelings For Larry Brown and SMU (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

The strategy has worked on plenty of media members and pundits who have spent most of the offseason pumping up the influx of talent and experience in Dallas and last week it worked on the conference’s coaches as SMU slotted 6th in the preseason coaches’ poll, one spot ahead of former conference foe Houston, who beat the Mustangs twice last year and finished two games ahead of them in the conference standings. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 10.18.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on October 18th, 2013

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  1. Unless you were completely off the grid yesterday, by now you’ve likely heard that Louisville forward Chane Behanan is indefinitely suspended from the university. Doom-and-gloom reactions notwithstanding, The Courier-Journal’s Jonathan Lintner points out that coach Rick Pitino walked into yesterday’s press conference and laid out a blueprint for the Cardinals to remain “legitimate without Chane.” While depth and rebounding remain a concern, Behanan’s absence allows Pitino to start talented sophomore Montrezl Harrell alongside a smaller lineup of Russ Smith, Chris Jones, and wings Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear, rather than have Harrell split minutes at power forward as previously planned. “I honestly believe we’re number 2, 3, 4, 5 –– wherever you want to put us,” Pitino said, “all you’re doing now is putting Montrezl Harrell out there for 34 minutes a game. That’s not the worst thing in the world.” Pitino is as much a master of managing expectations as of exaggerating timetables, so his contention that the Cardinals still belong in the top five is likely either a good sign for Behanan or a genuine vote of confidence in Harrell and Blackshear.
  2. It was an active day for Louisville coverage on RTC’s AAC microsite yesterday, as Mike Lemaire measured Louisville’s depth post-Behanan and C.D. Bradley considered the future of the Cardinals’ rivalries with Memphis and Cincinnati, as well as the impact of the NCAA’s newly-imposed hand-checking rule on Russ Smith’s defense. On the latter topic, Bradley points out that Smith “stands to gain huge benefits” on the offensive end because of his propensity for getting to the free throw line (and cashing in once he gets there), citing Rick Pitino’s prediction that the change will render Smith “unguardable.”
  3. Pete Wickham writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer that Temple will begin its AAC basketball tenure uncharacteristically removed from the spotlight. Picked to finish fifth, firmly in the middle of the pack, by coaches at media day, Wickham reiterates that this year’s team scarcely resembles the one that won 24 games in the A-10 last year and tested Indiana in the NCAA Tournament. The five graduated seniors who won’t return to the court this year, including star player Khalif Wyatt, represented 73% of Temple’s offense. Fran Dunphy said he felt fine “laying in the weeds” at the start of the season, and emphasized the importance of balanced scoring as new starters adjust to expanded roles: “We’re going to have to be a team with five players who score in double figures.”
  4. The Memphis Tigers kick off their season with their Memphis Madness event tonight, and for coach Josh Pastner the theme of the evening is energy. “We’re going to have a tremendous evening. I can tell you that. It’s going to be energized. I’m all about energy. Life is about energy, positive energy,” said Pastner, probably as he caught his breath and chugged another Red Bull; “It’s going to be on the move. You don’t want to miss it. Doors open at 6:30 [PM]. They’ll end by 9 [PM].” Coming off of the most successful season of his head coaching tenure at Memphis, Pastner said nothing short of the program’s first national title would fully satisfy fans, and he wants to keep it that way, adding “We don’t ever want the expectations to change here.”
  5. SMU coach Larry Brown says that freshman shooting guard Keith Frazier has already “changed the program” by generating more interest among local recruits. The McDonald’s All-American, who was named the Preseason AAC Rookie of the Year on Wednesday, has evidently helped make the Mustangs more competitive on the recruiting trail before playing his first college game. Brown said “we’ve never been successful in recruiting inner-city kids in the Dallas Metroplex. Now everywhere I go, kids are interested in us because of Keith.” Five-star class of 2014 Dallas guard Emmanuel Mudiay credited his commitment to SMU over the summer in large part to Frazier’s decision to stay home.
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American Athletic Conference Offseason Capsules

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 15th, 2013

We are a little less than a month away from the start of another college basketball season and as teams start to get in to the swing of things, we here at the AAC microsite will be doing the same things. The offseason in college basketball can be a tedious stream of coaching changes, arrests, transfers, recruiting, and injury news. But it is still an important part of the game and since we know you have had better things to do than sit at home and track the minutiae of each AAC team’s offseason, we figured we would do it for you as the perfect way to launch our coverage for this season. Look for a full conference preview in the next week as well as the standard Morning Fives, some other fun coverage, and maybe even a new writer or two, who knows. 

Louisville

When your team is fresh off a National Championship and looking like a legitimate candidate to repeat, the last thing you want as a coach is an offseason full of distractions. Luckily for coach Rick Pitino, the distractions and bad news have been very limited this summer. Tragedy struck as Luke Hancock learned he lost his father to cancer while trying out for USA Basketball in Colorado and there was a late-summer scare over a knee injury suffered by Montrezl Harrell which turned out to be much ado about nothing. But the team also got to visit the White House in July, learned that guard Kevin Ware hadn’t been secretly suspended over the summer and has now been cleared for practice.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

Rick Pitino Has Nothing To Complain About, Although We Doubt That Will Stop Him From Doing It Anyway.

In fact, the most controversy surrounding Louisville from the offseason came when a pair of Boston radio hosts hung up on Pitino during a promotional interview after telling him that, “he ruined the Celtics.” Hilarious stuff, really. Pitino also gave a struggling assistant coach a job in the coolest way possible. Put it this way, if you are Pitino and the worst press of the offseason is that you were hung up on early during a promotional interview, you can live with that. The bottom line is that the Cardinals are loaded with talent and could be insanely deep if Ware makes it back to the court quicker than expected.

Connecticut

If it wasn’t for forward Tyler Olander’s DUI idiocy and suspension, it would have been a nice, quiet offseason for coach Kevin Ollie and his Huskies – especially when compared with previous offseasons. But the DUI charges against Olander have since been dropped and the forward has been reinstated, which is a huge boon to team with major frontcourt issues. Also, freshman guard Terrence Samuel cleared up eligibility concerns over the summer, adding more depth to an already loaded backcourt. The only remaining question is whether another key freshman, Kentan Facey, will be cleared to play with the team as he deals with eligibility concerns stemming from his time at a high school in Jamaica. The 6’9″ Facey is a prized recruit and will be an important frontcourt contributor if he is cleared to play. The Huskies look poised to quickly return to the NCAA Tournament this year.

Cincinnati

As far as interesting news goes, there is no team in the conference that has had a quieter offseason than the Bearcats. The offseason started with a bang when senior guard Sean Kilpatrick announced he would return for his senior season, but since then, it’s been all crickets. I guess you could count gangly forward Justin Jackson putting on 20 pounds or highly-touted 2014 recruit Qadri Moore’s commitment to the Bearcats big news, but that would be stretching the definition. In some cases the lack of news might not be such a good thing, but coach Mick Cronin still needs to break in a new starting point guard and find anyone who can be a legitimate anchor in the post, so Cronin has probably welcomed an offseason without distractions of either kind. Kilpatrick’s return makes life a bit easier for Cronin and the team has plenty of athleticism, but points will be hard to come by and rebounds may be harder to come by still.

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