While basketball games are ultimately won or lost by the players on the court, it’s hard to look at Saturday’s UTEP-SMU matinee in the Haskins Center (2 p.m. MT) without salivating at the coaching matchup.
On one end you have UTEP’s Tim Floyd -- former NBA head coach who is nearing 400 collegiate victories.
On the other you have SMU’s Larry Brown – Hall of Famer who directed the University of Kansas to the 1988 NCAA title and the Detroit Pistons to the 2004 NBA championship.
This should be fun.
“I know Larry really well,” Floyd said at his radio show on Thursday night. “I reached out to him when I first got into the league in 1998, to find out what it was about. He always took time for me when I was in Chicago. We’d sit down and visit and talk the game during the offseason.”
When Floyd took the reins of the Chicago Bulls for the 1998-99 season, Brown was with Philadelphia and in his 17th year as an NBA head coach. He remained with the Sixers during the extent of Floyd’s tenure in Chicago (1998-2001). Floyd returned to the NBA as head coach of the New Orleans Hornets for the 2003-04 campaign, when Brown was with Detroit.
In 16 head-to-head encounters, Floyd was 5-11 versus Brown, largely while undertaking a massive rebuilding project with the Bulls following the departures of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Floyd’s Hornets did go 3-1 against Brown’s eventual NBA champion Pistons during the ‘03-04 season.
Brown’s first SMU team comes to the Haskins Center with an 11-8 record following an 8-1 start. The Mustangs fell to 1-3 in C-USA after losing a 19-point (26-7) first half lead in a 74-70 loss to Southern Miss on Wednesday in Dallas.
Like UTEP, SMU has a strong backcourt. Sophomore Jalen Jones is averaging a team-leading 15.0 ppg and 8.4 rpg. Junior guard Nick Russell, a Kansas State transfer, averages 13.7 ppg. Sophomore guard Ryan Manuel collects 11.9 ppg.
“Jalen Jones is a terrific athlete. Larry is utilizing him the right way,” Floyd said. “I really think he’s a four man versus the perimeter player he was a year ago. He is a guy who, when he goes to the Big East next year, people will say ‘Yeah, he belongs in the Big East.’ They put Russell in situations where he receives screens as a point guard. He leads them in shot attempts. And Manuel has improved his game. He prefers to drive it. He doesn’t shoot the three great, he shoots it OK.
“They’ve got enough experience on the perimeter to be just dangerous enough to beat you.”
Floyd said SMU has been a patient offensive team, with only seven players seeing regular action. The Miners would prefer to push the tempo, and whoever can dictate the pace of the game will have the inside track at winning on Saturday.
The Miners went right to work on fixing the deficiencies from their 45-42 loss at Tulsa when they returned to El Paso on Thursday afternoon.
“We took out clips from that ballgame and showed more importantly the bad shots,” Floyd said. “Those can get corrected in a film session. And I think it’s important to bring that out so a guy feels accountable to his teammates. We went over the turnovers, because those are important as well. We did some good things in that game. You’ve got to constantly improve, and they’ve got to know what to do to improve.”
Floyd put Wednesday’s loss in perspective.
“I was really disappointed because we had such a great opportunity,” he said. “There’s going to be a ton of those games throughout the course of the conference season. And everybody is going to have one they’d like to get back.”