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American Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Power Rankings: No.3 SMU

How far can SMU go without Markus Kennedy?

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach: Larry Brown
2013-14 Record: 27-10, 12-6 AAC, NIT runner-ups

Key Losses: Nick Russell (9.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.2 APG)

When they play UConn:
February 14th (at SMU)
March 1st (at UConn)

Key Players:
Nic Moore
Markus Kennedy (If eligible)
Justin Martin
Keith Frazier

This season could be one big "what if?" for Larry Brown and the Mustangs.

There is the question of what could have been if Emmanuel Mudlay made his way to Dallas. They sky was the limit for a team returning most major contributors and adding the dynamic point guard prospect. Unfortunately, for varying reasons depending on who you believe, Mudlay is now playing professionally in China. If he was able to suit up for the Mustangs this season, they would be ranked number one in the AAC power rankings and would be poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, potentially all the way to the Final Four. As it stands they still have the talent and experience to make some noise this year.

Now they are also dealing with eligibility concerns for junior Markus Kennedy.  The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 12.4 PPG with 7.1 RPG last year and was named to ESPN's first team All-AAC team.  As of now, Kennedy is not eligible to play, although Larry Brown does say that he is on the right track to regaining his eligibility.  If Kennedy was eligible right now, SMU would be higher in these rankings.

With Kennedy fighting eligibility issues, SMU will look to junior guard Nic Moore to provide most of the scoring, something that he was able to do a year ago. He led the team in scoring with 13.6 PPG while also dishing out 4.9 APG and knocking down 43.6% of his three-pointers.  Moore was also named to ESPN's first team All-AAC team.  If Mudiay had played, Moore would have had to slide to an off-guard role, but Larry Brown's offense is still in very sure hands with Moore playing the point.  He has enough talent to be the AAC Player of the Year this season.

Joining Moore in the back court will most likely be sophomore Keith Frazier.  The former McDonald's All-American averaged 5.4 PPG while shooting 39.8% from three last season but only played 14.8 MPG.  Larry Brown has taken most of the blame for the lack of production by Frazier, admitting that he did not know how to best utilize Frazier's three-point shot.  Brown prefers for his players to take high-percentage shots (free throws, lay-ups) so three-pointers aren't usually apart of the game plan, but this year should be different.  If Frazier plays up to his potential, then SMU will have one of the better back courts in the nation.

Yanick Moreira will have a much bigger role in this offense whether Kennedy plays or not.  The 6-foot-11 senior averaged 6.0 PPG and 3.9 RPG, but his production was much higher before he injured his knee in January.  Moreira had the chance to play on the Angolan national team in the FIBA Basketball World Cup and certainly made the most of it.  He averaged 17.8 PPG and 8.2 RPG while playing against some of the best players in the world, so his confidence should be at an all-time high.

The only player SMU lost from last season was forward Nick Russell but fifth-year transfer Justin Martin from Xavier should be able to adequately replace his production.  Martin averaged 11.7 PPG and 5.2 RPG for the Musketeers and will fit in nicely in Larry Brown's lineup.  He will compete for time with 6-foot-8 sophomore Ben Moore who may be used at both the guard and wing position.  Moore averaged 6.2 PPG and 3.6 RPG but was another guy Brown admits he could have utilized more effectively.

SMU's season really hinges on whether Markus Kennedy is eligible to play or not.  If he isn't eligible, guys are going to be asked to step up in a variety of ways that they may not be used to.  But, if he is, then there is a good chance the Mustangs roll through a majority of the American.  Their key out of conference games include going on the road at Gonzaga, Indiana, and Michigan and at home against Arkansas.

If Kennedy can play, this is a team that can win the American and play deep into the tournament.  If he is ruled ineligible, expect SMU to still compete for the conference championship, but they probably wouldn't make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.