THE STREAK IS OVER

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU’s season opening winning streak came to a halt at 18 victories Sunday when the Temple Owls blitzed the Mustangs with a barrage of three point shots to spearhead an 89-80 win.  The Owls made 14 three point shots to just three for the Mustangs in a game that was delayed 16 hours because of the tremendous snow storm that hit the East Coast last weekend.  The 18 game winning streak is the longest in school history to open a season and two shy of the school record.  The Ponies at 18-1 dropped to number 13 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 Poll.

Almost from the beginning, the Mustangs looked a bit out of sync.  They uncharacteristically threw up poor shots early in the shot clock rather than throwing the extra pass to get a better shot.  It was a game that Keith Frazier could have made a difference.  His three point capability would have stretched Temple’s defense and opened up the inside players for shots under the basket, which has been the backbone of SMU’s half court offense.  Instead, Ben Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy got the ball underneath, but had difficulty getting off their shots.

However, give the Owls credit.  They played a very good game and deserved to win.  The Mustangs didn’t play great, but they didn’t play badly either.  When the game ended, Temple fans stormed the court to celebrate a victory over the number eight team in the nation.  It was a sign of how far the SMU basketball program has come in Larry Brown’s four years.  It’s been a long time since a win over SMU was cause for fans to rush the floor

There is no question that the SMU players were conscious of the streak.  Radio announcer Alan Stone mentioned recently how intently the players watched the South Carolina game at the airport when they experienced a flight delay after the East Carolina game.  South Carolina lost that game to make the Mustangs the lone remaining undefeated team in division I at that point in the season.

Tolbert told the media last week “I just like to think about the next game, but we all know the ultimate goal.”  Perhaps the pressure of the streak was getting to them.  There is no question they were not clicking on all cylinders in the previous two games at Tulane and at home against Houston.  The Mustangs trailed for much of both games, but finished strong to win.

This time, the Temple lead was too big to overcome with a strong finish.   The Owls’ lead ballooned to as many as 19 points with about 5.5 minutes left in the game.  So the question is will this team rebound from the loss now that the carrot of the unbeaten season is no longer available?

One thing this ban on post season play has done is put the emphasis on the regular season for SMU.  There is still the regular season league championship to defend, which in reality is the superior accomplishment than winning the post season tournament.  It takes 10 weeks.  Half the games are on the road, often in front of large, hostile crowds.  There are injuries to deal with, not to mention academics to maintain.  Winning the regular season championship is a far bigger accomplishment than winning three or four games in the span of four or five days at a neutral site in the conference post-season tournament.

On the other hand, conference tournaments are money makers, and the conference automatic NCAA Tournament bid has to be on the line to make the conference tournaments viable.  These tournaments aren’t going away.

At this point though, the Mustangs are the only division I team with just one loss.  In fact, there are just four two loss teams in this week’s AP poll.  Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s bracketologist, said Sunday that the Mustangs would be on the two line if they were eligible to go to the NCAA Tournament.  The Temple loss probably didn’t do much to change that.

This loss may actually prove to be a positive.  The pressure to go undefeated is now off.  The Mustangs hold a 1.5 game lead in the conference race over Temple and Tulsa, both at 5-2.  Connecticut and Central Florida also have just two losses, so there is a race for the conference championship.  Candidly, I expect the Mustangs to come out with a tremendous effort this Saturday night when they host Memphis at Moody Coliseum.  Game time is 7:00 PM, and the game will be televised on ESPN News.

SMU did get good news on Monday evening.  Harry Froling committed to play for SMU next year.  Froling is a 6′-10″ post player from Australia, thought to be the best high school senior in the country.  He was in the U. S. last week to visit schools.  On Monday night, he saw his first NBA game, in which the Dallas Mavericks beat the Boston Celtics in overtime.  On Tuesday, he saw the Mustangs’ come from behind win over the University of Houston.  He also saw the magic of Moody Coliseum with the rowdy student section and star studded crowd.

He must have liked what he saw as he announced his decision shortly after returning to Australia.  Note:  He has twin sisters that play for the SMU Women’s basketball team.  Froling should have the opportunity to play immediately.  Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert have no more eligibility after March 6.  The other two recruits signed in November are guards, so the Mustangs definitely needed to recruit some size.  They got their man in Froling.

MOVING ON UP

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Men’s basketball team won two games last week beating East Carolina and Tulane on the road.  The wins moved their season opening winning streak to 17 games and their conference leading record to 6-0.  It was good enough to move up to number eight in the Associated Press Poll this week.

Last week six teams in the AP’s top nine dropped games, including number nine Duke and number eight Miami on Saturday.  It was Miami’s second loss of the week allowing the Mustangs to jump two spots.

The Mustangs easily retained their number one ranking in the Dallas Morning News poll of the top 10 teams in Texas.  SMU again garnered 10 first place votes out of 12.  Texas A&M was again number two in the poll with the other two first place votes.

The Keith Frazier soap opera has apparently come to an end as has Frazier’s career at SMU.  The Twitterverse exploded late last week that Frazier is transferring to the University of North Texas.  It looks like a lose-lose situation all the way around.  Frazier, who was academically eligible and on track to graduate, loses a chance for an SMU degree, the chance to play for an NCAA Tournament team next year, and the exposure of playing most games on national television and in front of NBA scouts.  SMU loses a very good player, the only McDonald’s High School All American to every play for the Mustangs.

We likely will never know the actual events that led up to Frazier’s departure.  It was obvious that Head Coach Larry Brown wanted Frazier to stay.  There is some question as to whether Frazier’s teammates felt the same.  Apparently there is too much water under the bridge after what’s unfolded over the past three weeks for Frazier to stay.  “He told me he wanted a fresh start,” Brown said.

Frazier has played in three seasons at SMU, so has one year of eligibility remaining.  He’ll be required to sit out one year as a transfer so could play for UNT after the 2016 fall semester – essentially a little more than half a season, or he could choose to sit out the spring semester of 2017 and be able to play the entire 2017-18 season.  There is some thought, perhaps even a likelihood, that Frazier may never play at UNT and turns pro instead.

With Frazier’s departure, the Mustangs are down to seven scholarship players.  That number actually works fine as long as there are no injuries and no foul trouble in games.  The SMU bench has been lengthened by the addition of practice players Jake Brudish and David Nelson.  Brudish actually got into the Central Florida game a week ago.  However, the bench may get even deeper as three football players – Kevin Johnson, Courtland Sutton and Cedric Lancaster were seen in the basketball weight room late last week.  Johnson is thought to be the most advanced basketball player of the three.

Brown told reporters, “I’m really in favor of recruiting dual sport athletes.  We had two football players at Kansas when we won the National Championship, and they made a meaningful contribution.”  Brown said he needed to speak with Head Football Coach Chad Morris before moving ahead with these players, but added, “I’d welcome any kid from his (Morris’s) program to be part of ours.”

Johnson and Sutton worked out with the team on Monday.  No word as to whether either or both will be added to the roster this season, but there is a tweet with a video of the 6′-5″ Sutton dunking a ball.

This week the Mustangs play at home Tuesday night against the Houston Cougars and on the road in Philadelphia against the Temple Owls on Saturday night.  Tuesday’s game begins at 8:00 PM (Central) and is televised on ESPNU, while Saturday’s begins at 7:00 PM (Central) and will also be televised on ESPNU.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDES AGAIN

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Men’s basketball team is down to seven scholarship players, and last week they proved to be magnificent as they won a pair of games to improve to 15-0 for the season.  Included in last week’s wins was a hard fought, come from behind victory over Cincinnati, the best win of the season.  The wins kept the Mustangs undefeated, one of just two undefeated teams in college basketball, with South Carolina, also at 15-0, being the other.  Last week’s results were good enough to move the Ponies up to number 10 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 Poll.  It’s the first time since the 1980′s that SMU has been ranked in the top 10.

The Mustangs also strengthened their hold on the number one spot in the Dallas Morning News’ poll of the top 10 teams in Texas.  SMU garnered 10 of 12 first place votes, with number two Texas A&M getting the other two.  Conference rival Houston (13-2, 3-0) is fourth this week, and is also receiving votes in the Coaches’ poll.  The Cougars are SMU’s opponent in the Mustangs’ next home game on Tuesday, January 19.

Cincinnati is a rugged defensive outfit.  They slowed the pace against SMU and had a good defensive game plan to counteract the Mustangs’ inside scoring, the heart and sole of the offense.  SMU won despite putting up its lowest point total of the season – 59 points.  It took an almost miraculous finish to secure the win, as SMU trailed by seven points when time was called at the 3:49 mark, and with Cincinnati having possession.  Amazingly, the Mustangs outscored the Bearcats 11-2 down the stretch for the two point win.

On Sunday, they avoided the emotional and physical let down from a game like Cincinnati to beat Central Florida 88-73.  They took charge of this one early with a 15-0 run that put their lead into double digits.  The run took only about 2.5 minutes, and Central Florida was never able to cut the Mustangs’ lead under 10 points the rest of the way.

Certainly, SMU did not turn in a top performance, but Central Florida has some talent that can be difficult to deal with.  Their starting center – Tacko Fall – is 7′-6″.  His back-up – Justin McBride – is 6′-10″, but is perhaps the biggest player in the conference weighing in at 325.  Either one is difficult to prepare for.  There just aren’t too many people of that size available to practice against.

Jordan Tolbert drew the defensive defensive assignment of Fall and McBride for most of the game.  He said afterward that McBride was really tougher to deal with.  Fall actually got popped early and ended up playing just 12 minutes.  That turned out to be good news for UCF as McBride came off the bench to score 20 points and keep the Knights relatively in the game.

Keith Frazier did not play in either game and is officially listed as absent for “personal reasons”.  Larry Brown said last week the door is open for Frazier to return, and Monday afternoon, Adam Grosbard tweeted that Brown is scheduled to meet with Frazier on Tuesday prior to the team’s departure for Wednesday’s game against East Carolina.  A Dallas Morning News report on the meeting indicates that it is possible that Frazier could play in Wednesday’s game.

Larry Brown was on the SMU bench in the first half Sunday, but was suffering from vertigo and did not return after intermission.  He later told national basketball writer Andy Katz that he was fine and did not expect to miss any more time with the team.  The condition he felt was caused by dehydration and lack of sleep over the Frazier situation.

MUSTANG MORSELS:

*     The SMU Women’s team clinched a thrilling win in Houston Sunday as Gabrielle Wilkins hit two free throws with three seconds left in regulation for a 50-48 win over the Cougars.  The Mustangs improved to 2-2 in conference play and 7-8 overall for the season with two wins last week.  Wilkins had double-doubles in both games and was named to the AAC Weekly Conference Honor Roll on Monday.

CONTROVERSY STRIKES AGAIN

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – Controversy struck the SMU Men’s basketball team again Saturday when Keith Frazier was not in attendance.  The junior guard/forward was given the night off officially for “personal reasons”.  However, when Head Coach Larry Brown was asked if Frazier would return this season, he quickly answered, “I don’t know.”

Frazier started the first seven games this year, then missed two because of a knee injury that kept him out of practice for more than 10 days.  He returned for the trip to Las Vegas for the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic and played in both of those games, as well as last Tuesday’s conference opener in Tulsa.

For the season, he is averaging 11.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.  The former McDonald’s High School All-American has been a source of controversy almost since the day he arrived on the Hilltop.  He was not ruled academically eligible as a freshman until after the allowed summer practices.  That put him immediately behind the other two freshmen – Ben Moore and Sterling Brown.  He averaged 5.4 points and 1.8 rebounds playing in 38 games as a freshman.

Last season, as a sophomore, he averaged 10.5 points and 4.1 rebounds in 17 games, 16 of which he started.  He was academically ineligible after the fall semester.  This past summer, he played for USA East Coast on a tour of games in France and Italy.

Certainly, there was a pall cast over this SMU basketball season when the NCAA brought down sanctions that included a post-season ban.  The core incident that was at the heart of the violation was an on-line course that an administrative assistant in the basketball department took for Frazier as a high school senior.  It was a course that was not necessary for Frazier to either graduate from high school or be eligible to play as a freshman.

There are only rumors as to the “personal reasons” that kept Frazier out of Saturday’s game, though there is a persistent theme that he is not happy that he has not started a game since his return from injury.  Frazier’s status for Cincinnati on Thursday is uncertain, and he may be gone for good.

The Frazier situation undoubtedly contributed to a slow start for the Mustangs Saturday night against South Florida.  SMU was favored by 25.5 points on the betting line, but trailed early by as many as seven points.  The Mustangs trailed for more than nine minutes in the first half and took just a three point lead to the halftime locker room.

In the second half, the Bulls cut the lead to a single point twice, but SMU’s defense kicked in to hold USF scoreless for a stretch of almost nine minutes, during which they lengthened a three point lead to 16.  They closed out the win at 72-58, despite shooting barely 40% from the field.  A healthy part of the difference in the game was the foul shooting.  SMU made more free throws (20) than South Florida shot (11).  USF made just eight of the 11 to account for 12 points of the 14 point margin of victory.

SMU played with a short bench Saturday with just seven scholarship players dressed for the game.  That includes freshmen Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster, both of whom have already made material contributions to the success of this year’s team.  Foster said after the game that the coaches have told them they are not freshmen anymore.  They have played almost half the season and have adjusted nicely to the college level of play.

Assuming Frazier is gone for the season, the Mustangs are faced with playing with seven scholarship players for the rest of the way.  In a pre-season interview, Head Coach Larry Brown said that he expected this team to be the deepest he has had in his four years on the Hilltop.  The depth has evaporated quickly as Ben Emelogu underwent season ending surgery without playing a game, freshman Sedrick Barefield is transferring, and Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye has opted to red shirt.  On Saturday, Brown confirmed what many suspected – that a major part of Ojeleye’s decision to red shirt was the post season ban on this year’s team.

The loss of Frazier not only hurts from a depth standpoint, but also from a talent standpoint.  He is a tremendous athlete that has worked hard to become a strong defender to go along with being a deadly long range shooter.

In any event, the Mustangs will need good luck on the injury front and little foul trouble to deal with the short bench over the final 17 games.  Saturday against South Florida, Jordan Tolbert got two quick fouls that limited his playing time to just 18 minutes, though he still almost recorded a double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds.  He did not foul again, and Sterling Brown, with four fouls, was the only Mustang to finish with more than two fouls.

The Associated Press Top 25 came out Monday, and SMU is up two places to 15th this week, one place behind Duke and one ahead of Louisville.  Also, the Dallas Morning News published their first edition of Texas team rankings.  SMU is first, garnering eight of 11 first place votes.  Texas A&M received the other three first place votes and is ranked second among Texas teams.  A&M is ranked 21st in the AP poll this week with an 11-2 record.

Two players received recognition from the American Athletic Conference for their performances last week.  Milton was named the Freshman of the Week, largely on his strong outing in front of a home town crowd last Tuesday in Tulsa.  He hit seven of eight three point attempts to score 24 points.  He added nine more points and a team leading five assists last Saturday against South Florida.

Ben Moore was also named to the conference Weekly Honor Roll, as he recorded double-doubles (points and rebounds) in both contests last week.

The Mustangs are one of just two remaining undefeated teams at 13-0.  Number 22 South Carolina (13-0) is the other after number two Oklahoma lost Monday night to Kansas.  SMU is also 2-0 in conference play and faces their toughest opponent so far this season in Cincinnati on Thursday night.  The Bearcats are 11-4 overall and 1-1 in conference play.  They fell out of the Top 25 this week after losing their conference opener, but are still receiving votes in both polls.  Game time in Moody Coliseum is 6:00 PM.  It was originally scheduled to be televised on ESPN2, but has become so interesting that it has been flexed to ESPN.

VIVA LAS VEGAS

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

SMU won two games this week to claim the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic championship.  They beat Colorado 70-66 in Wednesday night’s finals after advancing to the championship game with a 90-74 victory over Kent State a day earlier.  Nic Moore led the team in scoring in both games to win the tournament MVP award.  He was joined on the All-Tournament team by Ben Moore and Jordan Tolbert.

The Colorado win came despite the Mustangs failing to do what they usually do well.  The Mustangs came into the game leading the nation in rebound margin, but were out-rebounded 38-34 by the Buffaloes.  It was the first game this year that SMU was out-rebounded.  A theme of this year’s team has been “share the ball”.  SMU was fifth in the nation with 20.5 assists per game, but recorded just 10.  They have been a good three point shooting team ranking fifth in the nation at 44.2%.  Against Colorado, they did not make a three point basket for the first time in two years, while the Buffaloes hit 12.  The Mustangs have been a high scoring outfit with an average of almost 85 points per game.  Against Colorado, they scored a season low 70.

Still the Mustangs found a way to win.  SMU trailed by eight points with about 8.5 minutes left in the game, at which point, they stepped up the defense to fuel an 18-4 run to take a six point lead.  The Ponies made six free throws in the final 1:06 to stave off Colorado’s late charge.

SMU had gotten into the finals by beating Kent State.  They never trailed in this game, and led by 10 points early, but the Golden Flashes went on runs to keep the game close.  They cut the lead to as few as three in the first half, and cut the lead under 10 points numerous times in the second half, before bowing out by 16.

SMU had four players score in double digits in each game.  Markus Kennedy and Keith Frazier had been held out of last week’s games as they nursed injuries from the Michigan game.  Both played in both games this week.  Frazier turned in a double-double against Kent State with 19 points and a career high 10 rebounds.  Kennedy played 19 and 23 minutes in the two games, scoring 12 points in Wednesday’s finale against Colorado.

Jordan Tolbert had his fifth double-double of the season against Kent State to make his case for the All-Tournament team.  Ben Moore (Kent State), Shake Milton (Colorado) and Sterling Brown (Colorado) also had double digit scoring games.

This week’s games marked the return of Head Coach Larry Brown to the SMU sideline after serving a nine game suspension doled out by the NCAA.  He said after the tournament win, “I’m proud of my team!”  He is certainly pleased with the perfect record, but he is even more pleased at the way the team has put the NCAA sanctions, most notably the post-season ban, behind them and gotten down to the business of making this a great season on the court.

This week’s pair of wins boosted the Mustangs’ record to 11-0, the best start in the 100 year history of SMU basketball.  The team next plays on Tuesday, December 29 when they begin American Athletic Conference play in Tulsa.  The game begins at 4:00 PM (Central) and will be televised on ESPN2.

MUSTANG MORSELS:

*     The “Dallas Morning News” reported Wednesday that freshman guard Sedrick Barefield from Corona, California will transfer, citing a tweet from his AAU team as the source of information.

*     The Mustangs have had at least four players score in double digits in nine of the 11 games.

*     Penn State beat Kent State 75-69 in Wednesday’s consolation game.  Former Mustang Jordan Dickerson played 12 minutes for Penn State pulling down six rebounds, but he did not score.

LARRY’S BACK

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU Head Coach Larry Brown is back running the SMU Men’s basketball team after serving a nine game suspension mandated by the NCAA.  He met with the local media Monday morning prior to the team’s last practice before departing for Las Vegas to complete their participation in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic this week.

Brown certainly missed his team and said about his time away, “I was just counting the days.  I didn’t realize 33 days could pass so slowly.  Sometimes it was tough (watching the games on TV).  When you watch the way the team played, the job Tim (Jankovich) and our staff did, the way the kids handled it; it helped make the time go a lot quicker.  It was pretty awesome to watch.

I think the kids have done a great job of moving on (from the NCAA penalties).  I hope I handle it as well as they did.  We were penalized.  We accepted it.  We’re moving on, and we don’t even talk about it.  The only thing that we can do is try to make people understand what a quality team with character kids that have handled adversity the right way; and we have to continue to do it that way.”

