New York Colleges: Southern Methodist Mustangs

W2W4: SMU vs. Minnesota

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
Here's what to watch for when Southern Methodist (27-9, 12-6 AAC) plays Minnesota (24-13, 8-10 Big Ten) on Thursday in the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m., and you can watch the game on ESPN.

ONE FOR THE AGES ... The two head coaches are the star attractions in this matchup. It'll be the oldest coach in Division I, Hall of Famer Larry Brown of SMU, versus one of the youngest coaches in Div. I, Richard Pitino of Minnesota -- the son of Hall of Famer Rick Pitino.

Brown is 73 years old, although he certainly doesn't look it. Pitino is 31, and looks every bit of it and no more.

Both have New York roots. Brown was born in Brooklyn and returned to New York to coach the Knicks in 2005-06. Pitino spent part of his youth in New York -- his father coached the Knicks from 1987-89. The elder Pitino attended the semifinals Tuesday and almost certainly will be sitting behind the Minnesota bench again Thursday.

AS FOR THE PLAYERS ... It's a pretty even matchup -- these are two of the four No. 1 seeds in this tournament. SMU overcame a 13-point, second-half deficit to defeat Clemson 65-59 in Tuesday's first semifinal. Minnesota survived a second-half comeback to beat Florida State 67-64 in overtime in the second semifinal.

You should see strong guard play in this game. SMU's leading scorer is sophomore point man Nic Moore (13.5 ppg, 4.8 apg). Minnesota has three guards who average in double figures -- junior Andre Hollins (13.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg), senior Austin Hollins (12.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and junior DeAndre Mathieu (12 ppg, 4.1 apg).

But the X-factor is SMU sophomore forward Markus Kennedy (12.4 ppg, 7 rpg). A transfer from Villanova, Kennedy was dominant in the semifinals, with 21 points and nine rebounds against Clemson. Minnesota must try to limit his touches inside.

SPEAKING OF DEFENSE ... SMU is one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranked seventh in Division I in defensive field goal percentage (38.3). Minnesota isn't as good but is still ranked among the top third of Div. I teams in that category, currently 112th (42.4).

That being said, both teams can create havoc on that end. SMU was 42nd in steals per game in the regular season (7.5), and Minnesota was close behind at 45th (7.4).

You'll probably see some full-court pressure, particularly from Minnesota. Taking care of the ball will be critical in this game.

Larry Brown leads SMU to NIT final

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
NEW YORK -- Larry Brown went 23-59 in his one season coaching the New York Knicks.

Things are going a lot better at Southern Methodist.

The Mustangs have now won 27 games this season -- one off the school record -- in only Brown’s second year at the helm. And their latest victory came in a place he knows well: Madison Square Garden.

[+] EnlargeLarry Brown
AP Photo/Sharon EllmanFormer Knicks coach Larry Brown led SMU to the NIT finals.
SMU trailed by 13 early in the second half Tuesday, and didn’t take its first lead until just more than five minutes remained. But once Brown’s crew had the lead, they never relinquished it, beating Clemson 65-59 to advance to the NIT championship game.

“I’m really proud of my team,” Brown said. “I think the first half, Clemson did about as well as any team that we played against. They controlled the tempo, they had much more energy than us, they executed great. And we didn’t have much to say at halftime, except we had to match their energy and possibly play harder than them. I thought it was the best half we played all year.”

It was indeed a tale of two halves. Clemson led 38-26 at the break, thanks to 56 percent shooting from the field. That included making 6-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc, against an SMU team ranked seventh in the nation in defensive field-goal percentage.

The Mustangs picked up the intensity in the second half. And the Tigers shot just 6-for-25 overall and 2-for-11 from long range.

“We just did what we usually do,” SMU forward Sterling Brown said. “We just turned it up a little more.”

Fellow forward Markus Kennedy was the player of the game, with 21 points and nine rebounds. Point guard Nic Moore chipped in 13 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Mustangs, who will play Minnesota in the title game Thursday.

The 73-year-old Brown has nothing to prove. He remains the only coach to win both an NCAA championship and an NBA title, and already has the Basketball Hall of Fame on his résumé. But he has done a remarkable job rejuvenating SMU in short order.

The Mustangs have not made the NCAA tournament since 1993, but just missed this year, the first team left out of the field.

Instead, SMU was awarded one of four No. 1 seeds in the NIT. And four wins later, it has reached the final.

