With an 89-80 loss to Temple in Philadelphia over the weekend, previously-undefeated SMU lost their spot as the only undefeated team remaining in college basketball, and in the American conference.
The Mustangs are still an impressive 7-1 in conference play and in a class of their own. But does this loss to the Owls open things up for a team like UConn to get back in the race for a regular season championship? Campus correspondents Matt Barresi and Stephanie Sheehan debate.
Matt Barresi: I certainly think UConn still has a chance at the regular-season conference championship. They can control their own destiny with two games coming up against SMU; a sweep is a daunting challenge and somewhat improbable, but it isn’t out of the question. UConn has the talent to run with the Mustangs, a team which just lost standout guard Keith Frazier, who transferred. Frazier, a former McDonalds All American, was averaging 11.9 points per game while starting at the two spot.
With an undefeated season no longer in front of them and a swiftly approaching postseason, I have to think that put a serious dent in their morale. The Cincinnati games as well as the Memphis and Tulsa rematches loom large for the Huskies but if they take care of business as they are capable of, I think they will be right there with SMU at the end.
Stephanie Sheehan: UConn has been much too streaky of a team to have a legitimate shot at winning the conference. Although SMU’s record is perhaps an unfair reflection of their true skill (they had one of the easiest first half schedules, and even still almost lost to teams like Yale and Colorado), they have dominated conference play up until the loss to Temple – and even then, they almost mounted a late comeback.
UConn has struggled to be formidable in conference play, historically struggling against the likes of Cincinnati and SMU, whom the Huskies still have two games against each to play. While it’s not impossible to win out the rest of conference play, it’s highly unlikely given the streaky nature of the team thus far.
There’s too much of a risk factor in placing all hopes that UConn will come out 4-0 against Cincy and SMU in the coming months. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie has not won a conference championship in his tenure as head coach, and given all of the controversial events that have happened surrounding him (the Maryland game paper throwing incident, strange lineup decisions, often choosing not to foul late in the game), it is unlikely that he will be able to bring his squad together for a crazy run, especially given their tendency to play down to their lesser opponents.
MB: SMU still has a long way to pull this thing out. They have two games left with Memphis, and also will have to go to Cincinnati which is part of a tough closing week that includes UConn. UConn is only 10 spots behind SMU on kenpom.com, and Cincinnati is 33rd. At least statistically, they have not been as superior as the polls may lead you to believe.
The Mustangs also had a rough finish last year, losing five of their last eight and two of their last three, just enough to hold off Tulsa for a potential co-championship. I think a similar collapse for a team with nothing to play for could certainly be in the cards again. UConn’s schedule ahead isn’t any easier than SMU’s, so any chance for a title is going to have to come off their own efforts against the Mustangs. A season sweep by the Huskies will be huge in any league championship efforts.
Either way, whether you believe in the Huskies or not, SMU’s loss has opened the box for things to get interesting as the stretch run in the American comes up. With challenging games still on tap for both teams, the possibility is there for a chaotic finish to the regular season and a legitimate possibility that someone other than SMU will end up on top, potentially with the Mustangs or Huskies on their side.