Dallas Colleges: Southern Methodist Mustangs
Editor's note: Over the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 21: SMU's Larry Brown. On Monday, we release No. 20.
On Tuesday, ESPN's Mark Stein and Ramona Shelburne offered an update on the NBA's two richest franchises and the respective coaching searches therein. Phil Jackson wanted to talk to Derek Fisher about the New York Knicks job, drawing from his rather limited "former role players on Phil Jackson-coached title teams" candidate pool after Steve Kerr went to the Warriors instead.
But the Lakers were interested in Fisher too and were getting down to business in their own quest. They had interviewed a handful of usual suspects already (Alvin Gentry, Byron Scott, Mike Dunleavy), had pleasant chats with others (Kurt Rambis, George Karl) and, according to the report, were maybe, kind of, sort of thinking about reaching out to two others.
The Lakers, sources add, have also internally discussed reaching out to Scott Skiles and former NBA championship-winning coach Larry Brown, who has spent the past two seasons in the college game at SMU.
And so there it was, the first NBA rumor of Brown's tenure at Southern Methodist. It's a wonder it took this long.
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Editor’s note: During the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball, as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 21: SMU's Larry Brown. On Monday, we release No. 20.
At the time, many thought former SMU athletic director Steve Orsini “botched” SMU's coaching search. Orsini, who was dismissed shortly after he hired Larry Brown in 2012, didn’t chase Brown as much as Brown was just one of the few quality candidates who seemed interested in latching onto a program that hadn’t reached the NCAA tournament in nearly 20 years.
SMU won 15 games in Brown’s first season. Last season, the Mustangs earned 27 victories, contended for their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1993, and lost to Minnesota in the NIT championship.
And now, Emmanuel Mudiay is coming. Emmanuel Mudiay is coming!
The five-star prospect’s arrival (No. 5 in the 2014 class per RecruitingNation) is significant.
“For his size, he has an elite athleticism,” said Marland Lowe, Mudiay’s AAU coach. “He’s got a great feel for the game. He gets anywhere he wants to go with the ball. He’s a great teammate, a great individual. … He’s smart and intelligent, understands X’s and O’s.”
Most figured Kentucky had the edge over the other blue-chip programs that recruited the Dallas prep star, but Brown convinced the 6-foot-5 hybrid guard to stay home. The Mustangs had the infrastructure (Moody Coliseum is a great venue when it’s full) and a strong returning cast to attract him. Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and six of the team’s top seven scorers from last season are back. Plus, former Xavier standout Justin Martin (11.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 37.3 percent from the 3-point line) will be eligible next season, too.
The pieces are there.
They just needed Batman. And Mudiay might be what SMU needs. The same program that won just 13 games three seasons ago will enter 2014-15 as the American Athletic Conference favorite and a national title contender. Mudiay means that much.
“One of the best things that he’s not given credit for is his defense,” Lowe said. “He is willing to guard the best player on the team. And if he’s guarding somebody else and another player is guarding him, he has no problem saying, ‘Let me get him.’”
Mudiay is technically a point guard. But that’s not the proper tag for a player with his skill set, especially with Moore returning and likely playing next to him. Mudiay is just simply a playmaker.
And he’ll shake up defenses. Not many teams can match up with a combo guard who has that kind of size without employing a small forward or a big wing. Mudiay could see a lot of zone, traps and imbalanced schemes to account for his abilities.
“He can elevate over people,” Lowe said. “He’s an excellent passer and he’s a good finisher.”
SMU ended the 2013-14 season ranked 17th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. The Mustangs will continue to lock down opponents due to a lineup that features the speed, length and versatility to adapt against various offensive attacks. But they averaged 71.4 PPG (166th nationally) and were 68th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
They need scorers. Martin will help. Mudiay, too.
An elite athlete like Mudiay could elevate SMU into the nation’s top tier and boost an offense that could use a spark.
“He is very good,” said Tyus Jones, a McDonald’s All-American point guard who will play for Duke next season. “[He] can really get to the rim, extremely athletic.”
In two wins over SMU last year, Louisville’s Russ Smith combined for 49 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists and six steals. Smith won many games for Louisville during his four years. When the Cardinals needed something, he could give it to them.
That’s the fabric that links America’s best programs each year. They all have one or more players who are capable of rising above the rest.
The Mustangs had a capable program last year. With Mudiay, however, they have a squad that’s equipped to compete with the best in the country.
“He can change a team just because of his skill level, talent and awareness,” Lowe said.
Botched hire? Nah. Brown was the perfect hire. Mudiay proves that.
