Top 25 Countdown: No. 16 SMU Mustangs

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 16 SMU.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

source: AP
AP

Head Coach: Larry Brown

Last Season: 27-10, 12-6 American (t-3rd)

Key Losses: Emmanuel Mudiay, Nick Russell, Shawn Williams

Newcomers: Justin Martin (transfer)

Projected Lineup

G: Nic Moore, Sr.
G: Sterling Brown, So.
F: Justin Martin, Sr.
F: Markus Kennedy, Jr.
C: Yannick Moreira, Sr.
Bench: Keith Frazier, So.; Ben Moore, So.; Cannen Cunningham, Sr.; Ryan Manuel, Sr.

They’ll be good because … : The Mustangs return just about everyone of significance from a team that won 27 games a season ago, advancing to the NIT title game after an ill-timed three-game losing streak and a horrid non-conference schedule cost them an at-large bid. In other words, SMU was better than their resume indicated a season ago, and despite the fact that their star recruit, Emmanuel Mudiay, is playing in China this season, Larry Brown’s club should be better this season than they were a season ago.

It starts with Yannick Moreira, a 6-foot-11 center that was the top JuCo recruit in the country before a series of nagging injuries hampered his junior season. After a summer where he looked terrific playing for Angola at the FIBA World Cup, Moreira should partner with Markus Kennedy to form one of the most underrated front lines in the country. Leading scorer and star point guard Nic Moore is back, as his Sterling Brown. Those two will be joined on the perimeter by Justin Martin, the Xavier graduate transfer that will provide the Mustangs with versatility, defense and shooting at the three.

The x-factor for this team is going to be Keith Frazier, who may just be the most talented player on the roster. A former McDonald’s All-American, Frazier never really found his rhythm as a freshman.

source:
AP Photo

But they might disappoint because … : There are still a lot of question marks on SMU’s roster. Frazier is a local star that opted to play close to home in college, not quite a program-changing talent but the kind of kid that could help change the opinion of Dallas-area players about SMU. He got beaten out for a starting spot by a much less-heralded freshman in Brown. Kennedy has the talent to be a first round NBA Draft pick, but he also has a tendency to be float in and out of games. Sometimes he’s dominant, sometimes he’s hardly noticeable on the floor. Moreira’s often injured and his best game at the World Cup came when Australia was intentionally trying to lose.

SMU is also one of those teams that is dominant at home and struggles on the road. They went 18-1 at Moody Coliseum in 2013-2014. They went 9-9 on the road or in neutral court games. That’s concerning.

Outlook: It’s hard to criticize Emmanuel Mudiay for his decision to sign a contract with seven figures with a team in China, even if his decision was forced by a looming NCAA investigation or by academic issues churned up by his high school, Prime Prep. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be disappointed that we won’t get a chance to see him play in college.

For starters, Mudiay would have likely been a first-team Preseason All-American. He’s talented enough that he could have been the National Player of the Year if things had gone his way. But what’s more is that adding that kind of a talent to the roster that SMU currently has could have legitimately made them a Final Four contender.

The Mustangs can really, really defend. They have a big and talented front line that will, on paper, at the very least match up with any front line they will face. There are quality pieces in SMU’s perimeter, big guards that can knock down threes and play plus-level defense. Nic Moore is a first-team all-AAC caliber lead guard, and the same can be said for Markus Kennedy inside. This is a team that can win the American and make a run in the tournament, yet regardless of how their season pans out, it’s going to feel underwhelming.

There’s always going to be that question hanging over their heads. What if Mudiay had shown up?