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.
On March 1, SMU sat at 23-6 and looked like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team. But the Mustangs lost three consecutive games, including the first-round upset to Houston in the American conference tournament and ultimately found themselves on the outside looking in thanks in-part to a weak non-conference schedule.
Things got more complicated this summer when star freshman point guard Emmanuel Mudiay never set foot on campus after previously committing to play for head coach Larry Brown, and instead he’s reportedly making seven figures to play professional basketball in China for the year before going to the 2015 NBA Draft.
But the Mustangs still return a strong core of players this season and feisty and talented junior point guard Nic Moore is at the heart of that core. The 5-foot-10 Moore is tough and efficient and shot 46 percent from the field, 43 percent from three-point range and 82 percent from the free-throw line while averaging 13.6 points, 4.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game last season.
Although many things have gone wrong for the SMU program in the last few months, there is plenty of talent in place to make things go right in 2014-15.
“[It] just made us realize that things are not given to you, you have to work for them,” Moore said of falling short last season.
The team’s most important player is joined by junior Markus Kennedy and a lot of talented wings, including sophomores Keith Frazier, Ben Moore and Sterling Brown and seniors Justin Martin and Jordan Tolbert. Big men behind Kennedy include seniors Yanick Moreira and Cannen Cunningham.
This is a deep and experienced team that still won 27 games last season and lost in the NIT Championship game to Minnesota.
“It was a good offseason. Just taking time and putting the work in and keeping the guys together,” Moore said. “We’re all on the same page, I’m just trying to be more of a leader this year.
“Just getting shots up and working on areas that you need to improve. The summertime we have to focus on ourselves.”
The focus now turns to the 2014-15 season and the NCAA Tournament for SMU. The Mustangs haven’t seen the NCAA Tournament since 1993 and the program has been revitalized by Brown, the influx of talent and the remodeled Moody Coliseum, which is now packed each and every game.
The fan base is excited, recruits are taking notice and the players are happy to be at SMU again.
“It’s pretty exciting because our arena is not that big, so it just excites the community and people are trying to get tickets to watch us play,” Moore said. “Just the support behind us and the community wanting us to do good; it’s great.”
Moore is the quiet member of last season’s All-AAC conference team. He was joined by three senior All-Americans in Russ Smith, Shabazz Napier and Sean Kilpatrick as well as Louisville highlight-reel forward Montrezl Harrell.
But the guard doesn’t receive nearly the same national attention as those players. He’s one of the better players in the country nobody is talking about. The junior’s main focus isn’t to generate headlines for himself, but to keep his team together as a team leader.
“[I have to] keep my composure and keep everybody together,” Moore said. “I was trying to improve it but there were times I didn’t control it [last season]. [Now] I just focus on what I have to do and how to keep the team together.”
If the Mustangs can navigate through a more challenging non-conference schedule that includes road games at Gonzaga and Michigan, they’ll feel prepared as of the favorites in the AAC. But after last season’s disappointing turn and being left out of the Big Dance, the Mustangs aren’t taking anything for granted.
This season will be all about taking things slowly.
“Just stay together, have fun and play the right way,” Moore said. “Not looking forward or back on anything and just taking it day-by-day. You’ve just got to continue to work hard and get better each day. You’ve got to keep fighting.”