They have climbed into the “Receiving Votes” category in the AP poll. They beat UConn when the Huskies were ranked No. 17, and they received praise for a close loss at Louisville in this strange, new conference they inhabit. There is so much to like about the SMU Mustangs’ men’s basketball team, and yet the man working nonstop to make this recovery happen seems slightly bemused by it all. “The loss to Louisville — if you’re at Kansas or UCLA or North Carolina, there’d be a dark cloud following you around,” he said. And Larry Brown would know. He played at Carolina, coached UCLA to a national title game and won a national championship at Kansas. And that was a quarter century ago. Brown was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame a decade before he arrived in Dallas. He’s determined to finish his career (we think it’s the finish, but when you see Brown practically racewalking on the Katy Trail, you realize he’s the youngest 73-year-old you will meet) by restoring SMU basketball to must-see status. I remember when it was exactly that. I was the beat writer for one season 30 years ago when Jon Koncak and Butch Moore and Carl Wright had Georgetown on the ropes in the Palouse (that’s Spokane, Wash.) two weeks before the Hoyas won the national championship in Seattle. But SMU fell off the map not long after that. Even with the field expanded to 68 teams, the Mustangs haven’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 21 years. Old, rundown Moody Coliseum was forever blamed as the reason the Mustangs couldn’t have nice things. The Moody 2.0 that was unveiled Jan. 4 is quaint perfection for a small, private school. It only takes 7,000 to sell it out, and AD Rick Hart said after Tuesday’s 70-56 victory over Rutgers that the team is headed toward sellouts against Memphis and Cincinnati in February and Louisville in March. “We’ve got to start small, work our way up,” Hart said. Brown has done exactly that by going big. The Mustangs can be erratic at the offensive end, but they are big and they are deep and they defend, night after night. They rank second in the NCAA in holding opponents just below 36 percent shooting. Brown knows the value of recruiting Texas — Prime Prep point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is expected to be a nice Derrick Rose starter kit next season — but the team benefits from the play of transfers from Villanova, Illinois State and Kansas State. Brown will take players where he can find them, and, rest assured, he will win with them. “I had never coached a team that didn’t make the tournament,” Brown said, noting he was almost surprised when his first SMU team stumbled through a 15-17 season. Now a vastly different, deeper team is 15-4 and gaining national attention. In a conference that bears resemblance to the Missouri Valley Conference back in its heyday, the Mustangs stand just behind Cincinnati and Louisville and ahead of Memphis in the American Athletic Conference. The AAC is no ACC, and its staying power is under question, but for now the competition has improved almost as much as the Mustangs themselves. It’s a heck of a show, at the very least, and how many years has it been since anyone said that about the Mustangs and Moody? Ira Terrell, the All-America player from Roosevelt, works the crowd as sort of an honorary mascot at SMU games — if someone who was the SWC’s MVP in 1976, when the conference was flowing with talent, can be regarded as a mascot. I asked him if he ever dreamed Moody would look like it does today.
Why Larry Brown's SMU Mustangs are now 'must-see' basketball
Dallas Morning News | Jan 23