No longer perfect, NCAA-banned No. 13 SMU still AAC leader
DALLAS (AP) With no postseason possibility because of NCAA penalties, No. 13 SMU was looking for a perfect season.
Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown never got caught up in talk about going undefeated, but some of his players had openly discussed the goal of winning every game they played.
Well, now the best the Mustangs can do is win 29 of their 30 regular-season games before being done the first Sunday in March, before the American Athletic Conference tournament and a week before Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament.
''We're still the only team in the country with one loss,'' Brown said.
SMU (18-1, 7-1 American) stayed undefeated longer than any other Division I team this season, but return home Saturday night against Memphis (13-7, 4-3) coming off a loss for the first time. A second consecutive AAC regular-season title is still in reach, and 29 wins would be a school record.
After their snow-delayed loss at Temple on Sunday, the Mustangs had a lengthy flight delay - during which they watched the end of the AFC championship game on the plane before unloading for dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse and a snowball fight. They eventually got on another plane and arrived home well after midnight before a couple of days off.
''The guys, we treat each other like brothers, so we pick each other up. After you go through adversity, it's how you bounce back,'' freshman guard Shake Milton said. ''Guys were being like themselves again, and we were having fun. I guess that's what it's about.''
Senior point guard Nic Moore shook off any notion that the Mustangs were devastated after the 89-80 loss in which the Owls hit 14 3-pointers.
''Now we get to see what we're made of,'' Moore said.
Indiana was the last team to finish a season undefeated, when winning the national championship 40 years ago. The first undefeated NCAA champ was San Francisco in 1956 and the only other teams to accomplish that feat are North Carolina (1957) and UCLA (1964, 1967, 1972 and 1973).
''We realize it would have been an unbelievable accomplishment,'' Brown said. ''We've got an incredible group of kids. Whatever's been thrown at them, they've always had a way to be resilient enough to handle it,'' the coach said. ''I've never questioned their effort or their heart, and we'll continue to try to build on the type of season we've already had.''
SMU dropped five spots in this week's AP poll after two weeks in the Top 10, its first ranking that high since February 1985. The 18-game winning streak was the longest since 20 in a row in the school's only Final Four season, 1955-56.
The Mustangs last season made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993. They would be a sure bet for another postseason berth this March if not for NCAA penalties handed down last fall, which included Brown being suspended the first nine games this season.
Milton said Brown's message this week has been that everything is OK and that it's only one loss.
Still, the 18-0 start was an incredible experience.
''It was exciting. Every day, you've got to really try to focus in more because people were always talking and this and that, and you could hear rumors and stuff like that,'' Milton said. ''This team did a really good job of staying focused. We slipped up, but we're trying to bounce back now.''