CINCINNATI PREVIEW

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The Mustangs play the most important game so far this season Thursday night in Cincinnati.  SMU and the Bearcats are the last undefeated men’s basketball teams in the American Athletic Conference, and Cincinnati is ranked 22nd this week in both national polls.  SMU comes in with a 14-3 record, while Cincinnati is 13-2.  In conference play, the Mustangs are 4-0, while the Bearcats are 3-0.  Cincinnati is ranked 14th in the January 11 Sagarin  Ratings while SMU is 28th.  The betting line opened on the game at Cincinnati minus six points.

Game Time:  9:00 PM (Eastern)/8:00 PM (Central)  -  ESPN

The Mustangs roll into the game on a 10 game winning streak in which 65 points is the most any of their opponents have scored.  In fact, just three of the opponents managed to reach the 60 point mark, and SMU’s has allowed 54.1 points per game during the streak.  That brought the season total down to 59.1 points per game which is second in conference and fifth in the nation.

Cincinnati comes in with a six game winning streak and a 17 game home winning streak.  They lead the conference in scoring percentage at 48.4% and are averaging 79.3 point per game.  Jacob Evan, Kyle Washington, and Troy Caupain are the Bearcats’ leading scorers.  They are averaging 15.1, 13.8 and 10.0 points per game respectively.

SMU is averaging 72.9 points per game.  They have four players with scoring averages in double digits.  Semi Ojeleye leads the team with 17.9 points per game, which is third in the conference.  Shake Milton comes in at 11.9, Ben Moore at 11.6, and Sterling Brown at 11.4.  They rank 19th, 21st and 22nd in the conference.  At least four players have scored in double digits in 13 of the 17 games.

SMU surprisingly is a rebounding machine.  The Mustangs have out-rebounded their opponent in all but one game and have a plus 13.2 rebound margin.  That leads the AAC and is second in the nation.  In the four conference games, the rebound margin in plus 20.

SMU split two games with Cincinnati last season.  They beat the Bearcats 59-57 in Moody Coliseum, but lost to them 61-54 in the last game of the season at Fifth Third Arena, which cost the Mustangs the regular season conference championship.  It also turned out to be Larry Brown’s last game as head coach of the Mustangs.  All time, SMU is 3-6 against the Bearcats.

It’s a great opportunity for SMU.  A win will almost surely vault the Mustangs into the top 25 next week.  They received votes in both polls this week for the first time this season.  This is just the third of 10 weeks of conference play, but the Bearcats and Mustangs appear to be the two best teams in the conference.  Thursday’s outcome could go a long way toward deciding the regular season conference champion.

FOOTBALL NOTE:  Wide receiver Courtland Sutton held a press conference Wednesday afternoon at which time he announced that he will be returning for his junior year.  He is certainly a talent that would have been drafted had he declared for the NFL draft.  He said he felt like there is “unfinished business” at SMU; that the team can compete for the conference championship this fall and play in a bowl game.

BASKETBALL REPORT CARD

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Men’s basketball team opened conference play last week with two solid road wins.  They finished the month of December undefeated on an eight game winning streak that brought their overall record to 12-3.  They are giving signs of being solidly in the race for the American Athletic Conference championship.

There are seven players on the roster that were in the program last year, so it’s easy to assume that this team is similar to the teams that won at least 25 games and finished in the AP Top 25 in each of the last three years.  Surprisingly, that’s far from the truth.  The last three years have had a classic roster with a solid floor general at point guard, inside players with size and depth, and quality athletes in between on the wings.

This year’s team however doesn’t have a point guard like Nic Moore nor does it have big bodies in the paint.  Coach Jankovich has looked at Shake Milton as the point guard, but in actuality, it’s been point guard by committee.  In the middle, Ben Moore at 6′-8″ is the tallest Mustang, and his slender body is not built to bang with the real big centers in the conference.  This team is basically five athletic wing players.

Amazingly despite the size differential, this is a GREAT rebounding team.  They have been out-rebounded just once in 15 games.  They have a rebound differential of plus 12.7 per game, which ranks fifth in the country.

“I’ve never seen rebounding numbers like these guys at pounding the glass,” Head Coach Tim Jankovich said during his post-game radio interview after the Mustangs beat East Carolina last Saturday.

Moore leads the team at 7.9 rebounds per game, but Semi Ojeleye is close behind at 7.6, and Sterling Brown is third at 6.9.

Scoring is balanced.  All five starters scored in double digits this week in a surprisingly easy 75-44 win over East Carolina.  It was the third time this year that five players have scored in double digits, and at least four players have scored in double digits in 11 games.  Four players led by Semi Ojeleye, the transfer from Duke University, are averaging in double digits.  He’s averaging 17.6 points per game.  The other three are Milton at 11.9, Moore at 11.5 and Brown at 11.1 points.  The Mustangs are averaging 72 points per game.

