SMU still has one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, but its defense has helped it remain the lone undefeated team in Division I.
That end of the floor will likely be the key to remaining unbeaten in the AAC as the eighth-ranked Mustangs host the second-best defensive team in conference play when Houston visits Tuesday night.
SMU (17-0, 6-0) is riding the best start in school history and is three wins shy of matching the program's 20-game win streak in 1955-56. The Mustangs average 80.2 points and are one of a handful of teams making more than half their shots at 51.5 percent.
Their defense, though, has been the reason for their unblemished conference start, ranking atop the AAC by holding league opponents to 59.5 points per game – just ahead of Houston's 60.2. On a day when SMU shot a season-low 40.4 percent and made 1 of 10 from 3-point range, it still won 60-45 at Tulane on Sunday.
The Mustangs held the Green Wave to 29.2 percent shooting, outscored them 32-16 in the paint and turned 20 turnovers into 21 points. Still, they didn't pull away from an under-.500 team until late.
“This is the first time I saw where I thought we were thinking about the fact that we've had a pretty good season going,” coach Larry Brown said. “We might have put a little pressure on ourselves. But it's all learning for us.”
SMU's top two scorers, Nic Moore and Ben Moore, combined to make 5 of 18 shots. Nic Moore leads the Mustangs with 15.2 points per game but has shot 36.0 percent for an average of 13.0 in the last five.
That's how long SMU has been without Keith Frazier. The junior guard averaged 11.9 points and 4.4 rebounds through 10 games but sat out since Dec. 29 and announced his plans to transfer Friday. The local Dallas product and former McDonald's All-American was at the center of a NCAA investigation that led to the team's postseason ban and Brown's suspension for the first nine games.
SMU, which is 10-0 at home and has won four of the last five in this series, has averaged 71.6 points in the last five without Frazier.
“We're a gritty team,” Ben Moore said, “… So we just got to find a way to win by any means and we played well on defense so that's got to be our M.O. all the time.”
After struggling offensively against a Tulane team ranked toward the bottom of the conference by surrendering 71.0 points per game in league play, the Mustangs will face a much better defense versus the Cougars.
The problem for Houston (13-4, 3-2) is an offense sputtering to an average of 59.7 points on 36.9 percent shooting in the last three games while losing the previous two.
The Cougars followed a season-low 36.4 percent in Wednesday's 70-59 loss at Cincinnati by posting a 33.3 mark in Sunday's 69-57 loss to Connecticut. Houston's four scorers averaging double figures – Rob Gray Jr., Devonta Pollard, Damyean Dotson and Ronnie Johnson – have combined to shoot 27.8 percent the last two games.
“There is a reason they have a scoreboard. It doesn't keep track of stops; it keeps track of points,” coach Kelvin Sampson told the team's official website. “To get that thing to start clicking, you have to make those shots.”
Houston has averaged 61.5 points while making 37.3 percent of its shots in its last two trips to Dallas.