CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The SMU Mustangs played a great first half in Waco against the Baylor Bears on Saturday, but in the end, the number 23 ranked Bears prevailed with a fine second half.  The game was tied at six at halftime, but Baylor outscored SMU 34-7 in the second half for the 40-13 win.

Baylor took charge shortly after halftime.  They received the kickoff and drove 79 yards in 10 plays for the go ahead touchdown, the Bears’ first lead of the game.  They scored two more TDs in the third quarter, the second on a interception of a Ben Hicks pass.  That ran the score to 26-6 and essentially sealed the outcome.

SMU answered with a touchdown drive capped by a Courtland Sutton pass reception.  It was Sutton’s fourth TD in two games.  The All-American candidate caught six passes and led all receivers with 112 receiving yards.  Freshman James Proche showed his promise by leading the Mustangs with seven receptions for 84 yards.

SMU started Ben Hicks, a redshirt freshman from Waco at quarterback.  It was just his second game and first start in college, but he handled the assignment well to keep the Ponies competitive.  SMU head coach Chad Morris had said earlier in the week that the starting quarterback would be a game time decision, but the rumor is that week one starter Matt Davis has a torn ACL, is out for the season, and SMU is looking into getting a medical red shirt for him.

In the first half, SMU drove into the “Red Zone” on their second and third drives, but settled for field goals both times to take a 6-0 lead.  The Mustangs defense forced punts on Baylor’s first two possessions, but the third time was the charm for the Bears.  They cut the lead in half with a field goal early in the second quarter.

The Mustangs picked off a Baylor pass and returned it to the 12 as they looked poised to extend their lead.  However, SMU failed to turn the interception into points as they handed the ball back to Bears with an interception in the end zone.  At that point, Baylor put together the best drive of the half.  They drove the ball for more than five minutes and almost cashed in with a go ahead touchdown.  Baylor was initially awarded a touchdown as the receiver fell into the end zone and fumbled.  The video review proved that the fumble occurred prior to crossing the goal line.  SMU recovered the fumble, so the touchdown was negated and SMU was in business at their own 20 with a touchback.

There were slightly more than two minutes remaining until halftime, so the SMU plan was to run the ball, hopefully running out the clock and taking a 6-3 lead to intermission.  Good plan.  Bad execution.  SMU running back Ke’Mon Freeman fumbled on the first play, and Baylor was handed another scoring opportunity at the Mustangs’ 25.  To their credit, the Pony defense was tough enough to keep the Bears out of the end zone.  Baylor settled for the field goal that tied the game at six at halftime.

SMU particularly dominated the first quarter outrushing the Beats 144-39.  The total offense numbers were 184-68.  By halftime, those numbers were much closer, but SMU still led in both categories.

Coach Morris was very complimentary of the Baylor team.  “First of all I want to take my hat off to Baylor and Coach Grobe.  Those guys fought hard in the second half and made some plays when they had to.”

“I felt like our guys deserved to be in this moment.  I’m extremely excited about the direction of where our football program is going.  We’re definitely trending upward.  I’m proud of our players and proud of the effort they give.  Our guys came out and played hard and fought hard.  We had opportunities to make plays.  With a team like Baylor you can’t settle for field goals.  You’ve got to have touchdowns.  We cost ourselves with some picks.  Actually, we had four turnovers.  Anytime you have four turnovers, it’s hard to win anything with a pick six.”

“When you look out on the field and you see that a majority of those kids are freshman and sophomores, our future is bright.  We’ve got to clean up a lot of things, but we will.”

Morris was also very pleased with quarterback Ben Hicks.  “He’s a competitor.  I’m proud of him, and he’s got a great future.”

He did lament, “I wish we had a few more plays made.  We’ve got to keep fighting.  I felt like we played the first half well enough to win.  If we could have come out and matched the intensity and energy, yes (they could have won the game).”

“I thought defensively they played too many plays.  They were on the field entirely too much.  They were very prepared and I was very excited about the way they played and performed.  We’ve got to be able to help them out.  Three and outs don’t do us any good.”

