Reasons to be upbeat on the Hilltop

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Markus Kennedy, David Kravish

By Dic Humphrey
dic.humphrey@yahoo.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Men’s basketball team swings into play in less than three weeks with a November 14 home opener against Lamar.  It is clearly the most anticipated Mustang basketball season since the 1980’s, as the Mustangs return three starters and 11 players from last year’s team that won 27 games and finished third in the American Athletic Conference and second in the National Invitational post -season Tournament.  They are ranked 22nd in the pre-season coaches’ poll.
The Mustangs lost just three players from last year’s squad – starting guard Nick Russell, starting forward Shawn Williams (both graduating seniors), and Crandall Head, who transferred.
They return starting point guard Nic Moore, starting center Markus Kennedy and starting forward Shannon Brown.  Also coming back are sophomores Keith Frazier, Ben Moore and Jonathan Wilfong and seniors Ryan Manual, Cannen Cunningham, Yanick Moreira and Kevin Dunleavy.
Nic Moore led the team last year in assists (4.9 per game) and points (13.4 per game).  Kennedy was second in scoring (12.4 per game) and led the team in rebounding (7.1 per game).  Moore was first team and Kennedy was second team All-Conference.  Both made the All-NIT team.
The Mustangs have added three transfers – Justin Martin from Villanova, Jordan Tolbert from Texas Tech and Ben Emelogu from Virginia Tech.
Martin is eligible immediately, as he has graduated.  Tolbert will sit out this season as a transfer.  Both have one year of eligibility remaining.  Emelogu, who is from Grand Prairie, has applied for a waiver from sitting out the year as a transfer, but the NCAA has not ruled on the request as yet.  He has three years of eligibility left.
One key player for this season is expected to be Keith Frazier.
Brown said recently, “He’s improved on every area.  He’s getting more comfortable.  He’s defending better.”
Brown thinks a player makes his biggest improvement between his freshman and sophomore years, and says about all of last year’s rookies, “I think our three freshmen have made the biggest jump of any of them, and Yanick.  Last year was kind of new to him and then he had the knee injury.”
Brown is also excited about Justin Martin. “Justin’s played four years for a pretty good program.  He’s acclimating himself pretty well, but I’m asking him to do a lot of things that he hadn’t done before; so it’s an adjustment in that regard.”
As for the other two transfers, “Ben (Emelogu) and Jordan (Tolbert).  They’re just conscientious guys that want to get better.”
Last Monday, head coach Larry Brown opened up the final hour of practice to members of the Mustang Club.  They mostly scrimmaged and at the end all the players, coaches, and student managers were introduced.  The crowd was estimated at around 1,000.
Brown also noted the final practices before the opening game include scrimmages with Colorado and Baylor.  Those unfortunately are not open to the public.  Brown expects to reap big benefits from the scrimmages.
The Mustangs play 18 home games this season including nine conference games.  Defending National Champion Connecticut was ranked 15th in the initial coaches’ poll, the only other AAC team ranked, though Memphis and Cincinnati received votes.  Connecticut, who lost to SMU in both conference tilts last season, will face the Mustangs in Moody Coliseum on Saturday, February 14 at 8:00 PM (Central).  The return match in Storrs will be nationally televised on CBS on March 1 at 1:00 PM (Central).  It will be the Mustangs first regular season national telecast on CBS since the 1980’s.
The home game with Memphis is scheduled for Thursday, January 8, while Mustang fans can see Cincinnati on Thursday, February 5.
The top non-conference home games are SEC foe Arkansas on November 25 and Wyoming on December 5.  The non-conference road schedule is beefed up with Gonzaga (November 17), Indiana (November 20) and Michigan (December 20).  Strength of schedule should not be a problem for the Mustangs when the NCAA Tournament selection committee makes its picks.  22 games are slated to be televised nationally.
The outlook is optimistic, but there are dark clouds on the horizon.  Rumors swirled for more than a week that there were academic problems on the team, particularly Markus Kennedy.  This past Monday, Brown issued a statement that gave credence to the Kennedy rumor.  He said Kennedy has some work to do to become eligible.  Fortunately, center is a position of depth for the Mustangs as they have last year’s early season starter Yanick Moreira and Cannen Cunningham, the starter two seasons ago in reserve.  Last year, Moreira lost his starting position with a knee injury.  He came back during conference play last spring, but Brown recently admitted that Moreira was never 100% recovered.
Point guard is the other area of concern.  Nic Moore of course is outstanding.  The top SMU freshman recruit was another point guard – Emmanuel Mudiay, a McDonald’s High School All American that was ranked no lower than the fifth best player in his class.
Last summer, Mudiay opted to forego the Mustangs and signed to play professionally in Asia.  Without Mudiay, Ryan Manuel is the top candidate to be the back-up point guard.  Brown has said that forward Ben Moore is also a consideration for the spot.  The eligibility ruling for Emologu is thus extremely important for the Ponies.
All of the home games are sold out to season ticket holders.  Non-season ticket holders need to be nice to their friends that have season tickets or they can pony up to purchase expensive tickets on ticket re-sale sites such as StubHub and Seat Geek.  They re-built it (Moody Coliseum), and the people are coming!

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