But instead of racing to the finish line, SMU crawled, losing its final three regular-season games and the opening game of the conference tournament as the seventh seed.
The Mustangs can forget about the NCAA Tournament. And Wednesday's loss probably cost them an NIT spot as well. They still could get in, but don't bet on it. They do have a high-profile coach in Matt Doherty and a superstar in Papa Dia, so anything is possible.
Despite the disappointing finish, this was by far Doherty's best team. SMU won 14 games in each of his first two seasons but topped that back on Feb. 16. Conference wins are the benchmark, and the Mustangs went 8-8 in a tough league.
Conference USA had nine teams over the .500 mark and five teams with 20 or more wins. It wasn't Memphis and everyone else this year.
This season was a big step forward for Doherty and his program. They will be asking "what if" for a few weeks, but when the dust settles, they will look at the overall picture and see definite progress.
Their 17 wins were the most at SMU since the 2002-03 season.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The Mustangs will look much different next season from this year's team. SMU will lose six seniors, including All-Conference USA player Papa Dia. The roster will include four signed freshmen, Eric Norman, Ryan Manuel, Jalen Jones and Cannen Cunningham. The 6-foot-8, 215-pound Cunningham out of Lamar, Texas, tops the list. G London Giles transferred from Nevada, and Shawn Williams left Texas, and both will play for the Mustangs next season. The team will also get back two players who missed the season due to academics.
Among the returning players, the stalwarts will be junior Robert Nyakundi (15 points per game) and freshman Jeremiah Samarripas (3.6 assists per game), who had a strong first year. They may need name tags early on to figure out who everyone is on the floor.