College Sports

March 16, 2014

SMU left out of party, headed to NIT

Late-season skid and weak schedule hurt the Mustangs, who haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993.

After dropping their final three games, including a devastating loss to Houston in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament, the SMU Mustangs will have to wait at least another year for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993.

The Mustangs and a crowd of about 1,500 at Moody Coliseum watched in disbelief as the brackets were announced Sunday and SMU wasn’t among the 68 teams.

Instead, the Mustangs (23-9) will host UC Irvine (23-11) at 8 p.m. Wednesday in a National Invitational Tournament first-round game at Moody Coliseum.

It is SMU’s first NIT berth since 2000.

While still in the postseason, the missed opportunity clearly frustrated an emotional SMU coach Larry Brown.

“I feel like we let you all down,” he told the crowd. “I love this team and I love these kids, but more importantly, I love SMU. In situations like this, you can pack it in, or you can try to get better.”

Brown led Kansas to the 1988 national championship after the Jayhawks finished 21-11 in the regular season.

SMU didn’t crack the Top 25 until a win over Cincinnati in early February earned the Mustangs the No. 23 spot.

The Mustangs beat Connecticut, which earned a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, twice during the conference slate and had wins over two other Top 25 teams, Cincinnati and Memphis.

“I thought things were looking up for us early on there,” Brown said. “But when I saw Louisville got the No. 4 seed, I knew the committee didn’t have a lot of respect for our conference.”

Louisville is the defending national champion.

SMU came into Sunday ranked No. 55 in the Ratings Performance Index and was 4-5 against top 50 RPI teams.

Four of those losses came to teams inside the top 25.

“You know I looked back on our schedule and we didn’t get blown out by anybody and had a really good chance at beating Virginia. And they got a No. 1 seed,” Brown said.

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