The bottom line for Morris about his team, “I think we’re a better football team than we were last year.”

The Mustangs will have the opportunity to prove him right and tie last year’s win total this weekend in the home opener against Liberty.

 

ONE AND OH

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

DENTON, Texas – The SMU football team kicked off the 2016 season with a solid 34-21 victory over the University of North Texas Saturday night.  All-American candidate Courtland Sutton caught three touchdown passes, and Xavier Jones rushed for 115 yards as the Mustangs plastered the Mean Green’s defense for 572 total yards.

The Mustangs took charge of this game early with 17 first quarter points.  Jones scored in the first two minutes on a 49 yard run to start the scoring parade.  Josh Williams kicked the extra point and later added a field goal to extend the lead to 10-0.  With 23 seconds left in the quarter, Sutton caught the first of his TD passes.  This one was thrown by Ben Hicks and went for 88 yards.  It is the fifth longest touchdown pass in school history.

“I thought we did a really good job early in the game moving the ball,” Head Coach Chad Morris said afterwards.  “A lot of that was set up by turnovers, which we were needing.  I thought we were able to get off to a fast start, which was huge.”

North Texas answered with a touchdown drive to start the second quarter.  That cut the lead to 10 points at 17-7, and it stayed there until the final two minutes before half time.  Sutton caught his second TD pass with 1:59 remaining.  This pass went for 48 yards and was thrown by Matt Davis.

Morris said about Sutton, “Courtland is just a phenominal playmaker.  One of the things that is really helping Courtland out a lot right now is the fact that we have some playmakers opposite the field of him with James Proche and Xavier Castillo.  The ability to not just focus all your coverages to Courtland will open up some things even in our run game.”

North Texas however came back to score another TD on a 25 yard pass to cut the lead to 24-14 at halftime.

SMU put the game away in the third quarter with another Davis to Sutton touchdown pass and a field goal.  North Texas finished the scoring with a late touchdown on an 11 play drive that took four minutes.  Jeffrey Wilson ran the final 11 yards for the TD.  The extra point made the final score 34-21.

Quarterback Matt Davis left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury.  It was obviously a knee injury as he limped off the field.  There is no further report Sunday afternoon about the severity of the injury, but Mustang fans should be fearing the worst.  It’s entirely possible.

SMU beat North Texas for the second year in a row, but the first time ever in Denton.  It was the first season opening win since 2009, and the first season opening win on the road since 1986.

“We played well at times, and we played really bad at times,” Morris said.  “It’s a starting point for us.  You see huge improvements from week one to week two.  Our goal for next week is to be 1-0.  There’s a lot of stuff we can improve upon.  We had too many tackles for loss tonight.  We’ve got to clear that up.  I was very proud with the way we won the turnover margin.  That’s one of our goals.  It’s something we’ll continue to stress to our players.”

The season continues for SMU in Waco next Saturday afternoon.  The Bears beat Northwestern State 55-7 Friday night in their season opener.

NOTABLE:

*     SMU had five offensive plays of at least 45 yards.  Two were rushes by Matt Davis and Xavier Jones, two were touchdown receptions by Courtland Sutton, and James Proche hauled in a 52 yard pass from Matt Davis.

*     The 572 yards of total offense is the most in a game since Chad Morris took over as head coach.  The previous high was 518 yards against Tulane.

*     SMU won the turnover battle 4-2 with three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

 

BROWN OUT

Larry Brown Suddenly Resigns

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – Last Friday morning, SMU Head Basketball Coach Larry Brown abruptly resigned his post citing his inability to work out a contract extension with SMU as the reason.  Brown originally signed a five year contract with SMU to be the head basketball coach and has completed four years.  Most reports have the contract impasse relating to the length of the extension.

The Dallas Morning News’ Kevin Sherrington reported that Brown initially sought a six year extension to similar to the term Head Football Coach Chad Morris received when he took the job.  Brown turns 76 in September, so with the year remaining on his current contract, he would have entered that final season at the age of 82.  Brown is said to have reduced that demand to five years for the extension and perhaps even to four; but SMU did not want to go more than three years, which would have taken Brown through the 2019-20 season.

Sherrington also reported that there were disparities in the amount of money that would be guaranteed, and that even the full amount of SMU’s offer represented a pay cut from his current contract.  However, another report indicated that SMU was willing to pay almost $10 million over the three years the school was willing to extend, which was definitely an increase.

SMU also wanted a contract provision allowing the school to negate the contract if the program was put on NCAA probation again.

Brown met with the team early Friday morning to disclose that he had resigned.  Brown apparently gave the news to CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein, as the news hit the airways shortly after 8:00 AM (Central) citing Rothstein as the source.

“I love this place,” Brown told the Dallas Morning News’ Brad Townsend.  They gave me a chance to coach – a 70 year-old man.  I don’t know how people would have even considered me.  It’s been the most amazing experience.”

“And then having my kids in school here was an extra benefit I never would have believed at this point of my life.”  Brown has a son and a daughter that will be a senior and sophomore respectively this fall at SMU.

The timing unfortunately came across poorly, as the announcement came just hours after the sniper shooting that killed five police officers in downtown Dallas Thursday night.  Brown indicated that he regretted the timing in view of Thursday night’s events and considered waiting until Monday to make the announcement; but he felt that if he waited, the news would leak, and he did not want it to get out in that manner.

The Mustangs have been extremely successful under Brown, whose record for his four year tenure was 94-39.  The Mustangs have been ranked in the Top 25 at the end of each of the last three seasons.  In the 2014 post-season, they lost in the NIT finals to Minnesota.  A year later, they made the NCAA Tournament after winning both the American Athletic Conference regular season championship and the post season conference tournament.  This past year, the team was 25-5 and finished second to Temple in the AAC regular season.  They however were ineligible to go to post season play over academic issues.

On Monday, Associate Head Coach Tim Jankovich was named as the new SMU Head Basketball Coach.  Jankovich, who had spent the last four years on Brown’s staff, was no surprise, as he was anointed the “coach in waiting” when he accepted the position.  He has previously served as the head coach at North Texas State and Illinois State.  He is known as a good recruiter.  His most prized recruit is Nic Moore, who he recruited at Illinois State and joined him at SMU when he took a job on Brown’s staff.  He was involved in recruiting all the players currently on the SMU roster.

Last fall, he was the active head coach for the NCAA mandated nine-game suspension of Larry Brown.  Under that suspension, Brown was allowed absolutely no contact with SMU period.  Jankovich ran all the practices and coached the games with no guidance from Brown during the suspension.  The Mustangs began the season 9-0 under Jankovich, and the opponents included power conference teams Michigan, Stanford and TCU, with only Michigan at home.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to work alongside Coach Brown the last four years,” Jankovich said in a prepared release to the media.  “I am grateful to have worked with and learned from one of the legends of our game, and to have formed such a meaningful relationship.  I will miss him and am thankful for all that he has done for SMU and for me personally.  I am excited about the future of SMU basketball, and I am looking forward to continuing the tradition of excellence that we have begun.”

SMU President R. Gerald Turner said in the same press release, “We’re thankful for Coach Brown’s efforts here at SMU to rebuild our program and bring the magic back to Moody (Coliseum).  His teams brought great energy and excitement to campus.  That said, I believe Coach Jankovich can continue to build upon that success and keep us on that upward trajectory.  I believe there are more championships in the near future for SMU basketball.”

Brown certainly leaves the program in far better shape than when he arrived.  “We’ve got terrific kids,” Brown said.  “I think we’ve elevated the program to where it’s a Top 25 program.  I’m proud of that.”

SMU Athletic Director Rick Hart added, “Coach Brown was able to accomplish so much in his four years of the Hilltop.  He has left his mark on SMU basketball, and we are thankful for what he’s done.”

MAY ROUND UP

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – Scatter shooting while wondering whatever happened to Byron Hunt.  If that opening sounds familiar, it was the format of Blackie Sherrod’s Sunday columns for years.  William Forrest Sherrod passed away recently at the age of 96.  He is generally regarded as the preeminent North Texas sportswriter ever.  He was voted the Texas sportswriter of the year 16 times, easily more than anyone else.

He was part of the greatest generation, having served on the USS Saratoga in World War II.  He was a torpedo plane tailgunner.  At one point, his plane went down in the Pacific.  The buckle on his seat restraint jammed, and he had to cut the harness to get loose, which he did literally seconds before the plane sank.

Readers have enjoyed his writing style and treasured his opinions.  He retired from writing in 2003, so we have missed his columns for 13 years.  RIP Blackie.

The SMU athletic department announced that Harry Froling has officially signed at SMU.  The 6-10″ power forward/center is expected to be a key player for next year’s basketball team with Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy having exhausted their eligibility.

At this point, it looks like neither Ted Kapita nor Fernando Bruno will be coming to SMU.  Both had given verbal commitments, and both are center/power forward types that were expected to shore up SMU’s inside game next season.  However, both apparently have academic issues.  Bruno has officially de-committed.

The talent seems to just keep on coming though.  Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt has indicated that he will be transferring to SMU.  Whitt was a four star prospect a year ago.  He had an up and down season at Arkansas averaging 6.1 points and 17 minutes per game.  He’ll have to sit out the 2016-17 season per the transfer rules, but he’ll have three years of eligibility remaining when he becomes eligible.

New Women’s Head Basketball Coach Travis Mays recruited a top player for his program.  Former Duncanville High School star Tiara Davenport is transferring from Louisiana Tech.  She will have two years of eligibility remaining.  The 6′-0″ guard was All-State her senior year, leading Duncanville to a 36-1 record.  She was named to the Conference-USA All-Freshman team and played in 60 games the last two years at Louisiana Tech.

On the football front, no Mustangs were drafted by NFL teams, but immediately after the draft, defensive back Shakiel Randolph signed a free agent contract with Kansas City.  The Waco native is a four-year letterman that played in 40 games, starting 27.  Also, Zachary Wood signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys.

SMU’s Evan Brown was named to the 2016 spring watch list for the Rimington Trophy.  The Rimington Award is given the top center in college football.  Brown is a junior that has started 22 games in his first two years.

The football team is getting a boost from two transfers.  Denzell Evans is a running back transferring from Arkansas.  He has already graduated, so is immediately eligible and will have two years of eligibility remaining.  He was a three star prospect coming out of high school at Houston Bellaire.  At Arkansas, he played mostly on special teams.

Trey Quinn is a wide receiver transferring from L.S.U.  He has verbally committed to SMU after playing two years for the Tigers.  He was a highly recruited player out of high school in Barbe, Louisiana, where he was rated as a top 10 receiver in the 2014 recruiting class.  He will have to sit out a year per the transfer rules, and will be eligible for the 2017 season.  He will also have two years of eligibility remaining.

Chad Morris is busy on the recruiting trail for the “Stang Gang 17″.  He now has 12 verbal commitments for next year’s recruiting class after getting three verbal commitments last weekend.

 

APRIL ROUND UP

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – On Palm Sunday, the Rev Bryan Dunagan, Senior Pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church, mentioned NCAA brackets in the opening remarks of his sermon.  He certainly got a crowd reaction after all the first round upsets.  He relayed his prediction saying, “For my brackets, I picked SMU to go all the way.”

Rev. Dunagan would have had a better chance to win if he had picked Villanova, but for sure, the team he picked to win it all did not lose a game in this year’s tournament.  It’s still disappointing though, to see Syracuse and North Carolina playing in the Final Four, when those two schools had much more significant NCAA violations that occurred prior to SMU’s.  The inequity still rankles.

Head Coach Larry Brown has been interviewed a number of times in the past few weeks.  He’s taken the very practical approach to the post season that “yes” it was disappointing for the players to not have the opportunity to play in the post season, but the team has moved on.  His priority now is to get the team ready for next season and hopefully back into the Tournament.

SMU’s basketball program got another shot in the arm when Fernando Bruno verbally committed to attend SMU.  Bruno is a four star prospect; a 6′-10″ center, ranked as the eighth best center and 70th best player in this year’s recruiting class by ESPN.  He played this past season at Montverde Academy in Montverde, Florida.  He had numerous scholarship offers including SEC schools LSU and Alabama.

The addition of Bruno to the other four recruits previously committed improved SMU’s rank to the 14th best recruiting class this year.  The spring recruits can begin formally signing with their schools next Wednesday, April 13.

Bruno, along with Harry Froling and Ted Kapich, who had committed earlier, should keep the Mustangs well stocked at the 4-5 positions next season.  Senior Ben Moore returns from last year’s team, though he could easily see more time at the three.  Semi Ojeleye, the 6′-8″ transfer from Duke will likely start at the four or five next season.  Inside play should not be a problem.

The Mustangs should have 10-11 scholarship players with the five incoming freshmen.  Four of the seven scholarship players in the playing rotation at season’s end – Moore, Sterling Brown, Jarrey Foster, and Shake Milton – are expected back.  Ojeleye and perhaps Ben Emelogu will return.  Emelogu was forced out of action this season by knee problems that required surgery, after an earlier back injury.  There is some question as to whether he will be physically able to continue his playing career.

The bottom line is that this recruiting class is perhaps the best ever at SMU.  Assuming all the verbally committed players follow through on their commitment, sign with SMU and actually show up next fall; the team is essentially re-stocked to continue their run as one of the top basketball programs in the country.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL:  SMU named Travis Mays to replace Rhonda Rompola as the new head basketball coach of Women’s basketball team.  SMU Athletic Director Rick Hart announced the hire on Thursday and Mays was introduced at a Friday afternoon news conference.

Mays has been the Associate Head Coach for the Women’s basketball program at Texas the past four years.  He has also coached at LSU and Georgia and in the WNBA since retiring from his playing days in the NBA, where he had a three year career that was shortened by injury.  He was the 14th pick in the first round of the 1990 NBA draft after a four year career at Texas in which he was named Honorable Mention All American as a senior.  He is still the second leading scorer in the history of University of Texas basketball.

Mays is regarded as a gifted floor coach and has roots in recruiting Texas.

FOOTBALL:  Spring Training is down to the final week.  The Blue – Red game is scheduled for next Saturday, April 16 at 1:00 PM.

A NEW ERA

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU’s Men’s basketball season came to a quiet end last Sunday with a disappointing 61-54 loss.  Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena housed a sellout crowd of more than 13,000 fans, of which about 100 were SMU supporters.  Most of them were friends and family of players, coaches and radio announcers.  The loss ended the Mustangs’ season with a 25-5 overall record and a 13-5 record in American Athletic Conference play.  The loss coupled with Temple’s win Sunday afternoon over Tulane gave Temple the outright regular season conference championship and slipped SMU into sole possession of second place.

Sunday’s game was the end of the college career of the three scholarship players who are seniors – Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert.  Tolbert was a Mustang for just one season, but Moore and Kennedy have been the backbone of the turnaround of Mustang basketball.  They transferred to SMU immediately when Larry Brown was named to succeed Matt Doherty as SMU’s Head Basketball Coach and sat out their first year per the transfer rules.  They watched that first Brown coached team limp to a 15-17 record.  Moore remarked recently that he and Kennedy passed the time during games by counting the crowd.  It didn’t take long with the puny numbers that showed up in those days.

Three years later, this twosome has played SMU into a relevant factor on the college basketball landscape.  SMU won 27, 27 and 25 games over the past three seasons.  No previous Mustang team had ever won as many as 20 games in each of three consecutive seasons.

Sellout crowds at Moody Coliseum have become routine, and the audience is usually star studded with professional sports team owners, NFL players, NBA players and even a former President and First Lady.  The crowd for sure energizes the players and intimidates opponents as the Mustangs have lost just four home games over the last three seasons.

It was a somber plane ride home for the team last Sunday night.  There was very little talk as most of the players slept or listened to music.  Cincinnati was a very physical opponent, and the Mustangs’ players needed the rest and solitude.  There was a tinge of sadness too.  Certainly, a 25 win regular season is outstanding.  That’s the most regular season games a Mustang men’s team has ever won.  But the reality of the NCAA’s post-season ban was upon them.  Conference Tournaments, including the American Athletic Conference’s are taking place across the country this week – most in exciting venues.  Next week, post-season tournaments begin, including the big one – the NCAA Tournament.  It has to hurt.  This Mustang team knows it should be playing.