He takes over the reins from Associate Head Coach Tim Jankovich.  He finds his team ranked 18th for the second week in a row with a 9-0 record after doling out a pair of routs to Nicholls State and Hampton University in Moody Coliseum last week.  The Mustangs surprisingly did not move up in the rankings this week despite seven ranked teams losing last Saturday alone.  While the Mustangs and the American Athletic Conference are not getting a lot of love from AP voters, the Sagarin ratings are much more bullish.  SMU is ninth today, one place behind number eight North Carolina, and one place ahead of number 10 Villanova.

Brown was definitely pleased with the team’s record, “I don’t want to disrupt what’s been going on.  I want to be supportive of what Tim tried to get the kids to do.  I teased Tim, that I’d like to sit next to him and gradually move in.  I don’t want to mess it up.”

He noted, “We’re getting to the part of the schedule that’s a real real challenge.  Everybody knows that these games now are just ways to show the things you do well and find out the things that you can do better.  I have to be supportive of that.”

The Mustangs have been extremely strong on the boards.  They lead the nation with a rebounding margin of 18 per game, as they are pulling down 44.3 boards per game.

They are scoring 84.9 points per game, an increase of more than 20 from last year.  The offensive execution is extremely good and creates fantastic shot opportunities.  Hence, the shooting percentage is 53.2%, which ranks third in the nation.  Included in that figure is 43.7% for three point field goals, which ranks sixth in the nation.  (Brown did note that they might not shoot as many threes now that he’s back.)

Jankovich has complimented the team on their willingness to “share the ball”.  It shows in the assist totals, as the Mustangs are fifth in the nation with 20.9 per game.  They are also third in the nation in scoring margin – 24.4 points per game.

The best statistic of all though is that SMU is tied for first in the nation with five other teams for the best winning percentage -1.000!

This week they play Kent State on Tuesday as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic in Las Vegas.  Colorado and Penn State play in the other semi-final game.  On Wednesday, the Tuesday winners face each other for the championship and the Tuesday losers play for third place.  Wednesday’s game will be televised nationally on FS1.

“Our goal once we heard the penalties was to be the best team we could be,” Brown said.  So far that team has been pretty darn good.

MUSTANG MORSELS:

*     Jordan Tolbert was named American Athletic Conference Player of the Week for the second consecutive week.  He scored 38 points and grabbed 42 rebounds in two games last week.  Freshman Shake Milton was also named to the AAC Weekly Honor Roll.  He scored 34 points in the two games.

*     Brown said that Markus Kennedy (ankle) was better but not 100%.  It sounds like he could see limited playing time this week in Las Vegas.  Keith Frazier (knee) is back.  Sedrick Barefield (upper respiratory) was scheduled to make the trip to Las Vegas.

*     The SMU Women’s team finished second in the Puerto Rico Classic this past weekend.  They were edged 72-70 by number nine Mississippi State in the finals.

MUSTANGS’ NEWS AND NOTES

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The Associated Press Top 25 poll will be out Monday, and the SMU Men’s basketball team will undoubtedly move up.  They are number 19 this week, having moved up three notches in each of the past two weeks since cracking the Top 25.  The SMU team is off for until next Wednesday, but the overwhelming victory over Michigan last Tuesday will undoubtedly propel the Ponies up the AP ladder.

Not only did the Mustangs beat Michigan by 24 points, but did it without All-Conference center Markus Kennedy, who was injured in the first minute of play and did not return.  It was announced that he suffered a sprained ankle, and his status is “day-to-day”.  There has been no further comment on his status coming from SMU, but there has to be some thought of holding him out of next week’s games against Nichols State (7:00 PM Wednesday) and Hampton (6:00 PM Thursday) in Moody Coliseum as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic.

Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye will be eligible for next week’s games after sitting out a fall and spring semester at SMU since transferring.  However, there is speculation that he may not play this season to save a year of eligibility.  He has two years remaining.  It might be better to have him for two full seasons after this year instead of having him available for the balance of this season and all of next.

The two games this week will be the eighth and ninth of the season and will complete Head Coach Larry Brown’s NCAA suspension.  He’ll be back with the team for the first practice following this week’s games, most probably on Saturday, December 19.

There is no question that Associate Head Coach Tim Jankovich has done an outstanding job in Brown’s absence.  The team has shot extremely well with a shooting percentage after seven games of 53.1%, which ranks fourth in the NCAA.  Their three point shooting percentage (45.4%) ranks fifth in the nation.  They have rebounded sensationally, particularly offensive rebounds, and rank fifth in the nation in rebound margin (14.1 per game).  The coaching staff preaches “sharing the ball” and this team is averaging (19.7) assists per game, which is good enough to rank seventh in the nation.

The players have certainly played hard for Coach J.  Jankovich was particularly pleased with the defensive effort in the first half of the New Hampshire game, but thought it was even better last Tuesday in the first half against Michigan.  Certainly, there was better competition on Tuesday night.

The crowd was electric in that game, clearly as boisterous as the crowds in the big games two seasons ago when the renovated Moody Coliseum reopened.  With the star studded crowd, a nationally known basketball program as the opponent, and the outstanding play of the Mustangs; it was clearly one of the finest nights in the history of Moody Coliseum and Mustang basketball.

The Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic continues on December 22 and 23, when the Mustangs play at the Orleans Center in Las Vegas against Kent State on December 22 and either Colorado or Penn State on December 23.

Other notes from last Tuesday’s game:

*     Jordan Tolbert’s fabulous shooting night was perhaps even better than it looks on paper.  Not only did he hit 11 of 12 shots; but on the shot he missed, he got the rebound, and stuffed the ball back into the basket.  I.E., the 11 made shots came on 11 possessions.

*     There were 30 scouts at the game representing 20 different NBA teams.

FOOTBALL:

The Mustangs are up to 24 verbal commitments, so the recruiting class is basically filled.  Certainly the defense was a major problem last season when the team finished 2-10.  The verbal commitments include four defensive linemen and four defensive backs.  Brandon Benson may be the best player in the class.  He’s a 6′-0″ wide receiver from Waco La Vega High School.  He’s good enough to be an important part of the offense next season.  All of the commits are ranked as two star or three star prospects.  The class is currently ranked 54th by Rivals, 56 by Scout and 62 by 247Sports.  Rivals ranks it as the second best class in the American Athletic Conference.

Wide receiver Courtland Sutton was named to the USA Today Freshman All-American team.  He set an SMU freshman record with 862 receiving yards and tied Emmanuel Sanders for the freshman record with nine touchdowns.  He averaged 71.8 yards per game, 17.6 yards per catch on 49 catches, and had three games of more than 100 receiving yards.  He was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list during the season, and will undoubtedly be on the watch list from the beginning next season.  The Biletnikoff Award is presented to the outstanding college football receiver each year.

UP TO 19

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – This week’s AP Top 25 poll was released Monday, and the SMU men’s basketball team moved up three more notches to number 19.  The Mustangs improved their record to 6-0 last week by eking out a road win in Ft. Worth against TCU and by blowing out New Hampshire at home.

The only other American Athletic Conference team that is ranked this week is Cincinnati, which lost its first game last week and fell to number 23.  Connecticut is receiving votes and is effectively number 26.  The Mustangs are one of eight teams among the Top 25 that has not lost a game yet this season.

In last week’s action, Nic Moore spearheaded the Mustangs’ attack against the Frogs by scoring 19 second half points.  SMU trailed by three points with less than three minutes to play, but finished the game with an 8-0 run for the 75-70 win.  Keith Frazier led the way for SMU to essentially put away New Hampshire in the first half when he racked up 20 points by intermission.  The Ponies took a 30 point advantage to the halftime locker room and basically built stats in the second half.  They won by 54.  (98-44).

The Mustangs play Michigan Tuesday night, and go into the game as an eight point favorite on the Wynne Las Vegas betting line.  The game will be televised on ESPN2, and tips off at 8:00 PM (Central).  With the completion of that game, more than 20% of the season will be in the books.  It’s enough to see the team personality starting to emerge.  Interestingly, it’s significantly different than last year’s team despite six returning players and two transfers that have been practicing for more than a year.

Last year’s team was solid inside.  So far this team is too.  The three big men are Markus Kennedy, a two time all conference performer, Ben Moore and Jordan Tolbert.  All three are averaging more than 10 points per game with just two of them starting.  However, it’s a significantly shorter front line.  The departures from last year’s team – Cannen Cunningham and Yanick Moreira are taller than any of this year’s trio.

The Mustangs are about to get a boost to their inside game.  Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye is expected to be eligible after the Michigan game.  He’s 6′-8″ and is a rugged player that can have an impact on the game.  So far the Mustangs have not played a team with a significant height advantage inside, but they will; and it will be interesting to see how they stack up when it happens.  They’ll certainly stack up better with Ojeleye on the court.

The good part of this year’s team is that it has more scoring weapons.  Keith Frazier is a junior, but he was academically ineligible last spring.  He regained his eligibility, and he’s a tremendous long range shooter.  He’ll have bad shooting nights, as he did last week in Ft. Worth when he went 0-4 from the floor; but he can be explosive as he was last Saturday, when he hit five three pointers and scored 20 points – IN THE FIRST HALF!  He’s so good that opponents have to game plan for him making him a threat even on the bad days.

Nic Moore is still Nic Moore, the Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference and an honorable mention All-American.  Sterling Brown is still developing an offensive game.  He can have streaks where he really imposes himself on the game.

Two freshmen are already having a significant impact.  Shake Milton has eased Mustang fans’ fear of losing Nic Moore next season.  He is a tremendous athlete, and shows a tremendous knowledge of the game.  He’s a smooth ball handler.  This past Saturday, he had a breakout game in which he scored 20 points for the first time in his college career.  It won’t be his last.

Jarrey Foster is the other freshman that is earned his way into the playing rotation.  He’s a tremendous athlete too.  He’s making a solid contribution now, and he looks to be getting better.

One thing this team does is drive better than last year.  They hit the basket.  That piles up opponents’ foul totals getting the Mustangs to the free throw line often.

