2013 Basketball Blogger Q&A: SMU

USA TODAY Sports

Larry Brown's latest stop is Dallas, TX, and the SMU Mustangs. SMU PonyFans tells us what to watch for when the Hoos travel to Corpus Christi and take on SMU.

Ever find yourself needing to know something about an SMU sports team? Odds are someone at PonyFans.com has you covered. They did for us!

The 'Stangs were sub-.500 last year overall and won only 5 games in Conference USA play. How does your fan base feel about last year's results?

SMU PonyFans look at the 2012-13 season as a warm-up act of sorts. Many of the fans had checked out during the last years of the Matt Doherty era, but Brown's arrival was treated as if SMU had hired Pat Riley or Phil Jackson. Admittedly, he is the only coach ever to win an NBA and NCAA championship ring, but he got a pass on anything that went wrong last season, as he had just begun his teaching process, coaching players he didn't recruit and many of whom did not fit his system or his vision for the future of the team.

At the press conference to announce he had been hired, Brown announced that "we're going to play man (defense) and pick you up at the airport." That's an idealistic plan, except for the fact that Brown did not inherit enough of the players he covets - those he describes as "having long legs, being 'split high' (meaning they have long legs but also are tall above the waist), have no neck and a high motor." He had some athletes, but not enough to distribute minutes the way he wanted to. Five players - each of whom is back this season - played more than 32 minutes per game and combined to average 57.9 of the Mustangs' 64.5 points per game last year; of the other players on the roster, none averaged more than 13.8 minutes per game, and only three players averaged more than 1.8 minutes per game, and all three are gone via graduation or transfer. So PonyFans are eager for the upcoming season because Brown now has his first recruits and three players who transferred to SMU last season (PG Nic Moore/Illinois State, PF Markus Kennedy/Villanova, SG Crandall Head/Illinois) and practiced all season and now get to show what they can do on the floor.

What's the biggest piece you've lost since last season?

Based on the minutes of playing time and points, etc., the Mustangs didn't lose much. Guard London Giles graduated after hobbling through his senior year on an injured leg, averaging 13.8 minutes (starting once) and contributing 2.8 points per game. He was a good defender and able three-point shooter (hitting at a .310 clip), but was limited all season long because of his health. Guard Brian Bernardi didn't fit Brown's mold for a long, athletic player who can fly up and down the floor, but in his role as a spot-up shooter, he emerged as the team's most accurate (.418) three-point shooter, hitting 23 of his 34 field goals last season from behind the arc before transferring after his freshman season.

Who is the player who needs to step up the most this year?

Nic Moore is taking over at point guard this season, giving Brown what he calls his first "true" point guard. Nick Russell and Ryan Manuel did an admirable job manning that role last year, but they're both better suited to playing shooting guard. Both are better players for having spent a year playing the point, but each should thrive without the burden of running the offense and defending the opposing team's quickest players.

Who is the player UVa fans ought to look out for the most?

Moore spent last year sitting out and learning Brown's system in practice, so he is anything but a green newcomer who needs to get his feet wet. He presumably will be the shortest player on the floor every game this season (he is listed at 5-9), and often will be the best player on the floor, too. He is very fast, can start and stop in an instant, can dribble through traffic as if he has the ball on a string and makes passes that don't appear to be possible ... and yes, he can score. He can shoot three-pointers and last year broke a rim in practice while dunking.

What's your outlook for the season? What's a success, what's a failure, and what's something you can live with?

The Mustangs should be vastly improved in 2013-14, because the veterans have spent a full year learning what Brown and his staff. The influx of new talent is a major upgrade and should allow Brown to distribute playing time far more evenly. In addition to Moore, Kennedy and Head, the Ponies also welcome a group of newcomers that includes center Yanick Moreira (considered by many to be the top junior college player in the country last year), guard Keith Frazier (a McDonald's All-America who appeared on many lists of the nation's top 20 high school players last season), guard Sterling Brown (the younger brother of NBA guard Shannon Brown and a finalist for the Mr. Basketball award in Illinois last year) and forward Ben Moore, another Illinois Mr. Basketball finalist. With vastly improved talent, depth and athleticism, expectations are going up in a hurry on the Hilltop. As is the case at most schools that undergo a facelift like this, some fans might expect too much, too soon, as the team still needs to learn and gel. But the potential for a monstrous jump from last season is there.

Making the NCAA Tournament is on everyone's wish list, but in a conference that includes hoops heavyweights like Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Memphis, and with a slate of non-conference games that includes the likes of Arkansas, UVa, Texas A&M, SMU's ability to pile up the necessary wins remains to be seen. But the improvement over last year should be visible in every game. The quintet of players who played 32 or more minutes - guards Russell and Manuel, guard/forward Shawn Williams, small forward Jalen Jones and forward/center Cannen Cunningham - wore down toward the end of last season and should be far more effective with a more realistic workload. Making the NCAA tournament is not required for this season to be a success, but it also is not outside the realm of possibility.

Brown teaches constantly - during practices, during games, during film sessions ... he never stops. Outsiders talk about his age (73), but the man is limitless energy and usually is the most active person on the floor at practice, as he constantly starts and stops drills, finding teaching points in everything he sees. From the day he got hired, Brown has said he doesn't like games and doesn't worry (much) about the score, choosing instead to focus on the teaching process and insisting that if he and his staff do their jobs as teachers, the victories will come. With that backdrop, a failure of a season would be if the Mustangs get blown out of games - not because of the difference in talent, but because they don't do what they're taught to do on each end of the floor. If they fail to defend effectively and make the extra pass, leading to unexpected or lopsided losses, that would mark more of a failure than any specific numbers in the standings.

A season that "can be lived with" would include Brown's requirement of learning and improvement. If Nic Moore can be effective on both ends of the floor while taking over the point position, if the inside trio of Cunningham, Kennedy and Moreira can beef up the Mustangs' inside presence, if athletic perimeter players like Jones, Russell, Manuel, Head, Brown, Ben Moore and Frazier can extend the Mustangs' defense and check athletic opposing players all over the floor ... not to parrot Brown too much here, but those criteria will represent marked improvement, and the outcome of games will take care of itself.

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