SMU hoops could feel Big Ten ripples

January, 31, 2010
On Saturday, I wrote a column about the state of SMU basketball after it dumped Memphis, 70-60, a win that coach Matt Doherty termed the program's signature victory in his three-plus seasons.

SMU hoops has been mostly irrelevant for years and largely invisible today. That's not a good place to be considering the conference realignment opportunities currently perculating. When the dominoes fall, SMU, just like TCU, wants to be positioned to make a move into the big-money BCS conferences.

TCU, with Gary Patterson's football program leading the charge, is in much better shape at the moment than SMU if, say, Missouri bolts the Big 12 for the Big Ten. June Jones has begun a promising resurrection on the SMU football field. In Fort Worth, TCU is attempting to get its largely irrelevant basketball program going in the right direction under second-year coach Jim Christian.

As this New York Times article illustrates the Big Ten holds the key to conference realignment. It could add one school to get up to 12 or it could expand by three or four. Obviously, the more that join the Big Ten from other conferences such as the Big East and Big 12, the more shuffling that will take place across the nation.

That's why there's no time to waste on the hardwood. SMU must make itself an attractive candidate in football and basketball. Doherty is in his fourth season. He has seven years on his contract. At 10-10 overall, 3-3 in Conference USA and riding a four-game win streak, SMU is arguably playing its best basketball since Doherty took over-- if anyone's noticed. It will be interesting to see how they finish out their final 10-game stretch. A serious run could still land a potential NIT bid, a first step to eventually making the NCAA Tournament. Of course, SMU might just settle for its first winning season since 2002-03 season. It hasn't been to the Big Dance since the 1992-93 season.

In the column, I brought up the name of Billy Gillispie, the former UTEP and Texas A&M coach, who quickly changed the fortunes of those programs. Gillispie is a Texan, born and raised in Graford, and he is a star among Texas high school coaches. At Texas A&M, he recruited the state and the Dallas area like crazy. He would provide instant recognition and excitment with fans, alums and the media.

After being humbled in his short stint at Kentucky, Gillispie is living in Dallas. My guess is he listens intently if SMU athletic director Steve Orsini calls. The school's wine-and-cheese crowd would have to approve -- Gillispie does bring some personal baggage -- but they'd be crazy not too. Gillispie's results at Texas schools speak too loudly.

That's not to say that Doherty can't eventually bring more of a spotlight to SMU basketball. After Saturday's win, he said he finally felt confident in the style he wants to play and the type of recruits he can bring to the school. Yes, it's taken a while for that kind of an epiphany, so the question is, is it too late?

Can you imagine SMU in the Big 12? With Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and the rest making annual trips to Moody? At TCU, they're also dreaming up such a scenario. The Big 12 is no longer the boring, old basketball of the Southwest Conference. It is high-powered, national-spotlight hoops.

Orsini will have to make the call, as I wrote Saturday, to stay the course or go for the big splash and cross his fingers.

One thing is for certain: Time is of the essence as the clock ticks down before the conference dominoes fall.



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