1. New York Sniper
Brian Bernardi has been trying to gain Larry Brown's trust all season long and may have done just that on Sunday afternoon. The freshman guard played a career-high 23 minutes and made the most of the opportunity, leading SMU with 20 points. Bernardi knocked down 4-of-7 3-pointers and was perfect from the charity stripe. Bernardi can provide exactly what this team needs- bench help and a pure shooter. With Cotton Giles nursing an injury and not getting any minutes, it is imperative that Bernardi produces off the bench. With a day like this, don't be surprised if Brown gets him in the game more often from now on and he becomes SMU's new sixth man.
2. Aggressive Defense
SMU jumped out to a 13-0 lead thanks to some scrappy and resilient defense. Before the season, the players told me that defense was a big part of the Godfather's gospel and they seem to be responding. Nick Russell opened things up with a steal, which led to a Jalen Jones dunk and Furman did not make its first field goal until the 11:47 mark in the first half. Everybody on the floor did a great job of getting their hands up, deflecting passes and giving extra effort on loose balls. SMU held Furman to just 28.1 percent shooting on 16-of-57 fields goals and forced 10 turnovers.
3. Jalen Jones
Jones didn't have a monster game and turned the ball over four times, but he was by far the most active player both offensively and defensively. Jones always hustling and never took plays off. He did a good job of fighting for rebounds around the paint and being an aggressive defender. Jones finished second to Bernardi with 14 points and eight rebounds. I really think he has the ability to do something special on the Hilltop before it's all said and done. His maturity really impressed me above all.
1. Outmuscled Inside
Next year, SMU should be fine inside with the additions of Yanick Moreira and Markus Kennedy but this season, the Ponies really don't have a true banger in the low post. Cannen Cunningham did not have a bad game, scoring 13 points and adding nine rebounds, but he just isn't physical enough. Cunningham is passive way too often and that's a reason why Furman was able to grab 16 offensive boards. As SMU's only true big man other than Jordan Dickerson, who gets no time, Cunningham needs to improve in this area. There is no doubt the potential is there and with Moreira and Kennedy coming in, I think that will actually help Cunningham because it will allow him to play his game and use his height and athleticism around the paint rather than in it. But for now, he needs to box out and battle down low.
2. True Point Guard
The phrase true point guard is often misused or even overused, but in SMU's situation it's true. The Ponies do not have a true point guard, and that's hurting them when they set up in the half-court. Even Brown admitted after the game that SMU was missing a true point guard and Nic Moore makes everybody around him better in practice. Ryan Manuel is still learning and at times, he's too erratic. When Russell fouled out and he was the lone man running the show, Manuel struggled. Russell did not have his best game but led the teams in assists with seven and the offense just runs more smoothly when he's on the floor. I think Manuel will be a good backup for Moore, but I wouldn't want him as my full-time point guard heading into the Big East.
3. Mid-range Game
15-footers, shots from the elbows and the top of the key- SMU simply does not make enough mid-range jumpers. Cunningham, Jones and Williams are all tremendous athletes but don't make shots from the areas listed very often, at least in this game they didn't. Neither did Manuel and Russell just wasn't on. Scrappy play can only take you so far. SMU really needs Sterling Brown and possibly Keith Frazier to help in this area next year. The Mustangs just don't have anyone right now that strikes fear with their stroke.
3 Up, 3 Down
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