It’d be easy to say the panelists on the NCAA selection committee missed the mark by leaving out the country’s surprise team of the season this past Sunday. Keeping SMU out of its first NCAA tournament in two decades is a harsh reality of the world of sports, but it is not without merit.
Dallas is a town that stands as a perfect example of the phrase, “What have you done for me lately?” so it should come as no surprise that with an ending as poor as the Mustangs had, they’d suffer the consequences.
A home loss last week in Moody against the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals isn’t to be unexpected, despite SMU’s perfect home record prior to tipoff.
What was frowned at was how the game seemed to get out of control for one of the nation’s best defenses, aided by Louisville guard Russ Smith, who let a 13-point first half lead slip away en route to the 84-71 defeat.
The word hangover comes to mind, as just a few days after the loss at home, the Mustangs traveled to Memphis and let the same scenario play out. SMU once again built a decent lead before its opponent stormed back with fury to send the Mustangs into a second straight defeat ahead of the American Athletic Conference tournament.
This is where the true agony comes in to play. Had the Mustangs taken care of business and knocked off an unranked Houston team that had suffered through its first season in the AAC with an 8-10 conference record, they would likely have gone dancing.
Sadly, as the campus of SMU now knows all too well, that didn’t happen. SMU let another big lead slip through its grasp, and with it, a chance to represent the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Arlington at the Final Four.
Now three losses do not make, or for that matter break a team, but no voting committee of any type wants to welcome in a wet dog to its ballroom floor. That’s why the beginning of the season is just as important as the end, and why the Mustangs’ out-of-conference schedule is being brought up as the primary reason the voters left the SMU ballot on the table.
Although SMU did play the one seed Virginia Cavaliers to a close loss in late November, that’s no excuse for still having the 302nd weakest out of conference marks in the country. Even the Mustangs overall strength of schedule at 129th overall was frighteningly low. In fact, the second lowest SOS by any other at-large team was 91st, according to selection committee chairman Ron Wellman.
This doesn’t necessarily mean it was all SMU’s fault that decent teams weren’t knocking down the door at Moody to get their butts kicked, but loading up your games early in the season with the likes of Hofstra and Rhode Island can only have one type of result, and it’s not good.
So after one of the best and most exciting seasons in the school’s history, SMU will have to relegate itself to playing against the likes of UC Irvine and Georgia State in the NIT bracket; a tough lesson for a team that looks to be on the upswing for years to come, just not this one.