Despite the dark cloud of a postseason ban looming over the program and coach Larry Brown suspended until mid-December, SMU is off to a solid start.
Ranked for the first time this season, the No. 25 Mustangs look to improve to 4-0 Sunday against visiting Brown.
On Sept. 29, the NCAA announced it banned SMU from all 2015-16 postseason play and suspended Brown nine games after concluding he lied to investigators, ignored academic fraud and fell far short of expectations in leading his staff when it came to compliance. It's the third time in as many college coaching jobs that the 75-year-old Brown has faced NCAA sanctions.
"I know (the team is) going to do the very best they can, and I'm really comfortable in that regard,'' said Brown, who can return after SMU's Dec. 17 game against Hampton.
"But it's never easy watching people you care about.''
The Mustangs made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993 while going 27-7 last season, but will play their last game of this one at Cincinnati on March 6.
Brown's assistant Tom Jankovich, a former head coach at North Texas and Illinois State, is guiding the team in his absence. Expected to be Brown's successor at SMU, Jankovich has been pleased from the start with how these players have handled the situation while leaving it all on the court.
"I think that's the way you need to play the game, with heart," Jankovich said. "I have a lot of faith in these players. They're good people, but at the same time we're playing under unusual circumstances."
Senior guard Nic Moore (12.0 points per game) leads five players averaging at least 11 points for the Mustangs, who have shot 56 percent and held their first three opponents to 38.5.
"We still go off of coach Brown's principals," forward Jordan Tolbert said. "Everybody knows what we're suppose to do. It's like coach Brown is here in spirit."
The preseason pick to repeat as American Athletic Conference player of the year, Moore also knows he must step up his leadership to help the Mustangs collectively get through this unique season.
''Just basically keep the team together,'' he said. ''When thoughts get bad, wash them thoughts away and just come back as a team.''
Facing their second straight Ivy League opponent, the Mustangs hope for a more complete effort than last Sunday's 71-69 win over Yale. SMU trailed by eight at the break after the Bulldogs went 6 of 10 from 3-point range. However, it held Yale to 35.7 percent shooting from the field in the final 20 minutes and scored 23 points off 16 turnovers overall to hold on.
"I know we can be better and I expect us to improve as the season progresses," Brown coach Mike Martin said after Tuesday's 88-77 loss to New Hampshire.
Senior Cedric Kuakumensah averages team highs of 11.2 points and 10.4 rebounds.
Taking on its first ranked opponent since losing at then-No. 22 Notre Dame in December 2012, Brown fell 60-56 in overtime at SMU in the only previous meeting Jan. 6, 2007.
The Mustangs have won 20 straight nonconference home games against unranked teams.