Jankovich usually runs a man-to-man defense, though he has utilized zones more often recently in an attempt to deal with foul trouble.  The Mustangs’ defense has yielded 58.3 points per game over the first 15 games, which ranks sixth in the nation.  The point differential is 14 points per game.  During the current eight game winning streak, Delaware State scored exactly 60 points, while the other seven teams scored fewer.

The roster though is painfully short of depth.  Right now, Jankovich is utilizing a seven player rotation.  The normal starting lineup is Ojeleye, Moore, Brown, Milton and Jarrey Foster.  Junior Ben Emelogu and freshman Dashawn McDaniel are the two bench players.  Those are all the scholarship players eligible to play this year.  The two freshmen recruits from Australia – Harry Froling and Tom Wilson – have opted to transfer.  Neither showed much in the non-conference games in which they participated, but Froling at least had the size to offset the bigger centers in the league.

Jankovich could be expanding the rotation to eight.  Walk-on senior Jonathan Wilfong is playing more since Wilson left the team.  He’s a smart player that won’t hurt the team on the court.  Courtland Sutton is a talented wide receiver on the football team.  He joined the basketball team last season for the spring semester.  He is still listed on the roster, though there has been no definitive decision as to whether he will actually join the team again this year.  For sure, there is a fear that he could sustain an injury on the basketball court that would curtail a promising NFL career.  He is “only” 6′-4″, but by virtue of last year’s practice he could possibly be an asset.

At the conference media day, the picks to win were Cincinnati, Connecticut and SMU in that order.  Cincinnati has lived up to the billing.  They are currently ranked 22 in both of the major polls this week.  The Sagarin ratings rank every division I team.  There are six from the AAC in the top 100.  There are two surprises.  UCONN is not one of the six, while Central Florida is.  The top AAC rankings are Cincinnati (15), SMU (31), Houston (36), Central Florida (66), Memphis (74) and Temple (84).  Connecticut has fallen to 109 after being ranked in the Top 25 earlier in the season.  This promises to be a delightful race for the regular season championship, which could go down to the last day as it did last year.

The Mustangs’ 30th ranking in Sagarin’s latest rating should comfortably get them into the NCAA Tournament if they maintain that level.  Betting lines on the current Sagarin ratings have the Mustangs favored to win 13 of the remaining conference games, while being the underdog in two.  The Cincinnati game in Dallas would be a pick.

SMU finished non-conference play at 10-3.  The best wins were over Pittsburgh at neutral site Madison Square Garden in the 2K Classic semifinals, and at home over TCU and Stanford.  All three were solid wins with Jankovich clearing the bench in the final minutes.

There are no bad losses.  The three came at the hands of Southern Cal, which is ranked 25th in this week’s AP Poll with a 14-1 record.  That game was played in Los Angeles.  Michigan in the finals of the 2K Classic also in Madison Square Garden and Boise State on the road are the other two losses.  Boise State may not have a great record, but they rarely lose at home with an altitude of more than 7,000 feet above sea level.

To sum up the results so far, the Mustangs are undefeated in nine games at home, 2-2 in true road games, and 1-1 in neutral site games.

In short, if the Mustangs take care of business in conference play, they should have no problem earning an NCAA Tournament bid no matter what happens in the conference post-season tournament.  Depth remains the problem.  A significant injury could derail the train, but if they stay healthy, this team will have a good chance of hitting the 25 win plateau for the fourth straight year.

NOTABLE:

*     On the football front, quarterback Ben Hicks and wide receiver James Proche received Honorable Mention to the Freshman All-American team by Campus Insiders.  Hicks threw for 2,930 passing yards after taking over for starting quarterback Matt Davis, who was injured in the first game.  Hicks threw for 19 touchdowns and ran for two more.  Proche caught 57 passes for 709 yards and six touchdowns.

 

G’DAY MATE

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – Freshman Harry Froling from Townsville, Australia has decided to transfer after playing just 10 games for the SMU Men’s basketball team.  The 6′-11″ center/forward is unhappy with his role on the team, and has decided to consider other options.  Playing professionally in Australia is apparently one consideration.  He has averaged almost 15 minutes per game in the Mustangs first 10 games, scoring 4.3 points and pulling down 3.2 rebounds.  His high scoring game was 11 points against Delaware State.

He has been part of a seven man playing rotation.  He along with Ben Moore and Semi Ojeleye have been the four and five in the lineup.  There are a number of factors about his playing time.  First, he sustained a foot injury in early practices that kept him out of action.  He is clearly not in shape to play significantly more minutes than he’s been getting.  However, his minutes have increased as the season progressed and his conditioning improved.

Last Wednesday against TCU, Moore garnered two fouls that limited his first half minutes to 12.  That opened the door for Froling to play 10 minutes, and he was clearly huffing and puffing as halftime approached.  I.E., Froling’s conditioning has improved since the season began, but he’s still not in tip-top shape.