Instead, they are home because one administrative assistant took one on-line course for a high school player that is no longer in the SMU program.  Academic fraud is the term for the transgression even though the course wasn’t necessary for the player to either graduate from high school or be eligible to play in college.

Meanwhile, SMU watches a North Carolina team get to play in the Big Dance despite having given grades over an 18 year period to more than 1,000 athletes, many of which were basketball players.  The grades from the Black Studies course that did not meet, have homework assignments or exams, kept many basketball players eligible.  The NCAA was on the North Carolina case well before the SMU academic fraud came to light, yet the Tar Heels will receive a high seed this Sunday when the pairings are announced, while SMU players and fans watch on TV.

This week, the final AP Top 25 Poll came out.  SMU stayed in at number 25 despite the loss to Cincinnati.  It’s the third year in a row that the Mustangs have finished in the top 25.  Also, this week, the AAC announced individual awards for the season.  Nic Moore was the Conference Player of the Year for the second consecutive season and a unanimous first team All-Conference selection.  Markus Kennedy won the Sixth Man of the Year Award also for the second consecutive season, and Shake Milton was named to the All-Freshman team.  Amazingly, Ben Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Sterling Brown were not among the selections for first and second team All-Conference and Honorable Mentions.

Next season, four of the seven scholarship players return – seniors Ben Moore and Sterling Brown along with sophomores Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster.  They’ll be joined by red shirts Semi Ojeleye and Ben Emelogu.  Courtland Sutton, the wide receiver on the football team that joined the basketball team in January has indicated that he wants to play again.  Four incoming freshmen have committed to join the program.

Assuming that all four follow through on their commitments and are academically eligible, the Mustangs will have more depth than this season.  Also assuming that the additions to the team that are slated to play inside can fill the void left by Kennedy and Tolbert, SMU basketball could be even more physically talented than this year’s team.  Replacing Nic Moore’s heart and leadership is another question.

This week, Head Coach Larry Brown reflected on the season and the program in an article written by Bill Nichols and published in the Dallas Morning News.  There has been some speculation that Brown might be calling it quits after the season, but Brown made it clear that was never contemplated.

“I love what I do and I love where I’m at, and I want to see it continue to get better,” Brown told Nichols.  “I think we’re going to get all this stuff behind us and continue to get better, and I want to be a part of that.  I don’t want to see this situation end.  If they want me, I’ll stay as long as they want.  We’ve got everything in place.”

Brown has a son L. J. and daughter Madison that are a junior and freshman respectively at SMU.  “They’re happy, and it’s been special for me to be around and see how much they enjoy SMU.  That’s been a benefit to me that I really didn’t expect.”

On his four years on the Hilltop so far, Brown said, “I’ve had four wonderful years here.  There have been disappointments, but I think about when Tim (Associate Head Coach Jankovich) and I got here, where we were as a program, the progress we’ve made and the support we’ve received and the feeling in the community and SMU has been more than I could have expected.”

The era of Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy ended last Sunday, but SMU basketball is poised to experience even greater success on the court.

ON TO MEMPHIS

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Men’s basketball team is down to four games beginning with a trip to Memphis on Thursday night.  That will be followed by home tilts against Tulane this Sunday and Connecticut the following Thursday.  The final game is in Cincinnati.  Since opening the season with an 18 game winning streak, the Mustangs have alternated losses and wins over the last eight games.  In that span, they have dropped from eighth to 24th in the Associated Press poll and into second place in the American Athletic Conference standings.

The Mustangs take a 22-4 record to Memphis.  They are still poised to win the AAC regular season championship.  They trail first place Temple by one-half game, but are tied in the all important loss column.  SMU is 10-4 in conference while Temple us 11-4 after losing Tuesday night in Tulsa.  By winning the last four games, the worst that the Mustangs can finish is co-champions with Temple.