“We haven’t had a lot of nice things happen at SMU for a long, long time,” Brown said. “To be in this environment, playing in this championship in this special building, with our fans so supportive, that’s the most special moment we’ve all had I think since we’ve been there.”

Brown’s brief stint with the Knicks was eight years ago now. But with the Brooklyn native back in town, he was asked to share some memories after the game.

“I love this place,” Brown said. “I’m not happy with the job I did with the Knicks, but I grew up loving the Knicks and loving the Garden, and I wanted our guys to experience [it].”

He was also asked about current Knicks coach Mike Woodson, a former assistant and close friend. Woodson was at the game Tuesday, sitting behind the SMU bench.

“I talk to him every day. He’s a big part of my life,” Brown said. “He’s gone through hell, and they got it going. Last I looked they’re right there with a chance to make the playoffs, and I’m thrilled for him.”

As it happens, the Knicks will host the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday at the Garden, in between the NIT semifinals and title game. And it sounds like the former Knicks coach may attend.

“I don’t know if they’ll let me in the Garden tomorrow night,” Brown said, chuckling. “I’ve got a night off. I don’t know -- I’ll either go see Les Mis or the Knicks.”

Whatever Brown decides to do Wednesday, he’ll be back here one night later, with a chance to add another championship to his collection.

W2W4: The NIT semifinals

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
Larry BrownAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesLarry Brown returns to the Garden for the NIT semifinals.
NEW YORK -- Here's what to watch for in Tuesday's semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. ET, and you can watch the games on ESPN2.

HOME SWEET HOME: Brooklyn native and former Knicks coach Larry Brown returns to the Garden and should receive a warm welcome.

The 73-year-old Hall of Famer has rejuvenated the Southern Methodist basketball program in just two years at the helm. The Mustangs were 13-19 in 2011-12, prior to Brown's arrival. This season they have won 26 games, the second-most in school history.

SMU was the first team left out of the NCAA tournament field, and received one of four No. 1 seeds in the NIT.

When asked last week about returning to New York, Brown said, “I don’t look at it like that, for me. For me, for our kids to have an opportunity to keep playing is great.

"I’m happy for our team, I’m thrilled for our program. After the disappointment we had [Selection Sunday], this is a privilege to still be playing.”

GAME 1: SMU (26-9, 12-6 AAC) will play No. 3 seed Clemson (23-12, 10-8 ACC) in the first semifinal. The Mustangs finished tied for third in the American Athletic Conference with Final Four participant UConn, and beat the Huskies twice in the regular season. The Tigers, in their fourth year under coach Brad Brownell, finished sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Their best win of the season was a 72-59 triumph over Duke at home on Jan. 11.

Two players average in double figures for SMU -- sophomore point guard Nic Moore (13.5 PPG, 4.9 APG) and sophomore forward Markus Kennedy (12.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG). Clemson has just one double-figure scorer -- junior forward K.J. McDaniels (17.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG). McDaniels was also the leading shot-blocker in the ACC (2.8 BPG).

The Mustangs are 18th in Division I in offensive field goal percentage (48.4), and seventh in defensive field goal percentage (38.2) -- quite a combination! The Tigers aren't nearly as good offensively, ranking 265th (42.4). But they are almost as good defensively, ranking 14th (39.3).

GAME 2: A pair of No. 1 seeds, Minnesota (23-13, 8-10 Big Ten) and Florida State (22-13, 9-9 ACC), will meet in the second semifinal, tipping off at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET. The Golden Gophers, in their first year under coach Richard Pitino (Rick's son), finished seventh in the Big Ten. The Seminoles, in their 12th year under coach Leonard Hamilton, finished tied for seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

These two teams met back on Dec. 3 in Minneapolis, with Minnesota winning 71-61. But the Golden Gophers' leading rebounder, junior center Elliott Eliason (5.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG), is likely out for this game due to an ankle injury, as reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Three players average in double figures for Minnesota -- junior guard Andre Hollins (13.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG), senior guard Austin Hollins (12.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG) and junior guard DeAndre Mathieu (11.8 PPG, 4.1 APG).

Three players average in double figures for Florida State, as well -- sophomore guard Aaron Thomas (14.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG), senior guard Ian Miller (13.7 PPG, 2.9 APG) and senior forward Okaro White (13.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG).

The Seminoles also stack up very well on both sides, ranking 49th in Division I in offensive field goal percentage (46.8) and 25th in defensive field goal percentage (39.9). The Golden Gophers trail significantly in both categories, ranking 142nd offensively (44.8) and 116th defensively (42.5).