On the other hand, Head Coach Tim Jankovich has had numerous opportunities for Froling, Ben Emelogu, and freshman guards Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell to play in blowout situations.  In the Eastern Michigan game for instance, the Mustangs held a 23 point lead with less than four minutes remaining in the game, but Jankovich continued to play his starting five.

There is no doubt though that Froling’s loss is a problem for the program.  The Mustangs began the year with just nine scholarship players.  The makeup of the team is four returning scholarship players – Moore, Sterling Brown, Shake Milton and Jerray Foster.  Two more were in the program last year, but did not play – juniors Emelogu (injury) and Ojeleye (red shirt).  That left the three freshmen to fill out the playing rotation.  With Froling gone, Moore at 6′-8″ is the tallest Mustang.

Even Jankovich has commented on the strange physical makeup of the team and how it drastically differs from the past three years.  Mustang fans have grown accustomed to a solid point guard that anchored the team – Nic Moore, along side size and depth with the inside players such as Yanick Moreira, Cannen Cunningham, Markus Kennedey and Jordan Tolbert, just to mention four.  The roster was filled out with athletic players that can shoot on the wings.

This year’s team is now almost entirely athletic players with varying abilities to shoot.  No one has emerged to be the take charge at point guard.  Froling was really the only inside player with the bulk to tangle with the  bigger teams the Ponies will face.

It is noteworthy that Froling has twin sisters – Keely and Alicia that began their basketball careers at SMU.  They disagreed with their treatment by the coach – then Rhonda Rompola.  Alicia is still in the program, but Keely has left even though Travis Mays has taken over as the women’s coach at SMU.

In other words, dissatisfaction with coaches seems to run in the family.

The Mustangs are taking a week off from games for finals.  Play resumes this Wednesday at home against McNeese.  The Mustangs have a 7-3 record.  They are a perfect 6-0 at home, 0-2 on the road, and 1-1 at a neutral site.  The two best wins are over Pittsburgh and TCU.  Pitt is 6-2 on the season, while TCU is 9-1.  Both received votes this week in the AP  and USA Today Coaches’ Polls.

There are no bad losses among the three.  Michigan, which received votes in this week’s Coaches’ Poll, beat them in the 2K Classic finals in Madison Square garden.  It was a poor performance for the Mustangs who were playing their fourth game in eight days to open the season.  The other two losses were to Southern Cal, which cracked the Top 25 this week in both polls, and Boise State on the road.  Boise State is not having a great season, but they are always tough at home with the 7,000 feet altitude.

The Dallas Morning News checked with “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi, who indicated that if the NCAA Tournament field was selected today, the Mustangs would be one of the last four teams in the tournament.  These Mustangs are talented, though still searching for an identity.  While Froling didn’t show much in ten games to excite Mustang fans, he was still a big body that was part of the playing rotation.  Hopefully, Tom Wilson and/or Dashawn McDowell will step up to make the playing rotation seven or even eight, but the Mustangs definitely have a depth problem with Froling gone.

NOTABLE:

*     Semi Ojeleye was named to the American Athletic Conference Weekly Honor Roll for his performance last week.  He scored 23 points and dragged down seven rebounds in SMU’s win over previously unbeaten TCU.  He has led the Mustangs in six of 10 games this year.

*     The SMU Women’s team had it’s biggest win under new Head Coach Travis Mays last week.  They beat number 19 Texas A&M 54-53 at Moody Coliseum.

MORRIS STAYING

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The Mustangs’ Head Football Coach position apparently will stay in Chad Morris’s hands.  After weeks of speculation, which had reached a fever pitch by season’s end, Morris announced last week that he had informed the team that he was staying at SMU.  A day later, SMU announced that they had extended Morris’s contract for three additional years through the 2023 season.  Financial terms were not disclosed.

We may ultimately never know how close Morris got to taking the vacant Baylor job.  The Dallas Morning News reported Baylor turned down a counter offer from Morris to take the job with a five year contract at $24.5 million.  Another rumor had Morris’s desire for an out clause if he was offered the Texas A&M job.  Morris attended Texas A&M.  Whatever the circumstances, Morris is staying.

SMU’s season ended the Saturday before when Navy beat SMU by the embarassing score of 75-31.  It was a delightful back and forth game in the first half, but Navy dominated after intermission.  The Midshipmen ended up scoring 11 touchdowns in 12 possessions, twice missing the extra point.  Their punter never took the field.  The only possession in which Navy did not score was on a fumble at the end of a run back of an SMU kickoff.

The Mustangs took the opening kickoff and drove smartly down the field for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.  They scored a touchdown with 3:14 left in the half to take another lead at 24-21.  That was the end of the good news for SMU on this game day.  The Midshipmen pushed across a score before halftime, and quickly added two more, one on a pick six, in the second half. to all but put away the game.

