NCAA snub? SMU sealed its own fate

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas -- Just before the final bracket of the NCAA basketball tournament was announced Sunday afternoon, SMU's band started playing its fight song.

Few of the 400 or so folks who came to experience the jubilation of seeing the Southern Methodist Mustangs make the tournament for the first time since 1993 clapped. Neither did the players, sitting in a single row of chairs about 20 feet from 14 minicams and a handful of still photographs on hand to record their emotions.

Deep in their hearts, the players knew they needed a miracle to make the tournament, even though they finished the season ranked 25th in the nation.

As the final pairing was about to be announced, the players locked arms and stared at the video board hang in above center court at Moody Coliseum.

North Carolina, the school coach Larry Brown attended, would be playing Providence.

As the announcement was made, the players leaned back in unison, their shoulders sagging. You could see the disappointment in their faces. A few put their heads in their hands. Others rubbed the stubble on their chins, trying to come to grips with the reality of their situation.

About the only thing worse would be getting stood up for the prom.

"I usually talk too much, but I don't know what to say," said Brown, who addressed the crowd moments after the final pairing was announced.

"The only thing I look forward to is using this as a way of being better and set an example for teams that get kicked in the face and accomplish something special."

SMU had the highest RPI (54) of any team that didn't make the tournament. Now, Brown and SMU must wait another year to get this program flipped completely.

About 90 minutes after getting snubbed by the NCAA tournament, the 23-9 Mustangs received a No.1 seed in the National Invitation Tournament. They will play the UC Irvine Anteaters (23-11) on Wednesday at Moody Coliseum.

Brown's biggest task will be getting his team ready to play after Sunday's abject disappointment.

Fans will be angry at the selection committee. They'll rip other schools that made the 68-team field.

None of that, however, had to do with SMU not getting into the tournament.

The truth? SMU can blame only itself.

There's no shame in losing to Memphis and Louisville in their last two regular-season games. But losing to Houston in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament is the main reason SMU missed the tournament.

And don't overlook regular-season losses to raggedy teams such as South Florida and Temple during the season.

Know that there were a lot of strong programs on the NCAA tourney bubble this year, not just well-intentioned schools from anonymous conferences. Iowa, Tennessee, Xavier and North Carolina State are among the teams involved in play-in games; teams from so-called power conferences usually don't play in those games.

Another reason SMU isn't in the tournament is because it played a shoddy non-conference schedule that included home games against TCU, Texas State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, McNeese State and Texas-Pan American.

"SMU had an outstanding resume, but their non-conference strength of schedule was in the 300s, which was not very good obviously," NCAA chairman Ron Wellman said during an interview on CBS' selection show.

"Their overall strength of schedule is 129. The next lowest overall strength of schedule in the field is 91. So there's quite a bit of difference between their strength of schedule and the other teams in the field."

Whether we blame Brown or the schools that refuse to schedule the Ponies is irrelevant.

He must either take SMU on road against high-profile teams or get it in some of those glamorous preseason tournaments where the coaches where Hawaiian shirts on the sideline.

Brown, the only man to win NCAA and NBA championships, is a coaching legend. If he must lean on those who revere him and shame them into playing SMU, then so be it.

While SMU certainly contributed to its own plight, it's also clear the selection committee had no regard for the American Athletic Conference.

Louisville, the defending national champs and one of college basketball's hottest teams, received a No. 4 seed. This was a couple of hours after coach Rick Pitino used a recent road win over SMU as one of the reasons he thought the Cardinals should earn a No. 1 seed.

Cincinnati is a 5-seed, Connecticut a 7 and Memphis an 8.

"When I saw Xavier and NC State get it, but I didn't see and American Athletic Conference teams in the first two regions and I saw Louisville get a 4, I figured we would be in trouble," Brown said.

"They didn't have a lot of regard for our conference."

If the Mustangs feel slighted and disrespected, they have an opportunity to do something about it.

Instead of having a pity party and accepting the multitude of excuses that alums and students will give them, they can play the NIT with a focus and discipline they've lacked of late.

"I'm going to do everything I can to get these kids to realize it's on us, nobody else," Brown said. "Let's figure out how we can do better."

That's easy.

It starts with a win over Irvine and ends with SMU advancing to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden in the city where Brown developed a deep love of basketball as a kid.