Two years ago when Larry Brown came out of retirement to coach the SMU Mustangs, many people in the college basketball community wondered why a legendary coach over 70 would decide to take on a massive rebuild at a small private school in Dallas, Texas. However, what Brown has been able to accomplish with the SMU Mustangs over the past two and a half years has been nothing short of incredible. He built a program with transfers and stellar recruiting classes and now has his Mustangs ranked No. 23 in the nation and poised to win the American Athletic Conference, SMU’s first conference championship since the early 90s. However, with a team looking for its first NCAA Tournament berth in over a decade, many experts are left wondering, how far can these Mustangs go?
This season has not come without adversity for Brown and the Mustangs as they have lost many players for one reason or another. It all began this summer when Emmanuel Mudiay, Brown’s top recruit and a guaranteed lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft got caught up in the Prime Prep scandal, effectively rendering him ineligible and prompting the young guard to move on to a professional career in China. Brown lost his best player before the season even started.
Next came Markus Kennedy, the SMU big man who was all-conference last season. Kennedy was ruled ineligible for academic reasons, sitting out the first half of SMU’s games. Without Markus, the Mustangs definitely struggled, and even when he came back, it was readily apparent that the SMU big man was not in game shape and would take some time to get his feet under him. While Kennedy appears to be back on track for another stellar season, SMU hit some bumps in his absence and at times even with him back as he attempted to get into game shape.
Finally came Keith Frazier, the SMU shooting guard and McDonald’s All-American, who was Larry’s first chip to fall in his race to attract recruits to SMU. Frazier’s iffy transcript from high school, specifically involving his physics grade, rendered him ineligible for the second semester per NCAA rules and left SMU without its best three-point shooter and one of the premier scoring options on a deep Mustang squad. Frazier appeared to be turning the corner and realizing his potential just as the ruling came down, making it that much more difficult for the Mustangs.
Despite all the adversity, the SMU Mustangs have proven that this is still a Larry Brown coached team. They have won every conference game except one (on the road against Cincinnati) and have blown most of the teams out, securing double-digit victories both at home and on the road. While the AAC is certainly down this year after a strong showing last season, the rate at which the Mustangs are crushing the competition is simply outstanding.
With the emergence of Yanick Moreira as a legitimate rim protector, the Mustangs have two dominant big men, a rare commodity in college hoops. Additionally, Nic Moore provides veteran leadership from the point guard spot as he lets the game come to him, scoring when he needs to score and passing when he needs to pass. Add that to a bench that goes ten deep, a coach that can manage the game at a Hall of Fame level, and an arena that is packed every time the Mustangs take the court, and SMU has found a recipe for success. Let’s just hope that this time around, the NCAA Tournament committee takes notice of what the Mustangs have brewing in Dallas.