The loss to the Midshipmen ended SMU’s hopes of a bowl game this year.  They finished at 5-7, a win shy of qualifying.  Morris was obviously disconsolate in his post game interview.  “I’ve got a group of guys and a coaching staff that are hurting right now.”  In an attempt to deflect the attention of his interest in the Baylor coaching job, Morris added, “It’s not about me.  This is about the kids in the locker room and moving forward.  I feel like the future is extremely bright here at SMU.  We go back on the road recruiting on Monday.”

While there is disappointment over not going bowling this year, the 5-7 record is real progress.  That’s three more wins than last year, and it was done against a solid schedule.  Nine of the 12 opponents are going to bowl games.  Seven were ranked in the Top 25 at some point in the season.  The American Athletic Conference may not have a team recognized in the top 10 or 15, but it’s a solid football conference up and down the lineup.  Eight of the 12 programs are bowl bound.

The All-Conference team was announced, and to no one’s surprise Courtland Sutton was named to the first team.  He had a remarkable season with 76 receptions for 1,246 yards.  He scored 10 touchdowns.  There was some question as to whether he would return in 2017 and pursue an NFL career instead.  However, recent tweets have him solidly in the fold.

He tweeted, “This season had its ups and downs.  It didn’t end like we wanted it to.  However, I am grateful for it all. The best is yet to come.”

Last season, he joined the Mustangs basketball team in January.  He is still listed on the current basketball roster, but there has been no indication either way as to whether he will return to play basketball again this year.

Three other Mustangs were named first team All Conference – safety Darrion Millines, defensive lineman Justin Lawler and cornerback Horace Richardson.  Millines and Richardson are seniors, but Lawler has another year of eligibility.

In any event, the future looks bright for football on the Hilltop with Morris staying.  He is working on his third recruiting class since taking the job, which promises to be the best one yet.  Recruiting is his strength.  After coaching high school football for 16 years in Texas, he has the contacts with coaches.

His first two classes were better than the Mustangs had garnered for years, and he redshirted some players this season, particularly offensive linemen that could have helped this year’s team.  It may have cost the program a bowl game this year, but most certainly is a good move for building a strong program in the future.

Mustang fans should have every expectation of seeing their team go to a bowl next season and perhaps even challenge for the West Division championship in AAC play.

NOTABLE:

*     Baylor filled their vacant coaching job this week, tabbing Matt Rhule, who leaves the head coaching position at Temple.  Temple won the East Division this fall and beat Navy in the AAC championship game to win the conference title.  They are headed to the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland to play Wake Forest.  The Owls are 28-13 under Rhule after winning 10 games for last two seasons.

*     The Conference also lost another good football coach this week to a power five conference when Oregon hired South Florida’s Willie Taggert.  South Florida was 10-2 this season.

 

A NEW COACH?

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU plays Navy this weekend at SMU’s Ford Stadium in their final regular season game of the year.  The Midshipmen are ranked 25th in this week’s AP Poll and have clinched the West Division of the American Athletic Conference with a 6-1 conference record to punch their ticket into the Conference Championship game.  They are a seven point favorite on the Wynne Las Vegas betting line.  Navy has an 8-2 record overall, while SMU comes in at 5-6, needing a win for bowl eligibility.

A win and a trip to a bowl game would mark a wonderful turnaround in two years for SMU’s head football coach Chad Morris.  Unfortunately, Morris has become the headline story this week.  There have been rumors that he is a top candidate on Baylor’s list of potential head coaches.  By Tuesday, the Twitterverse literally exploded with speculation.

One report had Baylor agreeing with Morris on a contract.  That was followed by a national writer who assured that the Baylor job had not been offered to anyone.  Later, another report surfaced that SMU had offered Morris a raise and an extension to his current contract to stay.  Another comment attributed to Morris was that he denied talking to Baylor.

Morris’s comment is probably true.  He just didn’t bother to mention who his agent might have spoken with.

There’s no question that Morris leaving would be a huge loss for SMU.  He has done a marvelous job of re-energizing the program.  He’s cashed in his 16 years of high school coaching to greatly upgrade recruiting.  Attendance is up.  A bowl game this year is still a possibility.  It’s a far cry from the one win season June Jones left the school with in 2014.

It was foolish for SMU fans to think that Morris would stay long term without SMU gaining entrance to one of the power five conferences.  When the Big XII decided not to expand this summer, the chance of that happening went almost to zero.  On the other hand, it was reasonable to hope that Morris would stay for three or even four years to get the football program back on track.

However, it is still somewhat surprising that Morris would jump so soon for the Baylor program.  The scandal that took down former head coach Art Briles and high ranking school officials still has more ugly turns to come.  There are legal challenges that will be fought into the next decade, and the NCAA is still lurking in the back ground.  With the mood of the country toward domestic violence, the NCAA will almost certainly come down with penalties.  The scandal has already shredded Baylor’s 2016 recruiting class, and there are just two commits for 2017.  A Baylor recovery from this scandal won’t come soon.

There will certainly be high profile jobs available to Morris if he stays at SMU for another year or two, and probably better jobs than Baylor.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  It’s likely there is considerable substance to the rumors.  Hopefully (but not likely), the rumor mill won’t detract from the players’ and coaches’ focus on Saturday’s game.  A win is important for SMU, no matter who the coach is next year.

Late Tuesday, another tweet from Max Hovenden surfaced indicating that Morris had informed the team that “he’s NOT going”.  That may or may not prove to be true, but even if Morris to Baylor doesn’t pan out, there are already and will be more high profile coaching jobs available.  Morris could still land somewhere other than SMU or Baylor next season.

 

 

GREAT WEEKEND

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

There is no question that this past weekend was one of the best for SMU athletics in ages.  The football team bounced back from their worst performance of the year to beat East Carolina 55-31, the men’s basketball team opened the season with a pair of wins before sellout crowds at Moody Coliseum, and Travis Mays won his first game as head coach of the SMU women’s basketball team.

In Greenville, North Carolina, the football team got top performances on both sides of the ball.  The defense plastered 21 points on the scoreboard with three interceptions that were run back for touchdowns, while the offense put almost 500 total yards in the books.

Defensive back Horace Richardson grabbed two of the interceptions and ran them 70 and 80 yards for the scores.  Surprise!  He was named as the American Conference Defensive Player of the Week.  All-American candidate Courtland Sutton had his best receiving day of the year, snaring 12 passes for 169 yards.  He was one of only five players named to the AAC Weekly Honor Roll

The win keeps the Mustangs bowl hopes alive.  Their record is now 5-5.  There are two tough opponents remaining on the schedule – South Florida and Navy.  Both received votes in the polls this week, and both will be favored on the betting line.  The good news is that both games are at home.  One win will gain bowl eligibility.

The Women’s basketball team beat Texas State on Friday 64-56.  Alicia Froling and Dai’ja Thomas posted double-doubles.  Froling scored 15 points and pulled down 15 boards.  She was named to the Conference Weekly Honor Roll for her performance.  Thomas came off the bench to score 11 points and grab 10 rebounds to complete her double-double

The Men’s basketball team put together two routs in the season opening games.  They won by 28 on Friday night, beating Gardner-Webb 72-44.  On Sunday, they won again smashing Eastern Michigan 91-64.  That’s plus 55 in scoring margin.

Actually, those scores are deceiving to some extent.  On Friday night, the Ponies looked nervous and tight at the start, and bumbled through a first half that saw the Bulldogs actually take a 28-27 lead to the halftime dressing room.

The Mustangs quickly took over the game in the second half.  Semi Ojeleye, making his SMU debut after transferring from Duke, led all scorers with 26 points and put up a double-double by adding 14 rebounds.  Shake Milton and Sterling Brown also tallied in double digits.

On Sunday, the Mustangs never trailed.  They broke a 6-6 tie about three minutes into the game and led the rest of the way.  The lead was 14 at halftime, and the Mustangs opened the second half with a run that pushed the lead into the 20′s.  They led by at least 20 points the rest of the game.

All eleven players dressed for the game saw action.  All nine scholarship players scored and recorded an assist.  The starting five all tallied in double digits with Ojeleye again leading the way with 18.  Jarrey Foster also tossed in 18 to tie Ojeleye as the high Mustang scorer.

On Monday, Ojeleye’s 44 points and 22 rebounds earned the Conference Player of the Week Award.

It’s easy to assume that the games were blowouts over lesser opponents.  Not so fast on Eastern Michigan.  The Eagles took Pittsburgh into double overtime Friday night before losing 93-90.  They have a spectacular guard Ray Lee that scored 26 points Sunday.  An unusually large number of NBA scouts were in the building to watch Lee.

Finally, Eastern Michigan runs the famous Syracuse zone defense.  They run it well, and it presents challenges.  Tim Jankovich said that he had worried about this game for weeks, and that he spent an “inordenent amount of time” preparing the team to deal with the zone.

Last Wednesday was also the opening of the early signing season for high school recruits.  The Women’s team signed two 5′-6″ guards.  Morgan Smith from Highland Park High School in Dallas became Coach Mays’ first signee.  She is a four year letter award winner for the Scots that has averaged 13 points and six assists per game in her high school career so far.

Ariana Whitfield from Cypress Ranch High School in the Houston area is the other signee.  She too is a four year letter award winner.  She averaged 13.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game last season in leading her team to the UIL state championship tournament for the third straight year.

The Men’s team was quite pleased with their four signees.  The current roster already has sophomore Shake Milton and freshman Deshawn McDowell from Tulsa, and last Wednesday they added two more from the greater Tulsa area.  True point guard Elijah Landrum (6′-0″) is rated as high as the second best player in Oklahoma this year.  Ethan Chargois is a 6′-7″ forward that is rated as high as the fourth best player in Oklahoma.

William Douglas and Everett Ray are the other two signees.  Douglas is a 6′-4″ guard from Memphis that is ranked as high as the second best high school senior in Tennessee this year.  Ray is a 6′-7″ forward from Dallas.

