Mustangs not meeting expectations …yet

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, November 29th, 2014

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By Dic Humphrey
dic.humphrey@yahoo.com

SMU beat Texas Southern Wednesday night 72-59 to even their record at 3-3.  They are 3-1 at home and 0-2 on the road, with two of the losses to ranked teams.  All three wins are against teams that SMU should beat handily, and they basically did, winning by margins of 39, nine, and 13.
This was the most anticipated season of SMU basketball since the 1980’s with 11 returning players including three starters from last year’s squad that finished with a 27-10 record and second in the NIT.  However, with about 15% of the season in the books, this year’s team is clearly disappointing.  It’s not as good as last year’s team, and it’s not as good as it should be looking at the talent on paper.
Certainly, there have been setbacks.  Emmanuel Mudiay, a McDonald’s High School All-American and one of the top five players in last year’s recruiting class, opted for a seven digit contract in Asia; and Markus Kennedy, a second team All-Conference player last year, is academically ineligible.  Those are two difference makers for sure.
However, head coach Larry Brown says the problem is in the team leadership.  Nick Russell and Shawn Williams graduated, and Brown says the disappointing play on the court that we are seeing is the direct result of their absence.  There are six seniors on this team, and Brown says the only one to speak up and show some leadership is Jean-Michael Mudiay.
After the loss to Arkansas Tuesday night, it was obvious that Brown is frustrated with his team.  He passed along the criticism in the form of compliments to the Razorbacks, such as “He (Arkansas Head Coach Mike Anderson) doesn’t have to beg his players to play defense.”
Despite the disappointing look of the team overall, there are bright spots and good signs, none better than Keith Frazier.  He has tied or exceeded his high scoring output last year in four of the six games, and is becoming the sure shot three-point shooter the Mustangs sorely lacked last year.  He’s a much improved defender and rebounder from a year ago along with being an offensive force.  He’s averaging 12.3 points per game, third on the team, and leads the team with 13 made three-point shots.
Yanick Moreira, who was actually the starting center last year before sustaining a knee injury, has filled in admirably for Kennedy.  Against Arkansas, he went head-to-head with their star player, Bobby Portis, and recorded the second double-double of his career.  He’s second on the team in scoring with 12.8 points per game and in rebounds at 6.5 per game.
The plan for Ben Moore before the season began was to play him at the three.  In fact, he is such a good ball handler, that even at 6’8”; he was part of the plan to fill the ball handling void left by Mudiay’s departure.  That changed when Kennedy became academically ineligible.  Moore is now solidly part of the inside game.  He leads the team with 40 rebounds (6.7 per game), and is averaging 11.3 points per game.
Nic Moore at point guard has been inconsistent and turnover prone at times.  The Mustangs sank their ship against Arkansas with 16 first half turnovers, he was one of four players with three of those turnovers.  He’s really the only other three point possibility besides Frazier.  He has made eight.  Still, he leads the team in scoring (13.0 per game), assists (5.7 per game), and steals (2.0 per game) as he did last year.
One newcomer that was supposed to help in a number of areas is transfer Justin Martin from Xavier.  Martin however was slowed by an injury in October practices and is now lost for two to four weeks with a bone bruise sustained last Saturday against Eastern Washington.
The other newcomer that was supposed to give the Mustangs a boost is Ben Emelogu, the transfer from Virginia Tech.  He averaged 10.5 points per game in the ACC last year, but only 3.8 so far for the Mustangs.
“We can’t be good unless Ben Emelogu steps it up,” Brown says.  “I see it in practice.  He’s capable.”
At times, the effort has been lacking on the court.  There is talent, but it often looks tentative.  Brown is candid about the team he’s seeing on the court right now.
“There’s something missing with this group.  I can’t put my finger on it though.”
Certainly this is far from a lost season.
These non-conference games are played to define roles and round the team into shape for conference play.  The Texas Southern game on Wednesday was a step forward.  It was difficult emotionally and physically to come back a day after facing Arkansas to play a game, even if it was against a lesser opponent.
“I love this team,” Brown said after the Texas Southern game.  “They keep playing.  We executed a lot better.  Other than stretches at the end of both halves, I thought we played pretty well.”
Mike Davis is Texas Southern’s coach.  He’s the Mike Davis that succeeded Bobby Knight at Indiana and took them to a Final Four.  He can see the talent, and after the game he said this about SMU, “That’s a really good team.  This is for sure a top-25 team.  They’ve played a tough schedule.  When they get (Markus) Kennedy back, I think they can win the conference.”
In the vernacular of NCAA Tournament consideration, the three SMU losses are considered “quality losses”.  SMU’s problem though is that they need quality non-conference wins.  The opportunities for them are dwindling.  Wyoming will be in town to face the Mustangs next Friday.  UC-Santa Barbara is another team that could be considered a quality win if SMU prevails.  The Ponies also face Michigan, ranked 19th and 18th in the two major polls this week, on December 20 and may have Kennedy back for the game.
The opportunities are still there for SMU.  The talent is still there.  The Ponies simply need to come together as a team to accomplish what was expected when the season began.

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