SMU picks up much-needed quality road win at No. 21 UConn

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Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs have been much-improved this season, entering Sunday’s game at No. 21 UConn with 21 wins and a 10-4 record in American Athletic Conference play. Among those results are home victories over the Huskies, No. 11 Cincinnati and No. 22 Memphis, but something was missing from their resume: a quality win away from Moody Coliseum.

That changed on Sunday afternoon, as the Mustangs were able to keep Shabazz Napier under control for much of the afternoon on their way to a 64-55 win at Gampel Pavilion. The win is SMU’s first on the road against a ranked team since December 21, 2003, when they beat then-No. 17 Purdue 60-59 in West Lafayette. And the achievement couldn’t come at a better team for SMU, which is looking to earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 1993.

The story of the day was defense, with the Mustangs entering the game leading the American in field goal percentage defense and ranked third in both three-point percentage defense and adjusted defensive efficiency. Conference opponents managed to shoot just 38.6% from the field against SMU, with their length on the wings being one reason as to why. Against UConn that length was used to defend Napier, with guard Nick Russell getting the assignment for much of the afternoon as opposed to the smaller Nic Moore.

Napier finished the game with 15 points, scoring 12 in the second half, but he shot just 5-for-16 from the field and committed five turnovers while dishing out just two assists. Napier’s the first option any team hoping to neutralize UConn has to take away, and the Mustangs were able to do so. The defensive effort wasn’t limited to stopping Napier either, as SMU slowed down Ryan Boatright (3-for-12 FG) and held UConn to 29% shooting from the field and 6-for-21 from beyond the arc.

SMU shot 46% from the field and 6-for-12 from beyond the arc, but the Mustangs did have some issues with turnovers as they committed 15 on the afternoon. Moore (five assists), Russell (four assists) and Markus Kennedy (13 points, seven rebounds) all scored in double figures for SMU, and Sterling Brown (3.4 rpg) more than doubled his rebounding average by grabbing eight boards.

SMU still has two more opportunities to pick up quality wins before the conference tournament, as they’ll host No. 7 Louisville and visit No. 22 Memphis to end the regular season. But with their best road win to date coming at Wyoming the Mustangs really needed to pick up a quality result away from home. On Sunday Larry Brown’s team took care of business, moving closer to their goal of reaching the NCAA tournament as a result.

Sun Belt approves new scheduling format

Sun Belt Conference
Sun Belt Conference
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With an 11-member setup the Sun Belt Conference has played a 20-game conference schedule the last couple of years, which may be seen as a positive when it comes to determining the regular season champion (home-and-home between every team). But for a conference that spans from North Carolina (Appalachian State) to Texas (UT-Arlington, Texas State) travel was far from easy in that setup.

And with Coastal Carolina joining next season, it was clear that the league needed to do something with its scheduling.

Thursday the Sun Belt members approved an 18-game conference schedule, which will begin with the 2016-17 season when the league consists of 12 members. Included in the agreement is the assignment of travel partners (similar to setups in the Pac-12 and Ivy League), and teams playing no more than three consecutive conference games on the road.

Schools will also be guaranteed at least five weekend home games during conference play, and there will be no more weekends in which teams play conference games both home and away (thus cutting down on travel). Obviously with the addition of Coastal Carolina the Sun Belt needed to make some changes in their scheduling, and this week the conference made the moves they needed to make.

Former Wichita State assistant returns as a consultant

Chris Jans, Gregg Marshall
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Prior to a one-year stint as the head coach coach at Bowling Green that came to an end in early April as a result of an incident at a Bowling Green restaurant, Chris Jans was a member of Gregg Marshall’s coaching staff at Wichita State from 2007-14. During those seven seasons Jans was a key figure as the Shockers made the progression to a respected national power.

Jans is back in Wichita, with Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle reporting Thursday that he’s serving as a consultant to the program. Jans’ consulting agreement runs for 45 days, which the school can renew, and he’ll be paid $10,000 for the work. While Jans isn’t allowed to do any coaching, he can watch practices and provide Marshall and the coaching staff with his observations.

“He will be able to consult with the coaching staff, only on what he observes in practice,” said Darron Boatright, WSU deputy athletics director. “By NCAA rule, a consultant is not allowed to have communication with student-athletes … not about basketball-related activities or performance.”

While Jans (who according to the story has served in a similar role for another school) can’t do any coaching in this role, his return does give Marshall another trusted voice to call upon when needed. Wichita State bid farewell to an assistant coach this spring with Steve Forbes being hired as the head coach at East Tennessee State, with his position being filled by former Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted.