SMU was coming into this year off their best season in decades. Moody Coliseum inexplicably became one of the toughest venues in AAC play, Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy gave the Mustangs plenty of scoring punch and experience. They have a deep and multifaceted bench bringing back most of last years core and adding one of the best recruits in the country and were shoo ins to lead the Mustangs back to the Big Dance in 2014 -15 after long years in exile, running away with the AAC in the process.
Now Mudiay is turning pro to alleviate his family's financial constraints and SMU is falling back to the AAC pack. They still have a ton of talent, experience and one of the better coaches in the history of basketball. They will still be the odds on favorite, a likely preseason top 25 outfit. But there is no doubt that losing Mudiay is a huge blow to the fortunes of SMU Basketball in 2014-15.
Mudiay is the kind of talent that doesn't often find its way to University Park. A 6'5" hyper athletic guard blessed with great passing instincts, crazy athleticism and enough offensive skill to punish the inevitable mismatches. Mudiay would have tilted the balance of power in the league in SMU's favor, without him UConn and perhaps Cincinnati will enter the season on something close to equal footing. As a fan of the AAC this sucks in a completely unequivocal way. Having this kind of talent at a school in the conference is a good thing, it makes everyone better off, because it shows to the next class of recruits that this can be an attractive conference to play basketball in. To elite recruits it shows it to be an attractive conference to play a year or two of basketball in before moving on to the NBA . That raises the recruiting profile for everyone in the conference.
There will only be one consensus top 50 player from the class of 2014 who will play in the AAC this year, Daniel Hamilton of UConn. That is less than the Big East (4) and the Mountain West (3), and as many as the Atlantic-10. All of which is obviously sub optimal. Part of this has to have something to do with the stigma of being the new conference on the block, with a new name and no tradition to speak of other than the ones the current schools bring, which is not a lot outside of UC, Memphis and UConn. It is going to take some time to break down those new obstacles, and they will come down eventually. It just would have been easier to have Mudiay play in the conference for a year before turning pro and potentially being picked 1st overall. That would have knocked down a lot of those barriers with far less effort.