NBA DRAFT DAY

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The NBA draft was held Thursday night, and for the first time since the draft was trimmed down to two rounds in 1989, two Mustangs were selected.  Semi Ojeleye was taken by the Boston Celtics with the seventh pick in the second round (37th overall pick), and Sterling Brown was taken by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 16th pick in the second round (46th overall pick).  The 76ers subsequently traded the rights to Brown to the Milwaukee Bucks.  Mustang forward Ben Moore was not drafted, but signed a free agent contract with the Indiana Pacers.

Ojeleye earned All-Conference recognition as the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press this past season, his only season with the Mustangs.  He led the team in scoring at 19 points per game, and he averaged 6.9 rebounds per game.

Brown and Moore were named to the AAC All-Conference second team.  They played all four years for the Mustangs and set the school record for games played.  Brown played in a school record 109 winning games, while Moore played in 108.  The Mustangs won at least 25 games and finished the season ranked in the AP Top 25 in each season this pair played.  Over the past four years, the Mustangs made two NCAA Tournament appearances and one NIT appearance.  SMU won the regular season conference championship and the post-season conference tournament twice in their tenure on the Hilltop.

“I hope that it would speak to the transformnation that’s been made, that we have been a top 25 program, and that we are that in a lot of different ways,” SMU Head Basketball Coach Tim Jankovich told the Dallas Morning News’ Ben Baby.

Ojeleye and Brown are just the second and third Mustangs drafted in the 21st century.  Jeryl Sasser was the other, taken with the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2001 draft by Orlando.  Prior to Sasser, no Mustang had been drafted since 1987.  However, not getting drafted doesn’t necessarily doom a player’s chances for playing in the NBA.  Quinton Ross was not drafted, but forged a six year NBA career as the most successful Mustang in the NBA this century.

JUNE ROUND UP

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The school year came to a close on the Hilltop, but there is still news to report.  The Mustangs recently made two announcements about next season’s basketball schedule.  The team will play in the “Battle 4 Atlantis” Tournament over Thanksgiving weekend.  This tournament is played in the Bahamas, and the Mustang Club has already put together travel packages for their fans.

The field of opponents is eye catching.  The seven other teams that will be participating are Villanova, Purdue, Arizona, Tennessee, North Carolina State, Western Kentucky, and Northern Iowa.

In other scheduling news, the American Athletic Conference announced the pairings for Men’s conference play this year.  Wichita State has been added to the conference for basketball only.  They have been a quality program for years and will surely boost the respect for the conference.  With 12 teams, the format will have each team playing seven opponents twice on a home and home basis, and four other teams just once.

For the Mustangs, the four teams they’ll face just once this season are Memphis and Temple at home and Tulsa and Connecticut on the road.  SMU will thus play, Houston, Tulane, Wichita State, South Florida, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and East Carolina twice.

The news wasn’t so good for Mustang fans last month regarding Honorable Mention All American Semi Ojeleye.  He had earlier declared for the NBA draft, but left the door open to return next season by not engaging an agent.  There was optimism that he would test the NBA waters, and if the projected draft position didn’t suit him, he might return.  He is generally projected to be a late first round selection at best, and more likely a second round pick.

However, those hopes of his return have been dashed.  Ojeleye performed at the NBA Combine and announced that he is definitely staying in the draft and has begun the process of selecting an agent  However, the draft is swiftly approaching – this Thursday, and he has still not engaged an agent, so there is a sliver of hope that he returns.  However, the likelihood is that he is gone.

Ojeleye tweeted his decision to engage an agent in which he paid respects to both Larry Brown and Tim Jankovich.  “Coach Brown told me that SMU would be the best place for me when I transferred, and he was the main reason I came to the school,” he told Dylan Parego of The Score web site.  “Even though unfortunate circumstances caused him to have to leave the program before the (2016-17) season began, having him as a mentor this past year was incredible.  Playing under Coach Jankovich this year was a huge blessing, and I can’t thank him enough for instilling confidence in me and helping me develop day after day.”

Ojeleye also commented on the SMU fans assuring that he will never forget the support they showed.

That leaves the Mustangs with just three returning scholarship players from last year’s 30-6 team – starters Shake Milton and Jarrey Foster, and sixth man Ben Emolugu.  Freshman Deshawn McDowell transferred to Seattle University to wipe out last fall’s freshman recruiting class altogether, as Harry Froling and Tom Wilson transferred after the first semester.  However, walk-on James Pyle is expected to return. Another walk-on with a familiar name will be joining the team.  Freshman Luke Wilfong, Jonathan’s younger brother will be on the team.

Make no mistake about it though, the Mustangs are not going away as a factor in the American Athletic Conference.  They add three transfers – Jimmy Whitt, Jahmal McMurray and Akoy Agau.  Whitt sat out last season per the transfer rules, so will be eligible when the season begins.  McMurray will be eligible in December when the fall semester ends.  Agau is a fifth year player transferring from Georgetown that will be eligible immediately.

McMurray and Whitt are guards that are quality players that likely will join Milton as the three core scorers next season.  They are good enough to play at an All-Conference level.  Agau is a 6′-8″ forward that will provide depth inside.

There is also a highly regarded freshman class of four.  Undoubtedly, the team will need some significant contributions from them to return to the Top 25 and win 25 games as they have done the past four seasons.  The Mustangs are likely to start slowly as they did last season, but Mustang fans should have every expectation of another 20 plus win season, an NCAA bid, and perhaps even a finish in the Top 25.

The Mustangs did get another exciting committment.  Isiaha Mike is transferring from Duquesne.  He is a 6′-9″ forward that drew interest from top programs.  He particularly cited Ojeleye as a reason for selecting SMU.  He feels he is a similar player, and wants the coaching that propelled Ojeleye to All-American status.  Mike will sit out next season per the transfer rules and will be eligible for the 2018-19 season.  He has three years of eligibility remaining. He is already in Dallas for summer workouts with the team.

SMU also announced that they will host Southern Cal at Moody Coliseum on Saturday, December 2.  The Trojans accounted for two of the Mustangs’ six losses last season, and will be the showcase game of the non-conference home schedule.  Boise State is also on the home portion of the non-conference schedule.

FOOTBALL

The intersquad football game on April 8 wrapped up spring football for SMU.  There was certainly lots to be excited about.  There is every reason to believe that six wins and a bowl game is the LEAST to be expected from Chad Morris’s third edition of Mustang football.  A serious challenge for the conference championship is not out of the question with the talent Morris has assembled and a favorable schedule.

The offensive line looks beefed up with last year’s red shirts adding strength and depth.  Courtland Sutton, who will be named on pre-season All-American teams, chose to return rather than go pro.

A big question is always at quarterback.  Last year, redshirt freshman Ben Hicks took over in game one for the injured Matt Davis and started all the final 11 games.  He looked good in the spring game completing 11 of 17 passes for 114 yards.  Unlike last year though, there is depth at the position.  Transfer Rafe Peavey completed 16 of 18 passes for 173 yards.  D. J. Gillens is a junior college transfer that did not participate in the spring game because he was injured.  Some insiders think he’s the best of three and predict that he’ll end up being the starter.

After the game, Morris said that Hicks is the starter now, but it is nice to have options if plan A doesn’t work out.

The program has also received a talent boost from three transfers.  Oregon State offensive lineman Will Hopkins is a fifth year transfer that will be eligible immediately.  He is 6′-7″, 295 pounds and likely slides in at one of the offensive tackle slots.  He’ll enroll in the Cox School of Business Master of Science in Management program.

Defensive lineman Dimarya Mixon announced that he is leaving Tennessee to join SMU.  Mixon went to High School at West Mesquite.  He’s listed at 6′-4″, 260.  He is also expected to be eligible this fall.

The Mustangs also are getting Richard Moore, a linebacker that has played two seasons at Texas A&M.  He was a three star prospect coming out of Cedar Hill High School.  He will sit out the 2017 season per the transfer rules and have two years of eligibility remaining.

As for next year’s recruiting, the Mustangs are getting a good reception.  SMU already has 13 “hard” commits according to 24/7 sports.  All 13 are from the state of Texas.

NOTABLE:

*     The Mustangs are scheduled to play at Michigan in the 2018 season.  The game is scheduled for September 15 in Ann Arbor.

ON TO NEXT YEAR

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The Final Four will be played in Phoenix this weekend, and for the 62nd consecutive season, SMU will not be a participant.  This year’s team was the sexy darkhorse pick to win the four games needed to get to Phoenix.  Instead, they failed to win even one game as they dropped a heartbreaker to Southern Cal by one point in their tournament opening game in Tulsa.

It was clearly a very winnable game for the Mustangs.  Both teams came out shooting with a hot hand, but the Mustangs were just a bit hotter.  SMU led by as many as 10 points in the first half and took an eight point lead to the halftime locker room at 38-30.

SC came out smoking to start the second half, hitting the first two baskets, both threes, to pull within two points.  SMU didn’t surrender the lead at that point though.  They built it back to 10 points at 53-43 with 11:32 remaining in the game.  Unfortunately, the Mustangs finished the game by playing 11 plus minutes of forgettable basketball.

Southern Cal closed the gap playing a two-three zone that confused the Ponies.  The men of Troy shot well too – 58% in the second half, while holding SMU to 38.5% from the floor.  The Mustangs simply could not get the ball inside against the zone, and often settled for hurried shots late in the shot clock.

The Trojans took their first lead of the game with 2:09 remaining on the clock at 63-62.  Shake Milton answered with a three pointer to put the Mustangs back in front at 65-63 with 1:30 remaining.  The win looked almost in hand when SC followed with a turnover at the one minute mark, giving the ball to SMU with the lead.

It wasn’t to be.  Sterling Brown stepped out of bounds on the sideline to give the ball back to the Trojans, and they claimed their second lead of the game with a three pointer with 37 seconds left.

Sterling Brown missed a shot for SMU, but Ben Moore got the rebound and was fouled.  He missed the front end of the one-and-one.  The Trojans got the rebound, and SMU quickly fouled.  USC opened the door for an SMU win by missing their free throw shot.

SMU had one last possession trailing by a point with 11 seconds left.  SMU Head Coach Tim Jankovich chose to let the half play out.  He explained after the game, that he knew what the SC defense was and he could call a play from the sideline.  He had control over both sides of the equation.  Had he called time out, he feared SC may well have thrown a defensive wrinkle that would have foiled whatever play he called in the huddle.

The Mustangs did not execute well though.  They looked unsure of what they were trying to do, and in the end, Milton put up a hurried shot from around the foul line that clanked off the front of the basket.  It was taken so late in the clock that there was no time left for a put back on the rebound.

Season over!

The bottom line on this season is very simple.  The Mustangs lost from last year’s 25-5 team, an All-American point guard, two All-Conference quality post players, and a Hall of Fame Head Coach.  And the result this year was a team that set a new school record for wins in a season.  While the first round loss in the NCAA Tournent is extremely disappointing, it was a fantastic season.

This week, more accolades came in.  Semi Ojeleye, who had already been named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, was named an Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press.  It marks the third straight year that a Mustang player has received this honor as Nic Moore was Honorable Mention All-American in each of the last two seasons.  Ojeleye averaged 19 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.  He is the ninth All-American at SMU.

Also, seniors Ben Moore and Sterling Brown were selected for the West team in this weekend’s Reese’s Division I College All-Star game.  The game will be played this Friday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Phoenix as part of the Final Four activities.  Game time is 5:35 PM Central time, and the game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.

As for next year, the Mustangs have six of the eight scholarship players eligible to return.  Semi Ojeleye may or may not come back.  He has declared for the NBA draft, but is not engaging an agent such that he has the option to return.  Decision day is May 24.

The returning players include Jimmy Whitt, a transfer from Arkansas who sat out this season per the transfer rules.  Whitt (6′-2″) is a combo guard that was considered a four-star prospect coming out of high school.  He averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds per game in 32 games as a freshman at Arkansas.  He will have three years of eligibility remaining.

SMU has announced one more transfer – Jahmal McMurray.  As a freshman in South Florida, McMurray played in all 33 games, starting 26 and averaged 15.2 points per game.  He is a deadly three point shooter making 73 that season.  He played at a junior college this season and will be eligible after the fall semester.

The Ponies have signed four freshmen.  That brings the scholarship total to 11 if all of the scholarship players eligible to return do come back next year.  The progran still has to forfeit four scholarships over the next two seasons pusuant to the NCAA penalties assessed prior to the 2015-16 season.  It is assumed two will be forfeited this season and two more next to complete the penalty.

The sum total of all this is that if Ojeleye returns, the Mustangs will be a very good basketball team.  They likely will be the favorite to win the conference again.  Even if Ojeleye leaves, they will be expected to compete for the conference title and an NCAA Tournament bid.  Four straight years of winning at least 25 games and finishing in the AP Top 25 has put the Mustangs on the NCAA Division I basketball map.

THE BIG DANCE IN TULSA

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Men’s basketball team headed to Tulsa Wednesday afternoon.  For the second time in three years, they are in the NCAA Tournament, seeded sixth in the East Region.  They are set to play Friday afternoon at 2:10 PM against Southern Cal, which beat Providence in Wednesday night’s play-in game.

Much has been made locally about the Mustangs getting slighted with “only” a six seed after turning in a 30-4 record that included winning both the regular season American Athletic Conference championship and the AAC post-season tournament championship.  Mick Cronin, the head coach of the Mustangs’ closest conference pursuer Cincinnati, even said that SMU got short changed.  For sure, the conference does not get the respect it deserves.

Also, the conference was not as good this season as it has been in the past.  A year ago, the AAC placed four teams in the NCAA Tournament, which did not include 25-5 SMU because of NCAA sanctions.  This season, SMU and Cincinnati are the only two.

While the media continues to bait the “six seed” hook, SMU Head Coach Tim Jankovich has a different take.  First of all, he really wanted a Friday/Sunday venue.  His short handed team played three tough games in three consecutive days last weekend to win the AAC post-season tournament.  He said Sunday, “This team needs rest more than practice.”

