No. 18 SMU entered Wednesday’s game against No. 11 Louisville with an outside shot of winning the American Athletic Conference regular season title, which would have been a monumental achievement for Larry Brown’s program. But the Mustangs dropped an 84-71 decision to the Cardinals, and while Russ Smith’s 26-point night will get most of the attention (and rightfully so) turnovers proved to be just as much of an issue for SMU.
SMU, which entered the game ranked fifth in the American in turnover margin and seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio, committed 23 turnovers and finished a minus-9 in turnover margin. On multiple occasions those mistakes turned into Louisville points on the other end, as the Cardinals converted those turnovers into 25 points (SMU scored nine points off of Louisville’s 14 turnovers).
Louisville may have outscored SMU by 27 points from beyond the arc (39-12), but the extra possessions that came as a result of SMU being too loose with the basketball is what truly did the Mustangs in. Nic Moore struggled, spending an extended amount of time on the bench in the second half due to foul trouble and finished with five points (2-for-3 FG) and four turnovers. And the same can be said for Nick Russell even with the senior scoring a team-high 18 points, as he also committed eight turnovers.
Against a team the caliber of Louisville, especially considering their ability to pressure full-court, how well the guards take care of the basketball is the difference between winning and losing on most nights. Limit the turnovers and limit the Cardinals’ opportunities to get out in the open floor, thus creating offense by way of the live-ball turnover. SMU didn’t do that, resulting in a loss in their home finale.
The question moving forward is whether or not the turnovers are a major concern for SMU as they move closer to the NCAA tournament. Per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers SMU ranks eighth in the American in turnover percentage, turning the ball over on 20.1% of their possessions in conference play. That’s something that will need to be addressed, beginning with their game at Memphis on Saturday afternoon.
Defensively SMU’s been very good all season long, and that attribute is one reason why they’ve won games in spite of the turnover percentage. But while this isn’t a reason to panic, the Mustangs will need to tighten things up in that regard if they want their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1993 to consist of more than just one game.