All three teams face challenges this week.  The Women’s basketball team plays at Kansas Wednesday at 7:00 PM and at TCU next Sunday at 2:00 PM.

The Men’s basketball team plays in Madison Square Garden in the finals of the 2K Classic.  They face Pittsburgh on Thursday night at 6:00 PM (Central) in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.  Marquette and Michigan square off in Thursday’s other semi-final game.  On Friday, the two winners play for the championship, and the losers play for third place.

Ken Pomeroy publishes a mathematical rating of basketball teams.  After this weekend’s games, SMU is ranked 32nd in the nation, Marquette is ranked 33rd and Michigan is ranked 34th.

The football team plays South Florida at Ford Stadium Saturday.  Game time is set for 6:00 PM Central.  South Florida is a 13 point favorite on the Wynne Las Vegas betting line, and the game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.

MUSTANGS STEAL ONE FROM THE PIRATES

BOWL HOPES STILL ALIVE FOR PONIES

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

SMU went on the road this Saturday and brought home a 55-31 road win over the East Carolina Pirates.  The Mustangs rode a big first half to a mild upset, as ECU was favored by seven points coming into the game.  SMU took charge with 38 first half points.  For the game, the Ponies grabbed five takeaways, including three interceptions that were returned for touchdown.  SMU evened their record at 5-5 for the season and 3-3 in conference play.  East Carolina was eliminated from bowl consideration as their record fell to 3-7 overall and 1-5 in conference.

Head Coach Chad Morris was obviously ebullient after the game.  He literally bubbled over saying, “I’m so proud of those guys right now, and I’m so proud of our coaching staff.  We had a great week of practice, and I knew we would respond.”

Both offenses had little trouble moving the ball.  SMU racked up 477 yards of total offense while East Carolina managed 466.  The difference was the turnovers, as SMU intercepted three passes and recovered two fumbles.

Morris was particularly pleased with the running game.  “When you’re able to run the football, good things happen.”  SMU had two 100 yard rushers in a game for the first time this season.  Ke’Mon Freeman rushed for 111 on 18 carries, while Braedon West added 109 on 18 carries.  Freeman scored on a 39 yard touchdown run, his career longest.  The Mustangs are 5-1 this year when they have a 100 yard rusher.

Courtland Sutton had a HUGE day.  He’s on the Biletnikoff Award watch list for the best receiver in the nation and advanced his All-American credentials by catching 12 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns.  Both receptions and yards are career highs.  He has four games this season with 100 receiving yards.

Horace Richardson was the defensive standout of the day.  He intercepted two passes and ran them back for 70 and 80 yard touchdowns.  He’s likely to be the conference defensive player of the week.

The tone was set early in this one.  Both teams scored quickly.  East Carolina took the early lead with a touchdown in the first three minutes.  SMU answered with a field goal on their second possession after an impressive drive was halted at the ECU three.  However, the Mustangs completed the first quarter scoring with a touchdown for their first lead of the game at 10-7.

East Carolina scored on the first play of the second quarter to retake the lead at 14-10.  Ke’Mon Freeman put the Mustangs back in front when he answered with his 39 yard touchdown run.  ECU never led again.  They tied the game three minutes later with a field goal, but SMU answered with 21 unanswered points to take full charge of the game.  The Pirates scrambled for a late touchdown on the final play of the half to cut the lead to 14 at 38-24.

The Mustangs did all the third quarter scoring with a touchdown on an interception and a field goal that extended the lead to 48-24.  Both teams tallied a TD in the fourth quarter for the final 55-31 score.

The 55 points scored are the most in a game since Chad Morris became the head coach.  The Mustangs were clearly energetic from the beginning.  It was a strange turnaround from a week earlier when they lost 51-7, their worst game of the year.

This was the final road game of the year for SMU.  They play South Florida and Navy at home on the next two Saturdays needing to win one to be bowl eligible.  The time and television arrangement for next Saturday’s game has not been decided.  KTCK in Dallas (1310 AM and FM 96.7) will broadcast the game on the radio.

Morris reiterated in summation of the day, “I just think our program is on the rise.  I’ve said this all year long.  We’re moving in the right direction.  We control our own destiny getting into a bowl game.”

NOTABLE:

*     Sean Tuohy, Jr. was one of the captains.  Tuohy is best known as the real life little brother of the family portrayed in the movie “The Blind Side”.

*     This was SMU’s third road win of the year, and it has been six years since the Ponies have taken three road wins.

*     Courtland Sutton now has 16 touchdowns in his career, which ranks seventh in SMU history.

*     Defensive back Kevin Johnson had an interesting statistical line.  He made four tackles, and forced a fumble for the first time in his career.  He also ran the ball twice on offense gaining 17 yards and scoring a touchdown.

