NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday is approaching and Southern Methodist University (SMU) is currently sitting on the bubble. Though ranked 25th overall in the latest AP poll, SMU has now lost three straight games to close the season after falling to Houston in their only conference tournament game. The automatic qualification of a few teams with worse resumes such as Mount St. Mary’s is something that will limit spots for a few of the at-large contenders like SMU.
SMU has been back in the public conversation after Larry Brown took over as head coach before last season. The wanderlust coach, who won a championship with Kansas in 1988, took over a program that had not made the tournament since 1994. Brown, who also won an NBA championship as head coach of the Detroit Pistons, has been known for his short but often successful stints wherever he has gone. Brown has jumped between the NBA and college levels frequently, but once again he has a team competing.
Brown’s squad was essentially a lock two weeks ago, reaching a season high ranking of No. 17. After falling to three straight opponents, the team is no longer a sure thing. One positive for SMU is the quality of their opponents, with the aforementioned three losses coming to defending champion Louisville, ranked team Memphis, and conference foe Houston. One of the considerations of the selection committee is quality of a team’s opponents, so even though SMU has fallen a few times in recent weeks they have improved their strength of schedule component.
Another worry for SMU with their recent struggles is that even if they do make the tournament, they could end up forced into an extra round of play. Since the field expanded to 65 teams (and since 2011, 68 teams) the bottom 8 teams must play in the opening round for the last four spots in the bracket. Not only do they have to win an extra game to advance, they are also forced to lose a day of valuable rest coming out of their hectic conference tournament schedule.
SMU is on the tournament bubble because they have varied qualifications. Their record is solid at 23-9, but records are only a small portion of what will be considered on Selection Sunday. Going by Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which factors in things like opponents strength of schedule and a few other factors, Southern Methodist’s RPI is all the way down to No. 55 in the nation. The selection committee will also be considering how hot or cold a team is at the time of the tournament, with preference given to teams who come in on a streak.
Even though they’re on the bubble, SMU is expected to be in the tournament. However, by losing three straight at the most important time of the year, they have given themselves reason to beware. If they do make the big dance, they have a coach with a hefty amount of experience coaching in big games, and it will be a big deal for a school who has not been to the NCAA Tournament in a long time. Brown, who has not stayed at a position for more than three years since his stint in Philadelphia, may not be around long. One thing is for certain, he will have his team going all out if they get the chance.
Commentary by Brian Moore