OpEd: Reviewing the 2010-11 SMU men's basketball season
Published: Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
I hate being proven wrong, especially when it's by a bunch of boys. But for the first time in my five years spent covering SMU Athletics, I can honestly say I'm grateful someone was able to put me in my place.
The 2009-2010 season for the SMU men's basketball team finally ended at 9-21. The team won only three games in league play and was winless on the road. For the third year in a row the Mustangs failed to advance past the opening round of the Conference USA Tournament. The thought of playing in the postseason was almost non-existent.
Fortunately, the group of 16 young men making up the 2010-2011 roster were much more optimistic than me.
At the beginning of last season, I had made the switch from covering the women's team and was there every step of the way to witness the men's team pick themselves back up after every loss and try again.
I'll be honest, it was becoming incredibly challenging to find a tactful way to recap another loss.
That season ended with back-to-back losses to Houston. Finally it was over.
In November of last year, when most schools across the country are gearing up for basketball season, SMU was more focused than ever on the school's football team.
Starting off the 2010-2011 campaign with two consecutive losses was not the way to get students' attention if the basketball team had any hopes of competing against the football team for game day admissions.
I feared another dismal season was on the horizon for the Mustang's basketball team. I remember on Nov. 20 leaving Ford Stadium just before 5 p.m. to make it over to Moody Coliseum in time for tip off against University of California at Riverside. Less than 1,500 fans were present. Not even the band could be bothered to show up.
The basketball team lost by four points that night, posting their third loss in four games.
Fast-forward to today and you're presented with a team that had one of the most impressive seasons in program history in over a decade. Somewhere between then and now they found their focus.
Starting things off with a five-game winning streak before league play began, the Mustangs had already tied the total number of wins they had last year.
SMU then went on to defeat the University of Memphis for the second time at home in the opening game of league play. But even that feat wasn't good enough.
Two weeks later, the Mustangs went on another five-game run in league play, putting them in a tie for third place, the highest ranking the team had achieved since joining C-USA during the 2005-2006 season.
Students caught on and started paying more attention to the team as they began to realize that SMU finally had a team to be reckoned with.
As talk of the conference tournament began surfacing, students actually used the words "SMU" and "March Madness" in the same sentence in a positive way. For the time, people were excited about SMU basketball, including a beat writer who never expected to see the team produce more than 10 wins.
I thought SMU would win against Rice University in the opening round of the C-USA Tournament. Remaining neutral was impossible. I remember sitting at home and watching the game online when I saw the final score blink across the screen. I was crushed. I wasn't ready for the season to be over.
Before word of a postseason appearance got out, I accepted the 17 wins SMU had racked up as good enough. The team had far surpassed my expectations.
When I learned SMU would be playing in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (never mind no one had heard of this tournament), I was in Las Vegas with my mom celebrating her birthday. Over dinner I was glued to my phone getting score updates. When the team won, I think everyone in the Bellagio casino knew I was an SMU fan.
The win over Oral Roberts University was the first time the Mustangs had won in the postseason since the team's 1988 NCAA appearance.
The team was on fire. Led by Dia with 18.3 points per game on the season, SMU advanced to their version of the Final Four for the first time since 1956. Heading into last weekend's game against Santa Clara University, I was sure the team could pull off another victory.
Losing Dia hurt. But listening to Ryan Harp talk about the way the team rallied around Dia in the locker room at halftime only confirmed my impression of the team.
With 20 wins on the season, the Mustangs finished with the most wins in one season since 1999-2000, posting the best field goal, three-point and free throw percentages in over a decade. Not bad for a team that won only nine games the year before.
"The program has officially turned around," Doherty said after the Santa Clara game. "Our team is confident, it's the healthiest our program has ever been and I feel it will only get healthier through recruiting and repetition. Next year we'll have a talented team and a lot of depth."