SMU Basketball Progresses With NIT Bid

SMU basketball | Image by SMU/Twitter

External expectations were low for the SMU men’s basketball team entering the 2023-2024 season coming off a 10-22 campaign, but the Mustangs made progress in year two under head coach Rob Lanier.

Despite a six-game losing streak to end the season, the team doubled its win total and earned a bid to the postseason, facing Indiana State in the NIT on Wednesday night.

“We’re going to have a really formidable test,” Lanier told the media during a press conference Tuesday morning. “I think for us, the opportunity to finish on a different note resonates with our guys. So it’s a great setup for us.”

SMU has added 13 players via the transfer portal over the last two seasons and brought back star guard Zhuric Phelps, who bypassed the NBA in the offseason. Chuck Harris became an ideal backcourt mate for Phelps, finishing second on the team in scoring and adding another go-to threat.

Harris is just one of many impactful transfers for the Mustangs, and the success Lanier and his staff have had developing SMU into a winning team should lead to more active recruiting, which they will be able to navigate simultaneously during their postseason preparation due to technological advances.

“I think if the portal was in effect in 96 when we weren’t using smartphones and iPads and laptops, this idea of not playing or not being able to focus on both might have some real legs to it,” Lanier explained, referencing a theory that other teams declined NIT bids to focus on recruiting. “But I don’t necessarily buy that…  I just think technology allows you to practice for two hours and spend the rest of the day focused on recruiting, and you can play a game, and once the game is over, you can get back on the phone and do what you need to do.”

While the progress was significant, especially with an upcoming move to the ACC, Lanier’s overall goal for the program is to return to the NCAA Tournament, which he admits he thought they would achieve this season.

“One of the coaching decisions that I made throughout the year was that we were going to shoot for an at-large bit [in the NCAA Tournament],” he told the media. “We scheduled accordingly, and we played in such a way that we kind of got up to that line and didn’t break through. I think the awareness and disappointment that we didn’t get those quad-one wins affected us in a way that we didn’t rebound from, so this is a fresh start mentally for these guys.”

“… We put a schedule together that we thought might put us in a position to do something that wasn’t expected, and we flirted with it,” Lanier continued. “Our guys were calculating that each step along the way, and not hitting that mark affected us in a way that I didn’t anticipate, and I think this renewed opportunity is good for these guys.”

The Mustangs are not yet where they want to be, but after last season, the 2023-2024 team took a step in the right direction, which may substantially impact its ongoing rebuild.

“Last year, we really didn’t have a lot to piggyback off of,” Phelps told The Dallas Express. “We only won 10 games, so it was kind of hard to persuade somebody to come to SMU. But now, we’ve doubled our wins. We had 20 wins, so we have more to offer going into the ACC and things like that.”

SMU (20-12) will face Indiana State (28-6), which had a solid case to make the NCAA Tournament despite losing in the championship game of its conference tournament, at 6 p.m. CT on Wednesday.

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