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SMU beats ECU, tries to avoid the off-court controversy

UNIVERSITY PARK – For the two hours they had to just focus on basketball, the SMU Mustangs were the same team gradually looking to get better, even with the absence of sophomore guard Keith Frazier.

Any concerns about performance in the backcourt were assuaged early as the Mustangs hit five of 11 three-point shots. Players mobbed benchwarmer Jonathan Wilfong after he dunked the ball with five seconds left in the game to punctuate a 77-54 win over East Carolina. Larry Brown was his usual self after the game as he talked about his team always trying to get better.

For at least one game, Brown’s program refused to be distracted by having received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA regarding academic impropriety at the same time that Frazier was ruled academically ineligible and the coach most responsible for him coming to SMU has left for personal reasons.

No questions were allowed or given following Saturday’s game in regards to Frazier’s status or the investigation. On Friday the school through associate athletic director Brad Sutton, said they are, “working through our response to them [the NCAA].”

Brown’s official comment on Frazier was that he would miss this game due to a death in the family, also stating that they have filed an appeal with the NCAA regarding his eligibility and “we are optimistic that we will have him back on the court soon.”

At the moment, there are no official details as to exactly the is that the NCAA is supposedly inquiring about, although an ESPN report has hinted it may very well be related to Frazier and academic issues not at SMU but at Dallas’ Kimball High School. A Dallas Morning News investigation in January 2014 stated teachers at Kimball had Frazier’s grades changed to allow him to graduate. Ulric Maligi, the SMU assistant coach that recruited Frazier, was reported to have inquired about Frazier’s grades and whether he could take extra credit to aid graduation, but SMU has stated that is common practice among universities. Maligi recently took a leave of absence from the Mustangs program.

The same ESPN report suggested that senior Justin Martin, a transfer from Xavier, was also going to be ruled ineligible, supposedly leading to his decision to turn pro before the end of the season. All of this comes after a 2014 summer where forward Markus Kennedy was ruled ineligible for the fall and incoming freshman Emmanuel Mudiay decided to play professionally overseas instead; questions about his academic eligibility naturally arose.

“The spate of academic issues raises the question of whether Brown’s success at SMU is worth the negative attention this will surely bring,” Jeff Eisenberg wrote on his Yahoo Sports blog The Dagger.

On the other side, it still might not make the NCAA look sympathetic that these investigations are coming to light not only at the same time they are preparing to hand more autonomy to the “Power Five” conferences but also at the same time the NCAA decided to roll back the sanctions imposed on Penn State’s football team for being complicit in the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal.

All of these are issues that Brown and the kids wearing the jerseys are trying to not pay attention to. For the moment, all they want to look at is a four-game winning streak as they prepare to take on Tulane in New Orleans on Wednesday.

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