In the end, it was their non-conference schedule that left the Southern Methodist Mustangs out of the NCAA Tournament and turned them into the first ranked team since 2004 to miss the field.
Utah State was 25-3 on Selection Sunday 2004 and ranked 22nd in the country, but the selection committee didn't grant the Aggies an invite – an empty feeling now shrouding SMU.
The Mustangs were ranked 25th in the AP Poll, 23rdin the Coaches, which is why nearly all prognosticators had them in. Maybe they should've sweated a bit, but they were in, so said the Jerry Palm's and Joe Lunardi's of the world.
Larry Brown's squad had some quality wins – Cincinnati, Connecticut (twice), Memphis – but its strength of schedule ranked 114th in the country. N.C. State, probably the last team in the field, had a SOS of 33. Xavier's schedule ranked 26th, while Tennessee, another First Four team, boasts the 23rd-ranked schedule. (Check out our First Four preview, here).
Had SMU not lost to Houston in the first round of the AAC tournament, we're likely not having this discussion. But couple that loss with prior defeats to Louisville and Memphis heading into the conference tournament, and the selection committee just didn't see a tournament team.
This picture says it all. SMU will have to wait another year for a shot at the NCAA tournament. Crowd is stunned pic.twitter.com/DPeQq5h83C— David Watkins (@dwatkinsNBC5) March 16, 2014
Larry Brown sounded dejected in front of a crowd of SMU fans at Moody Coliseum in Dallas after the news hit.
“We appreciate you all coming out here and supporting our team. I feel like I let you down,” he said via the Dallas Morning News. The crowd interrupted, shouting “no”.
“I learned a long time ago when things don't exactly go your way, you can either pack it in, or use it as a learning experience to get better. We can use this as motivation.”
Brown said he began to worry during the selection show once he saw that Louisville had been dropped to a No. 4 seed.
He "figured that [the selection committee] didn't have a lot of respect for our conference."
Perhaps they can use this as motivation as a No. 1 seed in the NIT. It will be the school's first appearance there since 2000.