SMU Most Improved Player

The Pony Stampede staff makes their picks for SMU's most improved player this year. Who takes home the first award?

Billy: Ryan Manuel

Guess I get to break the tie here. I dogged Ryan Manuel a lot for his inability to handle the ball early in the season and during last season. As a senior, Manuel limited his games with three turnovers to just three. Manuel never had more than three turnovers this year and was the team’s best defender and even hit a few big shots (Temple three-pointers). Against Gonzaga and Indiana, Manuel disappeared, but as the season went on, no one got better than Manuel. With Nick Russell graduating, Manuel filled in as the top defender for the team. Manuel’s leadership really took off in the second half of the season as SMU really needed to win almost all of their games to ensure an NCAA bid. I dogged him too much and Manuel proved me wrong.

Scott: Yanick Moreira

No surprise here. I'm going with Yanick Moreira as my pick for Most Improved Player. Moreira earned a starting spot at the beginning of last season, but after missing about a month because of a knee injury, he never worked himself back into the lineup. This season, Moreira came ready to prove himself and he did not disappoint. After a stellar showing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup the senior's confidence was at an all-time high. Moreira's biggest knock on himself was his inconsistent offensive play, but this year he averaged 11.1 ppg and regularly out-performed his opponent's big man. Defensively, Moreira did have the tendency to goaltend shots, which we saw over the course of the season, but his length and energy on the defensive end made him a formidable defender. It was unfortunate for Moreira to end his SMU career the way that he did, but he will forever be remembered as an integral piece of this SMU team that turned this program around.

Patrick: Nic Moore

Hear me out. Obviously Moore was SMU's most important player and only consistent outside threat. He had a stellar season overall and rightfully earned AAC Player of the Year. He is the engine in the offense and SMU's unquestioned leader. But, to my point, think back to the early part of the season: Moore didn't settle into his role as a leader right away, and the on-court chemistry wasn't where it was at the end of the season. In SMU's first 16 games, Moore had at least three turnovers in 13 of them, including. In SMU's games against Gonzaga, Indiana, Arkansas, at Cincinnati and at Temple, he had a total of 26 turnovers, did not eclipse 40 percent shooting and didn't score higher than 13 points. He displayed a little bit of the excessive energy that plagued him at times last year.

The second half of the road game against Temple was the turning point. Starting with that half, Moore had three turnovers in his next 140 minutes. He only eclipsed three turnovers four times for the rest of the season, and had at least six assists in 13 of the final 17 games, showing much more poise. The turnovers he did make weren't as costly or noticeable. Most importantly, he became the team's leader and had a few games in which he put the team on his back. Early in the season, Moore wasn't playing poorly, but he didn't have a lot of difference-making moments (Wyoming game being the exception). During the conference season, and postseason, he became the leader he needed to be and lifted the team on many occasions.

Hatts: Ryan Manuel

The senior guard began the year coming off the bench, but just 5 games into the season, Ryan Manuel was in the starting lineup to stay. After a down season his junior year in which Manuel only played 17 minutes per game and struggled with turnovers as the backup point guard, the senior guard was a constant for SMU throughout the season on the defensive end on the floor and even becoming an offensive threat late in the season. Manuel took on opposing teams best players every night and shut them down just about every time, including holding UConn’s Ryan Boatright in the AAC tournament final to 1-12 shooting. On the offensive end, Manuel also made significant strides. After only scoring in double figures twice during his junior campaign, against TCU and UT Pan-American, Manuel scored in double figures 8 times, including 6 during conference play. Finally coming into the season, the backup point guard spot was a glaring hole after Emmanuel Mudiay decided to go play in China. But by the time the season hit the midway point, coach Brown and the Mustangs were confident enough in Manuel to allow to play the point guard spot and let Nic Moore play off the ball more. This speaks volumes about the level of improvement he showed during his senior year and why Manuel finished out his career at SMU on a high note.

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