By Andrew Kahn
When Nic Moore’s coach at Illinois State, Tim Jankovich, left the school after the 2012 season, Moore weighed his options. Plenty of schools were interested in the Missouri Valley All-Freshman Team guard, but when Jankovich joined Larry Brown’s staff at Southern Methodist, Moore researched the school. At first he didn’t even know what state it was in, but the more he learned, the more he liked the idea of following Jankovich to Dallas. After sitting out last season, Moore has led SMU to a 20-6 record and its first national ranking since 1985.
Moore, a 5’9” point guard from Winona Lake, Ind., is playing as well as anyone in the American Athletic Conference right now. He leads his team with 14.1 points and 4.7 assists per game. The Mustangs clobbered No. 7 Cincinnati on Feb. 8, remaining unbeaten at home this season. The victory earned them a spot in the AP poll for the first time in 29 years. They followed it up with a win over Rutgers in which Moore scored 16 in the second half, including three straight three-pointers. (A loss to Temple on Sunday bumped SMU from the top 25.)
“I’m letting the game come to me,” Moore said. “If that means I have to score, I can do that. If it means getting my teammates involved, I can do that.” Brown, in his second year at SMU after a Hall of Fame career that included stints with UCLA, Kansas, and several NBA teams, still isn’t convinced Moore is a true point guard. “But he’s learning and getting better and trying to do what I ask. He’s not the only reason we’ve had success, but he’s certainly a big part of it.”
Offensively, Moore’s statistical profile compares to Shane Larkin’s season at Miami last year, according to KenPom.com. While it’s difficult to gauge an individual’s defensive value, Moore plays the most minutes for an SMU team that is first in the country in field goal percentage defense.
The Mustangs have scored wins over UConn and Memphis, teams they’ll visit in the coming weeks. A home game with Louisville looms on March 5. The atmosphere at Moody Coliseum this year has been remarkable. SMU is selling out games, something it hadn’t done since 2001. Moore said that last season, students simply knew of the SMU basketball team. This year, “Students want to take time out of their day to support us. People see us around campus and say hello and ‘good game.’ They’re really engaged.” Said Brown: “A lot of near things are happening here but the best part is the pride among the students.”
Two years ago, Moore didn’t know SMU was in Texas. Now it’s clear he made the right choice.
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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