 

 

A SIGNATURE WIN

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – There is no question that last Saturday’s 38-16 triumph over the 11th ranked Houston Cougars is the signature win in the Chad Morris era on the Hilltop.  The Cougars came to town with a 6-1 record and were the defending American Athletic Conference champions after going 13-1 last season.  That included a 38-24 win over Florida State in Atlanta’s Peach Bowl.

The Cougars put their name on the map this season with an opening day win over Oklahoma, and had climbed to as high as sixth in the AP poll before losing to Navy in Annapolis.  The Midshipmen are currently ranked 22nd.

Houston stopped the Mustangs after the opening kickoff and drove to the Mustangs’ 12 yard line where they fumbled.  From there, the Mustangs drove 88 yards in 11 plays for the first score of the game, a touchdown on a one yard run from quarterback Ben Hicks.

Scoring first proved to be an important step toward winning Saturday.  It was also impressive that the Ponies were able to finish off the drive with a touchdown.  The Mustangs have struggled in the red zone this season, usually settling for a field goal, or even having their drive end with a turnover.  On Saturday night, the Ponies were 4-4 in scoring opportunities in the red zone.

The Mustangs extended the lead to 14-0 with a 71 yard, six play drive that concluded with a 31 yard touchdown pass from Hicks to Jeremiah Gaines early in the second quarter.  Biletnikoff Award candidate Courtland Sutton pushed the lead to 21-0 with his fifth touchdown catch of the year with almost 11:00 left until halftime.

Houston finally came alive after forcing a fumble on the SMU 10.  The Cougars cashed it in for a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-7.  Houston then forced a Mustang punt and drove again only to miss a field goal with a little over a minute remaining until the half.

SMU did not sit on the lead though.  They drove 70 yards in three plays to take a 28-7 lead with 13 seconds until halftime.  The quick strike to maintain the 21 point lead may have been the key point in the game.

The Cougars scored first in the second half with a touchdown that cut the lead to 28-14.  Amazingly though, that proved to be as close as UH would get.  Neither team scored over the balance of the third quarter, but SMU put up a field goal in the first three minutes of the fourth.  Braedon West scored SMU’s final TD of the night to complete the Mustangs’ 38 point barrage.  A late safety was Houston’s last hurrah on the scoreboard.

This win was no fluke.  The Mustangs clearly outplayed UH.  The Ponies’ defense was especially impressive.  They constantly put pressure up front with seven quarterback sacks while forcing two fumbles.  They held the Cougars to 303 yards of total offense.  The offense put together three long drives of 88, 71 and 51 yards.  For the second straight week, the offensive line did not allow a sack.

“It really was a collective effort,” head coach Chad Morris said about is offensive and defensive coordinators.  “More importantly, it’s those players believe in what we’re doing.  We’re trending.  We’re in the right direction.”

The win is being likened to the breakthrough win of Ron Meyer’s 1980 team – the 20-6 victory over undefeated and number two Texas in Austin in late October.  The Mustangs lost just once more in conference play that year to finish the regular season by winning four of the last five games and earning a Holiday Bowl invitation.  They went on to win the Southwest Conference championship over the next two seasons and beat Dan Marino’s Pittsburgh Panthers in the 1983 Cotton Bowl to be the only undefeated team.  The Mustangs were voted 1982 National Champions in some quarters, but finished second at 11-0-1 in the Associated Press poll to 11-1 Penn State.

This year’s win may not be that dramatic, but it shows the program is making more progress than many imagined.  The Ponies travel to New Orleans to face Tulane this weekend in what should be a winnable game.  Tulane is a slight 2-1/2 point favorite on the betting line.  A win this weekend will even SMU’s record at 4-4, meaning they will need to split the last four games to qualify for a bowl.  Three of the final four games are at home.

COCKTAIL CONVERSATION:  The Mustangs unveiled some unusual uniforms for Saturday’s game.  They wore pants, jerseys and helmets that were dark gray.  Nike’s name for the color is “anthracite”.  The numbers and names on the jerseys were red.  This was the breast cancer awareness game, so the running Mustang on the helmet was pink, and other accessories such as socks and gloves were also pink.

MEN’S BASKETBALL:  Shake Milton was named to the Jerry West Award watch list as the top guard in the country.  The initial watch list has just 20 entrants.  The Conference media day was this past Monday.  Ben Moore was picked to the All-Conference first team.  Milton was named to the pre-season All-Conference second team.  The Mustangs were picked third behind second place Connecticut and first place Cincinnati for the conference championship.

NOTEABLE:

*     Quarterback Ben Hicks was named “Freshman of the Week” by CBS Sports after running for a touchdown and throwing for three more in the 38-16 win over Houston.

 

OCTOBER UPDATE

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – SMU’s football season reaches the halfway point this Friday night as the Mustangs travel to Tulsa for a game that will be a national telecast.  (ESPN2 at 7:00 PM Central).  The Mustangs lost last Saturday to Temple 45-20 falling to 2-3 on the season.  The game started well for the Ponies.  Temple accepted the opening kickoff.  Jordan Wyatt intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown on the third play from scrimmage.