The schedule favors Temple.  Both teams have common opponents in Memphis and Tulane.  Temple’s other game is against Central Florida, a conference also-ran with a 5-10 record after losing to Houston Wednesday night.  SMU, on the other hand, faces the other two conference championship contenders – Connecticut at home and Cincinnati on the road.  With Temple’s schedule, the Mustangs likely need to win these last four games to be crowned co-champions of the conference.

The bottom line is that this conference championship may go down to the last day of the season as it did a year ago.  SMU’s last game at Cincinnati will be nationally televised on CBS at noon Eastern, 11:00 Central on Sunday March 6.  It will be SMU’s first regular season game televised on CBS since the 1980′s.

No matter how the final 11 days play out, it’s still a marvelous season for the Mustangs.  They have overcome so much adversity to hang tough and win more than 20 games.  They likely will finish with at least 25.  SMU won 27 games each of the last two seasons, which included seven wins after the regular season.  Consequently, if this year’s team wins at least three of the final four games, it will be the best regular season record in this run, and it will be the first time in school history to win 25 games in three consecutive seasons.  Never before has SMU won even 20 games over three consecutive seasons.  They also will likely end up ranked in the top 20 in the final AP poll for the third straight year.

Next year should be a continuation of the last three successful years.  Four of the seven current scholarship players return – Seniors Ben Moore and Sterling Brown and sophomores Shake Milton and Jarray Foster.  Ben Emolugu, who sat out the year with a knee injury, and Semi Ojeleye, the Duke transfer who decided to red-shirt this spring to leave two more years of eligibility, join the four.

SMU has four commitments for next year.  6′-4″ inch guards Dashawn McDowell from Oklahoma City and Tom Wilson from Australia were the first to commit.  Harry Froling a 6′-10″ post player from Australia verbally committed last month.  Those three are considered three star prospects.  Last week, the Mustangs got a fourth commitment from Ted Kapita, a 6′-8″ power forward, ranked by 247Sports as the number 50 prospect in this year’s class, but number one at his position.  He’s a four-star prospect.  With his inclusion, 247Sports ranks the SMU recruiting class 20th in the country.

Mustang fans will miss Jordan Tolbert, Markus Kennedy and especially Nic Moore next year; but the good days aren’t going away.  The Mustangs should put another Top 25 caliber team on the floor again.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL:  SMU Women’s head basketball coach Rhonda Rompola announced her retirement after this season.  Rompola has been the head coach of the Mustangs for 25 years, and has been associated with the SMU Women’s basketball program as a player, assistant coach and head coach for 35 of the 40 years the program has been in existence.  Under her leadership, SMU’s Women’s basketball team has won 20 games in a season nine times, five conference championships, appeared in the NCAA Tournament seven times and appeared in the Women’s NIT six times.

“It has been an incredible journey,” Coach Rompola said in a press release.  “I’ve coached for 30-plus years, and it’s extremely demanding of your time.  I am really looking forward to spending more time with my husband and family.”

SMU President Doctor R. Gerald Turner added, “Any discussion of SMU women’s basketball starts with Rhonda Rompola.  I know I speak for the entire SMU family when I say, ‘Thank you Rhonda’ for a job well done.”

A DOG FIGHT

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU’s Men’s basketball team split a pair of home games last week with a disappointing loss to Tulsa and an impressive win over Gonzaga.  They are now 3-3 since opening the season with 18 straight wins.  All three losses have been to conference foes, so the idea that the Mustangs would waltz through to the regular season American Athletic Conference Championship has perished.  They are in a dog fight as their 9-3 conference record currently places the Mustangs one-half game BEHIND first place Temple with a 10-3 record.  Cincinnati at 9-4 and Connecticut at 8-4 are close behind.

The Mustangs lost to Tulsa Wednesday night 82-77 at Moody Coliseum.  It was a game of runs, and SMU seemingly had the game in hand as they held an eight point lead, their largest of the game, as the clock ticked past the nine minute mark in the second half.  Tulsa however, had the last big run as they finished with a 30-17 flourish to capture the win.

