It’s been tough sledding in Conference USA competition for SMU’s Matt Doherty.
Doherty, the North Carolina Tar Heels legend who earned a Championship ring alongside Michael Jordan (and others) while at Chapel Hill, was often touted as the cerebral type of player who would make a great coach some day.
After assistant coaching gigs at Davidson and Kansas, he piloted Notre Dame to the finals of the NIT after the 1999-2000 season. The 22-15 campaign, along with the forced retirement of Bill Guthridge, catapulted Doherty to the captain’s chair of one of the iconic institutions in NCAA basketball history, his alma mater, UNC.
His tenure there was disappointing (including an embarrassing 8-20 second season), and, citing an “irreparable rift” with his players (which some feel was exaggerated by UNC administration) he was given the option to resign or be fired. Doherty chose the former.
Exiled from college coaching for two seasons, he parlayed a 15-13 mark at Florida Atlantic into the starting gig at Southern Methodist University. One must wonder how long his regime will last if he continues to produce diminishing results.
SMU has gone 14-17 (11th place in C-USA), 10-20 (11th), and 9-21 (12th) the past three years, winning 10 conference games over that stretch against 38 losses.
Could this be the year he turns it around? From a talent perspective, the answer could be a resounding “yes.”
The Mustangs lost just one senior starter—Bamba Fall (center, 7’1” and 225)—and return two seniors, five juniors, and four sophomores. In addition, the roster is filled out with two freshmen and two junior college transfers (one junior, one sophomore).
This will make for greater competition all over the floor, as well as providing a talent upgrade at several spots in the rotation.
Fall will be missed on the defensive end and the boards, though his offensive ability (8.9 ppg as a senior, 8.8 for his career) was subpar. The Senegal native did not have the strength necessary to impose his will offensively. He did, however, block a career-high 67 shots (2.2 bpg) and grab a career-best 7.3 rpg last season.
His 248 career blocks ranks second all-time at SMU behind only Jon Koncak’s 278.
Each of the three power forwards who played alongside Fall—Papa Dia (6’9”, 235, likely a starter this year as a junior), Robert Nyakundi (6’8”, 220) and the slightly undersized Frank Otis (6’6”, 230)—return. Nyakundi, at 6.2 ppg last season, is the closest thing to a scorer in the bunch, while Dia is an adequate rebounder (4.2 rpg) and decent defender.
Nyakundi is actually an accomplished shooter, leading the team in threes made (40), attempted (102), and three point percentage (.392). He’s a tough match-up with his size.
The likely new center is JUCO transfer Myles Luttman, originally born in Birmingham, England. Last season, he helped lead San Diego City College to the best record (28-5) in school history.
His play got stronger as the season wore on and he got more experience in America’s signature game. He completed the campaign with modest averages of 5.3 ppg and 4.4 rpg, blocked 21 shots, shot almost 60 percent from the field, and copped Player of the Week honors for the week of February 22-28.
Small forward Mouhammad Faye (pictured) returns to reprise his role beside the bangers. He’s long (at 6’9”, 215), has moderate offensive skills (9.6 ppg), and is a decent enough rebounder for his position (5.2 rpg), though a few additional boards would be nice, given his size.
The frontcourt had height but lacked scoring punch; the backcourt was dynamic and had scoring punch but was smallish.
Unfortunately for Doherty, not much has changed: the big men look to be defenders and rebounders but might not have a go-to scorer among them; the guard positions, though receiving an infusion of talent, still lack superior height and length.
The returnees at the starting guard positions—Paul McCoy and Derek Williams—are undersized but talented.
McCoy was voted preseason all-conference for the 2009-’10 season. Last season as a sophomore, the 5’11” gunner led the team in minutes played (34.5 per game), points (13.4 ppg), and steals, while finishing second on the team in treys made (34). Despite his diminutive size, he actually snared four rebounds per contest.
Williams, a former JUCO transfer in his second and last year in the program, had a strong debut campaign for the Ponies last season. He led the team in assists (3.5 per game) and free throws made (79-of-109, .725).
He stands just 6’1”, though. SMU struggles with teams that have larger guards, which nowadays is just about everyone.
Incoming recruits Rodney Clinkscales (6’1”, 190) and Austin Horn (6’3”, 170) have a bit more size and length than the incumbent starters, but not by much. Of course, they also have zero experience at the D-1 level.
Last year, the Mustangs lacked scoring punch (64.6 ppg) and were adequate defensively (68.2 ppg). This reflects the fact that their wing players lack the size and strength to create effectively for themselves and others on the bounce. This led to a low assist total: 334, or just 11.1 per contest.
If Coach Doherty can find a way to exploit his team’s quickness and some of the matchup problems they present in the frontcourt, SMU could surprise. They have some very talented individuals (Faye, Nyakundi, McCoy, Williams) who could be nightmares for opponents.