The 7-0 lead was the high point of the game for SMU.  Temple came back to lead 21-7 at the end of the first quarter, and the outcome was essentially decided by halftime when the Owls led 35-14.

Candidly, this is where SMU was expected to be.  Their two previous losses are to Big XII opponents Baylor and TCU, both of which were ranked in the Top 25 when the game was played.  The University of North Texas and Liberty were games the Mustangs should have won and they did.

This week, Tulsa is surprisingly a 17 favorite on the betting line.  Seems a shade high, but for sure the Ponies are a beat up team after five games.  Starting quarterback Matt Davis was lost in the first game.  SMU is seeking a medical red shirt for Davis that will allow him to play next year, which would be his sixth.  Last week, the starting left guard and left center were both out to injury.  The offensive line does not have the depth to sustain such losses.  Running back Xavier Jones returned last Saturday after missing two games, but he rushed just four times.  The other co-starter at running back Braedon West also was forced out of Saturday’s game after just four rushes.

The team has equaled last year’s win total.  Hopefully there are one or two more wins somewhere on the schedule to improve this season.  It’s a slow process, but the truth of the matter is, the talent cupboard was extremely bare when June Jones departed.  It simply will take time to rebuild the program.  There is confidence that Chad Morris is the right man to bring the program back.  His 2016 recruiting class is already having an impact on the field.  The verbal commitments for the 2017 recruiting class look even better.  The only question is whether Morris will stay.  He is already linked to other more prominent jobs.

MEN’S BASKETBALL:  The Men’s basketball program isn’t showing signs of missing a beat even with Larry Brown’s departure as head coach.  There are already three highly regarded high school recruits that have verbally committed to the Mustangs.   They are point guard Elijah Landrum (6′-0″) from Tulsa; Ethan Chargois. a 6′-8″ post player that is also from Tulsa, and Everett Ray, a 6′-7″ forward from Trinity Christian Academy in Addison, Texas.  All are ranked as at least three star prospects.

The schedule has been announced.  The first game is November 11 at Moody Coliseum against Gardner-Webb.  Eastern Michigan rolls into town two days later, and then the Mustangs are off to New York to play in the 2K Sports Classic in Madison Square Garden.  They face Pittsburgh on Thursday, November 17, and either Marquette or Michigan on Friday, November 18.  Other notable non-conference games are Southern Cal in Los Angeles on November 25, TCU at Moody Coliseum on December 2, and Stanford at Moody Coliseum on December 19.

As for conference play, there are 11 teams in the league for basketball and an 18 game conference schedule.  SMU plays South Florida at home, Central Florida on the road, and home and home series against the other eight teams.  Conference play starts on December 27 at Memphis.  The first home conference game is on January 4 against Temple.  Connecticut and Cincinnati are expected to be top teams in the conference, and they are scheduled to face the Mustangs in Dallas on January 19 (Connecticut) and on February 12 (Cincinnati).  The conference regular season wraps up on Saturday, March 4 against Memphis.  The conference tournament is again in Hartford Connecticut at the XL Center, formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center, beginning on March 9.

A number of SMU players participated in a European trip this past summer.  Five Mustangs made such a trip last year, and the competition helped their play tremendously.  This year, Shake Milton, Harry Froling, Semi Ojeleye, Jarray Foster and DeShawn McDowell played for travelling teams in Europe.

Last summer, three former Mustangs played in the NBA summer league.  Nic Moore played for Miami’s team.  Jordan Tolbert played for Atlanta’s, and Yanick Moreira played for Toronto.  Moore and Tolbert have caught on the play professionally in Italy.  Markus Kennedy is playing in Turkey.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL:  New Women’s head basketball coach Travis Mays was inducted into the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame on September 26.  He was a guard at the University of Texas from 1986 through 1990 and won the award as the Conference Player of the Year in his final two seasons.  He also earned All-American honors in 1990.  He remains the second leading career scorer in University of Texas history.

The non-conference schedule features games at Kansas and Kansas State on November 16 and 19, and at home against Texas A&M (December 5).  They will participate in the Omni Hotel Classic in Boulder, Colorado on November 25 and 26.  In December, they also will be in the field at the Women of Troy Classic in Los Angeles.

The women’s team plays only 16 conference games.  SMU will play home and home matchups with Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Memphis, Tulsa and Central Florida for a total of 12 games.  The other four will be home games against South Florida and Tulane, while the road games will be against East Carolina and Temple.

The Women’s post-season tournament will also be hosted by the University of Connecticut.

Coach Mays got a boost when two graduate transfers elected to join the Mustangs.  Devri Owens and Kirhan Lakhian transferred from Utah and Stanford respectively.  Both at guards.

RIO OLYMPICS:  Nine Mustangs participated in the Rio Olympics including six swimmers, one track athlete, one martial artist and one coach.  They represented six countries – the United States, Bermuda, Bulgaria, Canada, Columbia, Croatia and Sweden.

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.