After the game, Head Coach Larry Brown was critical of the team’s defense, though he both took part of the blame for failing to have a good defensive game plan, and admitted that Tulsa shot amazingly well, even when closely guarded.

On Saturday night, SMU played perhaps its best game of the year, considering the competition.  Gonzaga has been a top national program for more than a decade, and they are led by post players Kyle Wiltjer and Damantas Sabonis, who collectively average a shade under 40 points per game.  Both big men are taller than anyone on the SMU squad, so they definitely presented problems.

SMU trailed much of the first half, but closed out the final six minutes with a 12-1 run to take a three point halftime lead.  Brown made halftime adjustments, and the defensive stops came more frequently.  Sabonis finished with a fine game – 20 points and 16 rebounds, but Wiltjer was held to four points on the night, as the Mustangs won 69-60.

Point guard Nic Moore was especially impressive last week, scoring 27 and 25 points in the two games.  Against Gonzaga, he recorded a double-double by adding 11 assists.  He was named to the Conference Weekly Honor Roll for the performances.  Moore is making a strong bid to retain the honor he won a year ago as the Conference Player of the Year.

There are six games left in this truncated season that finds the team banned from post-season play, which includes the conference tournament.  All six are against conference foes, with three against two of the other three teams most solidly in the hunt for the regular season championship.  SMU is in Connecticut Thursday, and during the final week of the season, they host Connecticut and travel to Cincinnati.  This championship will be decided on the court!

The Ponies have fallen over the last three weeks from eighth in the Associated Press Top 25 poll to number 21 this week, a five place drop from last week even with the impressive win over Gonzaga.  The Dallas Morning News also publishes a weekly poll of the Top 10 teams in Texas.  The Gonzaga win combined with four straight Texas A&M losses has vaulted the Ponies back on top.  They scarfed all 12 first place votes to reclaim number one after the Aggies had held the top pot the last three weeks.

The goal was to make this a special season for seniors Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert despite the post-season ban.  The players often spoke of going 30-0.  There was never much chance of that happening, and there was a fear that the team would mentally let down after that first loss.  It may seem that they have with the 3-2 record since the first loss, but candidly, they were not playing to their potential for at least a couple of weeks prior to that to the Temple game that ended the winning streak.

This season has been filled with controversy starting with the NCAA post-season ban.  Two players transferred after the first semester, and another – Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye decided to red-shirt when he became eligible.  Add in a season ending injury to Ben Emelogu, and the school’s self-imposed penalty for the NCAA infractions of taking away two scholarships, and the team is down to seven scholarship players.

The resilience the team has shown to overcome the controversy is amazing.  The players to a man indicate the seven man rotation is no problem.  They are consistently getting a healthy number of minutes on the court.  The long season and the mounting minutes appear at times to be wearing on the players both mentally and physically.  From the beginning in last week’s Tulsa game, they looked sluggish on the court, and they made a boatload of mental mistakes as they frittered away an eight point lead over the final nine minutes.  However, they looked rejuvenated Saturday night and played really well over the final fourth of the game to secure the win.

They need to find the energy they had last Saturday night to close out the year.  The schedule is tough, but the Mustangs look to be the best team on paper.  There is still a conference championship to be won.  They need to go at least 4-2 to win it, and that may not be enough.  21-3 so far is an outstanding season.  A strong finish to win the regular season conference championship will make it one of the best seasons in SMU basketball history.

Larry Brown has made note of court storming after games as a mark of the strides the program has made in his four years.  He first commented on Temple fans storming the court after the Owls ended the Mustangs’ 18 game winning streak that opened the season.  He noted again last Saturday that Mustang fans DID NOT storm the court after beating Gonzaga.  Mustang fans now expect big wins over quality opponents.

Certainly the loss of Nic Moore, Kennedy and Tolbert will put a hole in next year’s team.  However, Ojeleye and Emologu are expected back.  Two impressive high school guards signed in November.  Another high school standout post player has verbally committed.  Those five players added to the four current scholarship players that return will be another good team.  It’s a golden age of SMU basketball.

 

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.