Mustangs must do better to survive in Big East

Laken Litman –

What is John Marinatto thinking right now?

The Big East commissioner, who was probably already in a mood after settling terms with West Virginia to allow the school to bolt for the Big 12 early (for a price), was probably not thrilled when he saw SMU’s box score Wednesday night.

The Mustangs, a future Big East team, got beat at home by UAB 47-28. Yes, that was a final score (SMU had 12 points at halftime).

The Mustangs shot 17.4 percent from the floor and the Blazers only needed to make 34.1 percent of their baskets to win.

UAB’s K.C. Whitaker and Cameron Moore combined to out-score SMU 29-28. Those 28 points, by the way, are a Conference USA record low.

Matt Doherty, who makes approximately $500,000 annually and is 78-105 all-time at SMU, is in his sixth year on the Hilltop. His best league record with the Mustangs was last year when they went 8-8. Right now, SMU sits in last place in C-USA with a 2-9 record and five regular season games to go. Unacceptable for any program, especially one headed to the country’s best college basketball conference in 2013.

Last time SMU received a bid to the NCAA tournament was in 1993 under John Shumate and they were knocked out in the first round. Ever since, the Mustangs have only had two 20-win seasons. The basketball program itself has only had nine 20-win seasons since its inception in 1916.

Under the guidance of University President R. Gerald Turner and Athletic Director Steve Orsini, SMU has been trying to make all the right moves to put its athletic program as a whole in a position to reach and succeed on the national stage. Purely lobbying for and ultimately being accepted into the Big East is a testament to that. And in the basketball realm, $40 million to renovate Moody Coliseum speaks for itself.

But here’s the thing—a gym facelift and better conference affiliation won’t mean a thing if a team doesn’t win.

It would appear to be a no-brainer for a top recruit to choose coming to school in Dallas (perfect weather, bustling city, Top 5 sports market, pro teams, professional resources out the wazoo, first-class education, prime facilities…etc.) over say a place like Storrs, Conn. or Piscataway, N.J., right?

That player would get the same benefits as the other “more renowned” programs and the same amount of national attention on television, but they wouldn’t have to freeze their tails off in the winter. Talk about a pendulum swinger.

But no kid wants to play for a losing program in any sport. High schoolers are impressionable and maybe some will buy into the whole, “You can be a part of building tradition” thing, but let’s be honest: if a prospect wants to play in the Big East and he’s choosing between SMU and UConn/Georgetown/Notre Dame/Louisville, he’s going to pick one of the latter if the former doesn’t have checks in the W column.

To have success in the future, SMU needs to make some moves. The players need to be put in a position to win and clearly the way things are run right now are not cutting it. I mean earlier in the season, the Mustangs lost to Jackson State and had to take Arkansas-Little Rock to overtime to win.

The Mustangs are a young team with potential. The 2012 class, if it stays intact, will add depth and size. If developed correctly—and that means discipline, attitude, understanding a system, leadership, work ethic, etc.—this group can compete in the Big East and could eventually attract higher caliber players.

But change starts at the top and trickles down.

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