November 13, 2014

DALLAS (AP) - SMU coach Larry Brown and his players were surrounded last March by fans waiting to hear the Mustangs called for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

They don't want to be disappointed again when they gather at the end of this season.

"The big watch party here and having us on national television, and still not making the NCAA tournament, that hurt us a lot," senior Ryan Manuel said.

"Oh yeah, it is motivation."

The No. 22 Mustangs begin trying to reverse that outcome Friday night at home with what should be an easy matchup against Lamar.

Despite 23 wins, including two over eventual national champion Connecticut and two more against Top 25 teams, SMU's NCAA tournament drought reached 21 seasons.

The Mustangs instead got the No. 1 seed in the NIT and won four more games, bringing Brown, a Brooklyn native and former New York Knicks coach, back to Madison Square Garden before a loss to Minnesota in the championship game.

SMU, which was 12-6 in the American Athletic Conference, enters the 74-year-old Brown's third season on the Hilltop and was picked by AAC coaches to finish second in the league behind UConn.

"Well, if we had Emmanuel, I could see all of that," Brown said, referring to 6-foot-5 point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. "But when you lose a player like that in July and don't have a chance to get somebody to replace him, it's tough."

Mudiay committed to SMU before deciding last summer to play professionally overseas instead of attending college. The Dallas-area prep standout is currently playing in China and had a triple-double in only his third professional game.

"I like our team, (but) we're not playing real good right now," Brown said. "We're not one of the top 20 teams in the country today, but it's a long year."

Eligibility issues will likely force bruising 6-foot-9 junior forward Markus Kennedy (12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds per game), one of their three returning starters and the top rebounder, to miss the start of this season. Reports surfaced Thursday saying he will remain out for the entire first semester.

In addition, senior Justin Martin, a transfer forward from Xavier (11.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg), was hurt through most of the preseason.

The other returning starters are junior guard Nic Moore (13.6 ppg), a unanimous preseason All-AAC pick like Kennedy, and sophomore guard Sterling Brown.

Along with the starters, the Mustangs have seven other returning players. There are also two other Division I transfers eligible this season: 6-foot-7 senior forward Jordan Tolbert (Texas Tech) and 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Ben Emelogu (Virginia Tech).

Seniors Ryan Manuel and Cannen Cunningham have both played 100 games at SMU. They are the only players who were on the roster prior to Brown's arrival.

The Mustangs will quickly get challenged on the road with a visit to No. 13 Gonzaga on Monday night, and they return from the West Coast for only one night at home before going to Indiana on Nov. 20. They also play at Michigan on Dec. 20.

A sellout crowd is expected for the opener against Lamar, which was 4-26 last season and 3-15 in the Southland Conference.

The Mustangs were 18-1 at home, including 12-1 after the renovated Moody Coliseum opened midseason. The average home crowd of 5,653 was up from 2,210 in 2012-13, the second-largest increase nationally.

"I'm just thrilled I'm here. I love my job, I love being at SMU, love my staff," Brown said. "We're all excited about building something special here long, long term."

The Cardinals, who opened 1-17 last season, have not won back-to-back games since a six-game streak from Feb. 25-March 10, 2012. Led by first-year coach Tic Price, they are 0-3 against SMU and 5-37 against Top 25 teams.

Seniors Donovan Ross, who averaged 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds, and Anthony Holliday will likely fill the leadership roles this season.

Lamar has dropped 12 straight to ranked opponents dating to January 2000.

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