SMU basketball ready for Big East move

Big East expansion has finally come to fruition and SMU basketball coach Matt Doherty is excited for the opportunity for his program to get national exposure and turn up the heat in terms of recruiting.

People talk about SMU's football program being on the rise. But the same may be able to be said for the basketball team as well.


Because beginning in the fall of 2013, SMU, along with Houston, Central Florida, Boise State and San Diego State, will be a part of the Big East Conference (the latter two as football members only).

The Big East has always been a basketball league, but football was the fuel that set the recent conference expansion in motion.

"As a basketball coach, I understand that football drives the train," SMU head basketball coach Matt Doherty said. "But yet, we're joining the best basketball conference in the country."

It doesn't matter what the driving force behind expansion was, Doherty is excited about what being in this conference means for SMU.

"SMU has been good before, but you have to be associated with a great conference and Conference USA has been good for us, but we were really good in the Southwest Conference," Doherty said.

"Georgetown and UConn weren't nationally known programs until the Big East was formed. I think the Big East can do the same for us."

Being a part of this conference, despite losing basketball powerhouses like Syracuse and Pitt to the ACC and then West Virginia to the Big 12, being in the Big East will help SMU gain national recognition—something the University as a whole has been trying to achieve since the Death Penalty.

"We'll be on TV, it'll improve crowds, recruiting, it'll be good for us financially," Doherty said. "We have a strong presence in the Southeast, the Southwest and the West Coast and now we'll have a presence in the Northeast. It's an exciting time to be at SMU."

Doherty admits that there was a point in time he didn't think SMU would actually be announced as a Big East addition due to the constant delay of expansion. And the fact that, although SMU, Houston and UCF were ready to join about a month ago, they had to wait on Boise State, who was waiting on either BYU or SDSU to accept their invitation because the Broncos wanted a western travel partner.

"This has been somewhat anticlimactic," Doherty said. "Maybe three or four weeks ago, I got a call that it was going to be announced Friday, then Tuesday. After awhile, it's like, I'm coaching my team and it'll happen when it happens. Now it's finally happened."

SMU has had some decent recruiting classes as of late, getting guys like Jalen Jones and Cannen Cunningham for this year, and Blaise Mbargorba for 2012. But the Big East opens a whole new world of recruiting for the Mustangs.

"We can go into anyone's home and say, ‘Do you want to play in the biggest basketball conference in the country? It's the Big East and you'll get exposure, play in front of great crowds, NBA scouts and on national TV on a regular basis,'" Doherty said. "Dallas is a world class city and they can come here and play in the best basketball conference in the country."

There's no question that losing Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia waters down the conference, but Doherty is glad they won't have to play them because it'll make the transition into the league a little smoother.

"Losing those schools does take a little shine off the Big East, but you still have Louisville, Georgetown, St. John's, UConn and Notre Dame…you still have some great basketball teams," Dohert said. "Selfishly, it helps us. It makes it a little more digestible. We might not face Murderer's Row and might have a chance to climb the ladder a little quicker because those schools aren't there."

Doherty also mentioned that he's relieved SMU won't join the conference until the 2013 season because that will give his team extra time to mature. By that season, guys like Jeremiah Samarrippas and Nick Russell with be seniors.

It's also good timing in terms of Moody Coliseum, which will undergo a $40 million renovation and be ready in December 2013, just about a month or so into the season.

"It's all coming together at a perfect time," Doherty said. "There's over five million people in the metroplex and all we need is about 8,000 of them to like basketball."

Doherty feels that when fans see Louisville, UConn and Georgetown on SMU's schedule, they'll flock to Moody and energize the quiet fan base.

"It's all about branding," Doherty said. "Our fans have been through so many conferences that it's hard to build an identity and hard to identify with a brand. Now our fan base knows [the Big East schools] and I think that will excite them."

Doherty, who coached in the Big East at Notre Dame during the 1999-00 season, says he agrees with commissioner John Marinatto about keeping the Big East name.

"It's a brand," Doherty said. "The headquarters are in the east and so it makes sense and I think to change the identity wouldn't make sense.

"The marriage between the Big East and the Big D works and is a great fit for us."

For more SMU coverage, follow Laken Litman on Twitter!

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