Davis will be a sophomore out of Tyler Junior College after originally signing with Texas A&M. He left the Aggies before Johnny Manziel's second season as the starter in 2013.
A top recruit out of Houston in 2012, Davis appeared in seven games for Tyler last year. The Mustangs will have a new starter after two years with Garrett Gilbert at quarterback.
Nwosu has one year of eligibility after getting his degree at Rice. He had 25 consecutive starts before missing last season with a knee injury. Nwosu set an NCAA record by blocking three PATs in the 2012 opener against UCLA and finished with 210 career tackles.
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Offensive opponent to watch: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Ever hear of this guy? In case you haven't, he goes by the nickname Johnny Football. He won the Heisman Trophy last season as a redshirt freshman. He's been spotted seemingly everywhere and been hanging out with everyone in the offseason since. He hosts the Mustangs on Sept. 21, one week after facing two-time defending national champion Alabama, a team whose only loss last season came at the hands of … Manziel and the Aggies. Last year he led the Aggies to a 48-3 win at SMU, accounting for 418 total yards and six scores in three quarters while notching his first career win. All he did after was finish with 5,116 total yards and 47 touchdowns on the season while completing 68 percent of his passes.
Defensive opponent to watch: Devante Fields, DE, TCU. Field is banned from the season's first two games "due to a violation of university and team policy," meaning the SMU game on Sept. 28 will be his second game back. If he learns from the punishment, SMU and others need to watch out. The Horned Frogs' highest-rated recruit from 2012 burst onto the scene as a true freshman last fall, winning Big 12 defensive player of the year honors. He had four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and two hurries in a 24-16 win at SMU last season, and he finished the year with 53 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, one pick, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.
Strongest position: Defensive back.
Not only do the Mustangs return all their starters at defensive back, they have got plenty of talent behind those starters to form the best position on the field. Depth is so good, in fact, that top cornerback Kenneth Acker spent the spring taking reps at receiver to expand his repertoire. Acker should be one of the top receivers in the league in 2013, as he goes into his third year as the starter. Acker led the Mustangs last year with 15 passes defended and 12 pass breakups, while grabbing three interceptions. Chris Parks also is back at cornerback, and feeling much better after playing through a knee injury through a part of last season. Starting safety Jay Scott also returns, giving the Mustangs three senior starters in the secondary -- guys with a wealth of experience that should really take the lead on this defense. As for the other safety position, Shakiel Randolph returns after starting six games last year and being named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team.
Weakest position: Defensive line.
SMU is in rebuilding mode at positions across the field, as several spots have to replace key starters. But the position hit the hardest is the defensive line, which returns zero starters from a year ago. The biggest loss, of course, is defensive end Margus Hunt, a second-round NFL pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. He takes with him a team-leading eight sacks and a major pass-rush presence that is a huge priority for the Mustangs to replace. End Kevin Grenier also is gone, and so is the underrated Torlan Pittman, who manned the inside spot. Between the three of them, the Mustangs lose 92 tackles -- including 18.5 for loss. Coach June Jones believes he has some talented players ready to fill in. Darrian Wright will take over the nose tackle spot from Pittman. Zach Wood seems certain to start at one end spot; Beau Barnes and Andy McCleneghen are still competing for the other starting end job. Jones also is high on two youngsters -- true freshman Zelt Minor and redshirt freshman Elie Nabushosi. But while there may be talent, this group takes a hit in experience and size as well. How the Mustangs handle those two factors will go a long way in determining how they do in Year 1 in the AAC.
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More than anything, this group should serve as a primer for anyone who wants to get to know the new teams in the league, and the new players in the league that have a chance to make a big impact on their respective teams.
Having said that, there were not too many surprises on the first team, populated mostly by players on returning Big East teams. Only four players from incoming teams made either the first-team offense or first-team defense. One of those was Houston running back Charles Sims, who decided to leave the team after Steele's preseason team went to press. Steele had Rutgers' Savon Huggins and UCF's Storm Johnson on the second-team at running back.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
- I am trying to figure out how Louisville receiver Eli Rogers is not listed on any team. We are talking about four teams with three receivers each. Am I missing something here? The Cardinals did get two receivers tabbed -- DeVante Parker on the first team and Damian Copeland on the fourth team. But in my book, Rogers is one of the top 12 receivers in this league. His is the biggest omission I saw.
- USF has the potential to be really good up front defensively. Hard to argue with Ryne Giddins and Aaron Lynch on the first team at defensive end, although Rutgers' Jamil Merrell could make a case. Giddins is due for a bounce-back season, and Lynch turned heads all spring. Tackles Luke Sager (third team) and Todd Chandler (fourth team) also were named. Louisville and USF were the only teams with their entire starting defensive front named.
- UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni moved safety Byron Jones to cornerback to help fill some of the gaps in the secondary. By all accounts, Jones had a great spring. Steele has Jones listed on the first team, along with linebacker Yawin Smallwood. Plenty of defensive talent still left on that team.
- Steele also has a good number of transfers named, and these are definitely players to keep an eye on this fall. Among them -- Cincinnati linebacker Jeff Luc (second team), UConn linebacker Graham Stewart (fourth team), Houston linebacker Trevon Randle (third team), SMU running back Traylon Shead (third team), Louisville tight end Gerald Christian (first team) and Lynch (first team).
- How's this for a flip flop? Rutgers has four offensive players listed on the first team -- receiver Brandon Coleman and offensive linemen Betim Bujari, Antwan Lowery, and Kaleb Johnson. Zero listed on the first-team defense.
- Preseason favorite Louisville led the way with seven first-team selections. Rutgers and Cincinnati were next with four, followed by: Houston (3), Memphis (3), UConn (3), USF (2), Temple (1) and SMU (1).
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Most important game: Oct. 5 versus Rutgers
Why: SMU has a very challenging nonconference slate. The Mustangs open their season Friday, Aug. 30 against Texas Tech and new coach Kliff Kingsbury. Two games later they travel to College Station, Texas, where they will face either an Aggie team coming off the high of beating defending national Alabama for the second year in a row or an Aggie team hungry after suffering a tough loss to the nation's best. One week later, they travel to TCU.
Like we said, very challenging. At least they avoid conference favorite Louisville in Year 1 of a new league.
So that brings us to Oct. 5, with the nonconference slate in the rearview mirror. SMU has a home contest against a Rutgers team that has a lot of unknown parts heading into Kyle Flood's second year as head coach. The first month of the season should test the Mustangs physically and mentally, and if they respond the way most good teams should, they will be ready for their Big East debut against the Scarlet Knights, one of four defending champions.
SMU's offense should be fascinating to watch with Hal Mumme joining head coach June Jones to tutor Garrett Gilbert. Rutgers is breaking in three new starters in the secondary. A bye follows the Rutgers game, and then come games against Memphis and Temple, two programs widely expected to finish at or near the bottom of the conference in 2013.
You look at the tough first month and what it could spell for SMU moving forward, and you look at games against the Tigers and Owls soon afterward, and you cannot help but think of what a win over Rutgers could do for this program in its first game in the Big East. A 3-0 start going into Cincinnati on Nov. 9? UConn awaits after that. A 4-1 start in conference play is very much possible, not to mention the chance of winning one or more of the aforementioned tough early-season games against its Texas brethren.
The possibilities could be there for a strong Big East debut for the Mustangs. But a lot of that only looks realistic if they can beat Rutgers on Oct. 5.
The Big East has four players on the 44-man list, which is led by nine SEC players and five each from the Pac-12 and the Mountain West Conference.
Houston's Bryce Redman, Rutgers' Betim Bujari, SMU's Taylor Lasecki, USF's Austin Reiter make up the Big East contingent.
The Rimington Trophy committee uses the AFCA, Walter Camp, Sporting News and FWAA All-American teams to determine a winner. The winner will be honored Jan. 11, 2014 at the Rimington Trophy Presentation banquet at the Rocco Theater in Lincoln, Neb.
Former Louisville center Mario Benavides was one of six finalists for the award last season.
SMU begins Year 1 in a new conference under sixth-year head coach June Jones, who made a big-name addition to his staff two weeks ago.
McGee says Hal Mumme is the reason to watch, with the former Division II McMurry (Texas) head coach coming aboard to be the Mustangs' assistant head coach and passing game coordinator. The addition of Mumme, the proprietor of the Air Raid offense, places him with a boss in Jones who is considered a founding father of the Run 'n' Shoot offense. Three of the top seven signal callers in career passing yards per game were coached by either Mumme or Jones, making for an intriguing dynamic in Dallas.
"This might not work at all," a fellow Big East offensive coordinator told McGee. "But if it does, the results might be scary. If anything, this is one of those experiments where coaches all over the country will be pulling film just to see what these two come up with together."
To read the full story about all five off-the-radar teams to watch this spring, click here.
While the soon-to-be-former Big East is entering its last season as a BCS school, before the four-team college football playoff takes into effect in the 2014-15 season, aggressive scheduling is one way to keep the league on the national radar.
