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SMU’s Snub is a blow to the college basketball season

Larry Brown doesn’t want to dwell on the fact that his SMU Mustangs got snubbed for the NCAA Tournament. Just focusing on winning the NIT is now his program’s focus – and it has nothing to do with vindication or retribution.

Fine. He’ll take the high road and not rant. Leave that to people like me.

It can be tough to be that thing known as “objective” when you’ve become an actual journalist of sports teams in your area. And it’s not just the simple fact of how it’s more fun to report when the team you’re reporting on is winning.

As a fan of college basketball for years, I’ve desperately wanted the programs in DFW to be relevant. I want the Metroplex to be an integral part of this excitement that arrives every March. Which is why this past season watching SMU was so exciting – it looked like one of our own was not just going to get into the field but possibly be a serious competitor in it.

And then the NCAA selection committee made it painfully clear that they don’t let newcomers into their exclusive club if they can help it.

But it goes deeper than that. One of the things that frustrates me is how no attention is paid to the first 3 ½ months of college basketball, as there is a sense by all the major outlets that it’s just not necessary. And sadly, the fact that SMU got passed over for the likes of Oklahoma State and North Carolina State did nothing to rebuke those claims.

As someone who has followed small schools and conferences like UTA and the Southland/Sun Belt for years, I had to accept long ago that the regular season almost means nothing in those leagues. Whoever wins the conference tournament is getting their lone entry into the Dance.

But this selection by the NCAA has made it all too clear: The regular season means absolutely nothing in the other conferences as well.

It was believed for weeks that SMU’s victories over Memphis, UConn (twice) and Cincinnati proved they deserved to be among the elite and in the NCAAs. The selection committee said flat out no, the fact that you’re SMU and you play in the American Athletic Conference, you don’t deserve an at-large bid.

You can get an at-large, however, even if you finish below .500 in the Big 12. You can get one even if you fail to beat any of the top teams in the ACC.

It seems too clear those involved in the selection process had made up their minds that the more “elite” conferences were getting a set number of teams in the field, by hook or crook, and anyone else who actually tried to earn their way in be damned.

Brown has flat out said the selection committee didn’t respect his school’s conference. Given the fact that the defending national champions from Louisville were given a four seed, he may have a point.

It makes you winder if Wichita State, which got a Number One seed after a perfect regular season, might actually have been rejected had they not win their conference tournament as well.

I will not be unbiased in this NCAA Tournament. I hope that Oklahoma State and NC State get throttled to prove the selection committee had nothing between their ears in choosing them.

And hopefully, SMU will make that more clear by being the ones hoisting the other trophy at Madison Square Garden.

Larry Brown Can Make Things Change at SMU

Larry Brown is definitely in new territory running the show at Moody Coliseum. After the guy isn’t used to fans being satisfied with simply playing a ranked opponent tough.

“You walk around here and people congratulate you after you get beat, that’s pretty strange” he said of the days after the Mustangs lost to Louisville. “You’re in Lawrence, Kansas or Westwood or Chapel Hill, they have a heart attack after every loss.”

That comes with the experience of playing and coaching at the highest levels. The experience of being the only basketball coach in history with an NCAA and NBA championship. You don’t know the meaning of moral victories.

And that is exactly the type of attitude needed if things are going to turn around on the Hilltop. And after less than two years, it looks like things already are.

With Tuesday’s win over Rutgers, SMU’s team already matched its win total from last year. With 15 wins already and at least 13 games left against the likes of Memphis, UConn and Louisville again, the path is set for SMU to build a good enough record to get into that magical field in March one way or another.

It’s not just the fact that other coaches within the American Athletic Conference are saying SMU looks like a Tournament team this year. Could DFW actually have a program that could be able to aim for the NCAA Tournament every single year?

Well, that’s what Larry Brown’s mission was when he took over this program. Some people who have been jaded by decades of college basketball mediocrity might be hard to convince. But you just know someone like Brown would love to prove them wrong.

Ask him, and he’ll tell you he can look into players’ eyes and see when they know they can win. He saw it in the players at Louisville and Cincinnati when the Mustangs traveled there. And little by little, with each victory, that look is starting to appear in his own players.

This is naturally a different animal that he’s dealing with in Dallas. Whether it was playing at SMU or coaching at UCLA or Kansas, Brown was with a program that was a big dog in the area. Now, it takes something special to get people away from Valley Ranch or the American Airlines Center and show up to the media center at Moody Coliseum.

But when you’ve accomplished almost everything else at so many stops, maybe that’s the one challenge that remains. And it’s the challenge that those college basketball fans that do exist in the Metroplex have hoped someone like Brown would take on – and succeed at.

For years those of us who have followed college basketball in this area have had to hope that one of the multiple programs in North Texas could simply get luck in the conference tournament for an automatic bid, or otherwise be thankful for an NIT, or even a CIT, bid.

Even those of us who have ties to one particular university in the area would be ecstatic to see any one of them send a Metroplex representative in The Dance each year.

TCU could have had something like that in the late 90s under Billy Tubbs. But an NCAA season in 97-98 was overshadowed by a 1-10 football season, so the school put all its efforts to what went on at Amon Cater Stadium, and Tubbs was gone a few years later, clearly seeing the writing on the wall.

Things are different in University Park now. With their major upgrades to Moody and the completion of the Crum Basketball Center, it’s clear SMU is committed to taking its basketball program to another level.

Larry Brown wouldn’t have come here if he didn’t think that was possible. And even though it already looks like things are being fast-tracked compared to what we’ve been used to in this town, he knows there is still a lot more work and improvement to do.

And maybe very soon, he’ll start being congratulated for the Mustangs winning against the likes of Louisville.