Don't count SMU out after loss

Cincinnati completed the season sweep of SMU with a 62-54 victory in Moody Coliseum on Thursday, snapping the Mustangs' eight-game win streak in the process.

It's one more reason to doubt them in a season where they've become used to being counted out.

Fact is, SMU still controls its own destiny in the American Athletic Conference. It still has two games remaining against Tulsa, including Saturday's clash. The Golden Hurricane remained undefeated in league play with its 57-44 win at Houston.

The American's brief history is wacky anyway. Just consider that last season the Mustangs swept Connecticut, the Huskies swept Memphis, the Tigers swept Louisville, and the Cardinals swept SMU. Who knows which team will emerge when it all plays out.

Despite the loss, the Mustangs are still alone in second place and Joe Lunardi projected SMU as a No. 7 seed in his latest Bracketology post before the loss to Cincinnati.

The timeline of SMU's season doesn't seem like one of a team that still has a shot at winning the American, or one of an NCAA tournament-worthy team:

  • In July, point guard Emmanual Mudiay, who was ranked No. 5 overall in the Class of 2014 by Recruiting Nation, opted to turn pro and play overseas rather than potentially battle eligibility concerns and enroll in school.

  • Junior forward Markus Kennedy, the team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer from last season, was forced to miss the first 10 games of the season due to academic reasons.

  • Wing Joshua Martin, a graduate transfer from Xavier who was expected to be a top reserve, played just 10 games before inexplicably deciding to turn pro last month.

  • Third-year assistant coach Ulric Maligi, considered one of the staff's best recruiters, took an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons.

  • Sophomore guard Keith Frazier, a former McDonald's All American who averaged 10.5 points, was ruled ineligible and lost his appeal to be reinstated.

  • The NCAA also issued a Notice of Allegations last month that included allegations of academic improprieties.

The Mustangs have had a season full of distractions. Their current roster looks considerably different from the one ranked No. 22 in the preseason AP poll. And we just saw what the weight of a NCAA investigation did to Syracuse.

Yet somehow SMU has plugged through a slow start on the court, player attrition and potential uncertainty.

The Mustangs didn't receive an at-large NCAA bid last season in part due to a soft nonconference schedule. They rectified that by playing the likes of Gonzaga, Indiana and Arkansas in November.

Problem is, they lost each of those three marquee matchups, all of which came in the first five games of the season.

Even after SMU went into Ann Arbor and beat Michigan -- the pre-injury version -- the victory was attributed to Michigan's struggles more than anything the Mustangs did.

But coach Larry Brown has somehow managed to keep the team focused. The two losses to the Bearcats are the only defeats in the Mustangs' past 18 games, which include a 5-1 record on the road.

It helps that Nic Moore has continued to blossom under Brown. The Mustangs' leading scorer tops the American with 5.4 assists per game.

But arguably the biggest change has been the development of center Yanick Moreira. He averaged just 6.0 points and 3.9 rebounds last season but gained a lot of confidence after an offseason spent with the Angolan national team during the FIBA World Cup.

Moreira now leads the team in rebounding with 6.6 per game, and he's second in scoring with an 11.9 PPG average. He's gotten better defensively, too, becoming more of a deterrent inside with 29 blocks after totaling just 13 last season.

Moreira, like the Mustangs, is proof they can't easily be discounted.