The slates will provide several opportunities for big national upsets in the coming years, so here's a look at some of the notable future opponents for SMU.
SMU: The Mustangs have quite the in-state home-and-home lineup. They canceled this season's home game with Baylor, and while it is unknown if the 2013 game will be made up or bought-out completely, the schools still have a home-and-home scheduled through 2019. The Battlle for the Iron Skillet with TCU will continue through 2017, with the Horned Frogs playing host this season. SMU will go to Texas A&M this year and host the Aggies in 2014, closing out a four-year home-and-home. They begin this season with a Friday night home contest against Texas Tech.
Why: The Mustangs lose Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed following a 2012 campaign that saw the former notch first-team All-Conference USA honors and the latter garner second-team honors. That's 174 total tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, five interceptions, four fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles between the two that are gone from last year's team. Kevin Pope and Robert Seals figure to be the next in line to replace the two, with Pope playing in all 13 games as a junior last season and recovering three fumbles, forcing another and blocking a kick. Seals, meanwhile, saw limited action as a redshirt freshman in 2012, recording three tackles and a quarterback hurry in eight games. SMU is replacing five starters up front from a defense that led Conference USA against the run last season, and coach June Jones will be tasked with quite the reloading job heading into Year 1 of the Big East era.
- Louisville is clearly the marquee team to watch this year, and the schedule makers treated the Cardinals that way. They have at least four games set for national television -- all midweek games, all against Big East competition. The first is against Rutgers on Thurs., Oct. 10. In 2012, the two teams met on the final weekend of the regular season with a BCS berth on the line. Rather than duplicate that schedule this year, Louisville will end the season at Cincinnati on Thurs., Dec. 5, in what could be the final matchup between the two longtime rivals.
- Speaking of rivals, I applaud what the Big East did with its biggest rivalry games in 2013. The league scheduled them to end the season. First, USF plays at UCF and SMU plays at Houston on Nov. 29. The Big East should work hard to build up these two rivalries, as these four teams remain in the league for the foreseeable future. The following week features the Keg of Nails game between Louisville and Cincinnati. There are so many juicy subplots in that game, especially since these two teams are expected to start the season at the top of the league. The Big East would like to remind you that in each of the last four years, its BCS representative has been determined in the last week of the season.
- Five of the league's 10 games in Week 1 are being played on either Thursday or Friday. Of those five, two are very intriguing -- Rutgers at Fresno State on Thurs., Aug. 29, and Texas Tech at SMU on Fri., Aug. 30 at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
- Temple has a tough two-game opening stretch. The Owls start the season at Notre Dame on Aug. 31. The following week, they open Big East play against Houston -- the first league game of 2013. In fact, Houston and Temple are the only two teams to have a conference game in the month of September.
- Biggest nonconference day? That would be Sept. 21, when Michigan plays at UConn, Arkansas travels to play Rutgers and SMU is at Texas A&M. Michigan and Texas A&M are expected to be ranked in the Top 25. Meanwhile, Rutgers will be hosting an SEC opponent on its campus for the first time in school history.
- Interestingly enough, the Big East has more matchups against the Big Ten (five) and SEC (four) than the ACC (three), traditionally the conference it plays the most.
- Only Houston, Memphis and Temple have nonconference games in the middle of Big East play.
- Only a handful of games have been designated with a start time and TV network. There will be many more games selected for national television at a time to be determined.
"I want to thank Joe and Bob for all their work for our program," Jones said. "They were both valuable members of our staff and we wish them the best."
Haering spent four years with SMU as assistant linebackers coach and helped the Mustang reach a school-record four straight bowl games. He had previously spent 12 seasons as a college scout with the Buffalo Bills.
Palcic just completed his first season as offensive line coach with the Mustangs.
SMU opens spring practice March 25.
Spring Start: March 25
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
- Replacing Zach Line: The Mustangs have to replace their top runner over the past several seasons in Line, who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Leading the charge this spring are junior college All-American Traylon Shead and reserve back Rishaad Wimbley, who switched from defense a few seasons ago.
- New defensive starters: The Mustangs lost the bulk of their playmakers on defense in Margus Hunt and linebackers Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis. Finding guys to step up without them is a huge priority. Watch for Zach Wood at defensive end in place of Hunt; and Kevin Pope and Robert Seals at linebacker.
- More consistency at QB: June Jones' offense runs best when the quarterback is at his best. Garrett Gilbert returns as the starter, but he is going to need to find much more consistency this spring and into the fall. Two numbers that have to be improved: accuracy (53 percent in 2012) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (15-to-15 in 2012).