The NCAA has new rules to attempt to inject more scoring and speed up the game.  The two that the average fan will notice are the shot clock, which has been shortened to 30 seconds from 35, and an emphasis on calling a closer game.  Associate head coach Tim Jankovich said he thinks teams will adjust over time, some quicker than others.

The Mustangs seem to be adjusting quicker than most, a credit to Jankovich and the coaching staff.  They play man-to-man defense most of the time, but have employed zones at times.  “If we’re in a zone, we’re probably in foul trouble,” Jankovich says about one way he’s dealing with the closer called games.  Plus the Mustangs are a good shooting team from the line, hitting 66.7% in the first six games.  They have also attempted more free throws than their opponents.

The Mustangs are averaging 82.6 points per game so far.  That’s 13.5 points more than last year’s average of 69.1.  The 98 points scored last Saturday has skewed the number up, but that will level off as more games get into the books.  Certainly, the competition has something to do with it.  The better teams on the Mustangs’ schedule are still to be played.

Make no mistake about it though, this team has a lot of scoring weapons.  Five players are averaging in double digits, and Milton is one basket shy of being the sixth.  Eight different players have scored in double digits at least once so far this season.

It’s an exciting team to watch.  A good team on the floor.  They play hard on defense and have held their opponents to 62 per game, almost a 20 point differential.  It’s a shame this group won’t be allowed to test their mettle in the NCAA Tournament, but so far the team is mentally handling the post-season ban just fine.

THE SPIETH GAME

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – This week’s AP Top 25  basketball poll came out today, and SMU moved up three notches to number 22.  Six teams that were ranked last week dropped out including Connecticut, leaving SMU and Cincinnati at 17 as the only two American Athletic Conference teams in the Top 25 this week.  Connecticut is the only other team in the conference receiving votes, and they received the most of any team that is not ranked.

The Mustangs stayed unbeaten last week with a 77-69 win over Brown University.  The game was much more one-sided than the score indicates.  Brown made some three point shots early to hang in the game for 12 minutes, but SMU took control with a 17-6 run to finish a high scoring first half at 48-37.

In the second half, the Mustangs pushed the lead to as many as 16.  Some sloppy play, including missed free throws toward the end of the game, allowed Brown to cut the lead into single digit territory, but the outcome was never really in doubt.

This was a game of two stories.  Story number one revolved around a 6′-5″ guard on the Brown team.  Steven Spieth is a graduate of Jesuit High School in Dallas and is a talented player who could contribute to many big name programs.  However, he is more known more for being the brother of professional golfer Jordan Spieth.

Brown head coach Mike Martin recalled sitting in the Spieth’s living room three years ago when he recruited Steven and promising that Brown would play a game in Dallas if chose to play for the school.  Sunday’s game fulfilled the promise, and the teams are scheduled to play again in Dallas around Thanksgiving Weekend next year.

Spieth quickly scored nine points by making his first three shot attempts.  However, he hit just one more three point shot and went 2-2 from the free throw line to finish with 14 points in the game.  He admitted afterward that he was disappointed in his 4-13 (31%) shooting performance.

He seemed to enjoy the attention though.  At one point during warmups, he went over to shake hands with former President George W. Bush, who was seated along the side lines.  He pointed out that he stayed up Saturday watching the Golf Channel to find out how his brother fared in the Australian Open.

The SMU story revolved around two players who did not see action in the game – the Moores, Nic and Ben.  Nic Moore has played the last two games in significant pain after sustaining a hairline fracture in his finger.  The decision was made to give him at least three more days to recover by holding him out of the Brown game.  It was the first game he has not started in his SMU career.

Associate head coach Tim Jankovich sounded optimistic that Nic will return Wednesday, when the Mustangs travel to Ft. Worth to play TCU.

Shake Milton started in place of the All-American point guard, and recorded seven assists, the most by an SMU player this season.  The team recorded a season high 26 assists, as every starting player and one player off the bench tallied at least three.

Ben Moore was held out for disciplinary reasons.  Jankovich would not commit to a timetable for Ben’s return or to the nature of the violations.  He did say it was possible that Ben would be back on Wednesday.

Jordan Tolbert started in Ben’s place, and turned in a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.  The Texas Tech transfer probably deserved to start over Ben anyway, as this was Tolbert’s second consecutive double digit scoring game.  ”JT”, as his teammates like to call him, is averaging 11 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

With the Moores out, SMU dressed just seven scholarship players and eight total.  Jonathan Wilfong is the walk-on who usually just plays in blow-out games.  He saw six minutes of action in Sunday’s game including appearances in both halfs.

The Mustangs are definitely not as deep nor as big with their inside players this season.  Cannen Cunningham and Yankick Moreira joined Ben Moore and Markus Kennedy last season for a tremendous inside presence.  Cunningham and Moreira were the two tallest of the group, and they have graduated.  Right now, the Mustangs front line is Kennedy, Tolbert and Ben Moore, so Ben’s absence presents a hole.

Jankovich said after the game that he employed a zone defense to hopefully stay away from foul trouble with his bigs.

The front line should get help later in December.  Semi Ojeleye is scheduled to become eligible under the transfer rules once the fall semester is completed.  He’s 6′-8″ and is a very physical player.  Sunday however, the Mustangs were without Ben Moore and Ojeleye.

This week, the Mustangs are in Ft. Worth on Wednesday to play TCU.  The game will be played at the Wilkerson-Greines Athletic Center in southeast Ft. Worth, as the renovation of the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum is not complete.  (Daniel-Meyer has been renamed as the Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena.  The Schollmaiers are the lead donors for the renovation.)  The game begins at 7:00 PM (Central) and will be televised on FSN Southwest.

The Mustangs follow that game with a Saturday afternoon tilt against New Hampshire in preparation for one of the big games on this year’s schedule.  The Mustangs host Michigan next week on Tuesday December 8.

NOTABLE:

*     The SMU Women’s Volleyball team posted a 27- 5 record this year, best in school history.  That included 17-3 in American Athletic Conference play.  The record earned the program its first ever NCAA Tournament bid.  They will play Purdue in the first round this Thursday at 4:30 PM in Austin, Texas.  The Boilermakers went 22-9 overall and 13-7 in Big X play to gain a tournament bid.  The winner of the match will face the winner of number three seed Texas and Fairfield on Friday.

 

TOP 25!

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – Week three of the Men’s AP basketball poll came out Monday, and the SMU Mustangs were finally in at number 25.  They were knocking on the door a week ago after their opening game rout of Sam Houston State coming in effectively at number 26 – they were the team receiving the most votes among those that did not make the Top 25.  Over the past week, the Mustangs ran their record to 3-0 with wins over Stanford on the road and Yale at home.

SMU is the third team from the American Athletic Conference to crack the Top 25.  Cincinnati is 24th and Connecticut is 18th this week.  Tulsa is also getting votes after their shocking upset of number nine Wichita State.  SMU was in the AP Top 25 for nine weeks last season including the final seven and for four weeks the season before.  In addition to eight games against those four conference opponents, the Mustangs also have a non-conference games against number 10 Gonzaga on their schedule.

Sunday’s game against Yale was a tight one.  The Bulldogs also received votes in the AP poll last week, and they were very good.  They played an excellent first half, ran their lead to as many as 10 points in the second half, and led in the game for more than 26 minutes.  Guard Makai Mason, who shot 50% from the field and made seven of 11 free throws, was the hot hand for Yale.  He scored 16 of his team’s first 40 points as they built the halftime lead.  He hit three shots from beyond the arc and finished with a game high 24 points.

The Mustangs have proven to be a high scoring offensive outfit, as they are averaging 80.3 points per game so far this year.  At least four players have scored in double digits in each game, and seven different players have hit double digits in at least one game.  It was their defense that turned the Yale game around though.

Associate head coach Tim Jankovich said after the game that they decided at halftime to increase pressure on the ball with double teams and traps.  It worked.  The Mustangs got some easy baskets that got them back in the game.  They tied the game at 49 and took the lead at 53-51.  It was a lead they never relinquished, though the Bulldogs didn’t go away easily.

Sterling Brown was the offensive force that got the Mustangs going.  “Sterling got very aggressive.  That just kind of got us on a roll.  Talk about a big lift,” Associate head coach Tim Jankovich said.

Later, it was Jordan Tolbert that carried the offensive load in a breakout performance for the Texas Tech transfer.  The 6′-7″ forward hit two free throws to give the Mustangs their initial second half lead.  He scored 14 points after intermission and led SMU for the game with 17.

The Mustangs pushed the lead to seven points, their largest of the game as the clock wound past the 1:00 minute mark.  That’s usually good enough for a win, but two Mustangs missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity to open the door for the Bulldogs to get back in it.  The scrappy Yale team scored eight points in the last minute before the clock finally ran out with SMU winning by just two.

This win came on the heels of the Mustangs first road game of the year last Thursday against Stanford.  SMU played well early, but the shots just didn’t fall.  They played more than 10 minutes before they took control of the game.  SMU ran their first half lead to 10 points after the shots started to fall before settling for a seven point margin at halftime.  The Mustangs especially took care of the ball.  They had just two turnovers compared to 10 for the Cardinal

In the second half, they came out smoking and pushed the lead to 20 points at 58-38 in the first six plus minutes.  They actually were a bit sloppy over the final 13 minutes, but they cruised in for an 85-70 15 point win.  Road wins are always good in college basketball.

SMU’s next game is this Sunday afternoon at 2:00.  They play the Brown Bears in Moody Coliseum.  The most notable player on the Brown team is their junior guard Steven Spieth, the brother of professional golfer Jordan Spieth.

MUSTANG MORSELS:

*     The SMU Men’s soccer team beat Denver 1-0 Sunday afternoon to advance to the “Sweet 16″ of the NCAA Tournament.  They next play Akron in Akron, Ohio on Sunday, November 29 at 4:00 PM Eastern (3:00 PM Central).

*     Alicia Froling made the American Athletic Conference Weekly Honor roll after averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds in two home games for SMU’s Women’s basketball team last week.  The native of Australia had her second double-double of the season when she scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds against TCU.