“I could get all negative, but I’m not going to,” Jankovich said about the six seed.  “First of all, this is something we should all enjoy very much.  So much goes into just getting here.  And!  I don’t feel cheated at all.  We got Friday, which I thought was so important.  And we got to go to Tulsa.  We got our closest venue.  I’m thankful for all we got.”

He’s right.  He had a good crowd on campus Wednesday afternoon to send the team off.  He’ll have a good crowd this weekend in Tulsa.  This is a much better situation than playing Thursday in Milwaukee as a five seed instead of Minnesota or in Buffalo instead of Notre Dame.

Candidly too, at this point, a seed doesn’t matter.  For a team to win the tournament, it needs to win six games.  As a six instead of a four or five, the first two opponents may be more difficult.  However, if SMU does win twice this weekend in Tulsa, they effectively become the three seed.  SMU actually getting under seeded is really more of a problem for Baylor.  Assuming SMU and Baylor win on Friday, the Bears will face a far tougher opponent than a three seed normally gets in game two.

Semi Ojeleye has been the Mustangs’ best player winning the conference Player of the Year Award.  It’s been a magical season for the transfer from Duke.  He talked about the season this week, saying, “I’m blessed to be in this position.  The guys (teammates) that made possible this season for me.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Ojeleye is not bothered by the six seed.  He’s pleased to have the opportunity to do something special in the tournament.  “The seniors on our team, Ben Moore and Sterling Brown.  This is their last go around, so we want to send them out on the right note.  It’s my first time around.  Everything is a joy for me.  You have to take one day at a time.  Try to block out the noise.  I think at the end of the day, it’s basketball.  Same ball, same hoop, same rules.  So at the end of the day, there night be a few more lights, but we have to stick to what we’ve done all year long.”

He’s certainly pleased with Coach Jankovich.  “He’s been a players’ coach all year.  I really love him.  He really helps us adapt to whatever challenge we face.  Putting in new offenses, new schemes, new plays, try to attack mis-matches.  Even during games, he really adapts to whatever we have coming up.”

Two players that are especially pleased to be playing in Tulsa are Shake Milton and Dashawn McDowell.  Milton is from a Tulsa suburb, while McDowell is from Oklahoma City.  “It’s a blessing,” McDowell said.  “It’s great to have a bunch of fans here.”

Milton echoed many of the same thoughts.  “It’s something that I’m thankful for, and it’s an opportunity.”  I want to make the most of it.”

Milton has performed well in his hometown so far.  In the two games he’s played in the Reynolds Center against Tulsa University, he’s knocked down 12 three point shots.  Hopefully for Mustang fans, he’ll find the BOK Center baskets equally inviting.

Jarrey Foster is especially excited about the SMU fan support.  “We’re not far away from Dallas.  I know that we’re going to have a big turnout.  Our fans are so supportive.  They have been all year.”

This will be the second meeting of the year between SMU and Southern Cal this season.  The Trojans beat SMU last November 25 78-73 in Los Angeles.  The Trojans are 25-9 after beating Providence Wednesday night 75-71 in one of the largest come backs in the history of the tournament.  Providence led by 15 at halftime and by as many as 17 before USC turned the tables.

A survey of eight Las Vegas betting sites has the Mustangs favored by 6-1/2 points over Southern Cal on every one.  This team really believes it can win six games.  Mustang fans will get the first card indicator Friday in Tulsa.

 

 

ON TO HARTFORD

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Men’s basketball team wrapped up the American Athletic Conference regular season championship quickly last Saturday.  They took control of the game against Memphis with an early 15-2 run, and never pulled back on the throttle.  They moved the lead to 24 at halftime and pushed it to as many as 48 in the second half, before scoring a season high 103 points and winning by 41.

The win completed conference play with a 17-1 record.  Cincinnati beat Connecticut on Sunday 67-47 to finish in second place with a 16-2 record.  SMU and Cincinnati are the one and two seeds in this weekend’s conference post-season tournament, which is hosted by UCONN and played at the SL Center in downtown Hartford, the arena once known as the Hartford Civic Center.

From an entertainment standpoint, it will be a shame if SMU and Cincinnati don’t meet in the finals to determine which is the best.  The Bearcats beat the Mustangs by two points in Cincinnati, while SMU beat Cincinnati by nine in Dallas.  Hopefully, game three between the two will happen this Sunday.

On the other hand, a team not named SMU or Cincinnati winning the tournament is likely the only way the AAC gets a third NCAA Tournament bid.

The accolades started rolling in on Monday.  The final AP and Coaches’ polls were published.  The Mustangs are up to 12th in the AP and 15th in the USA Today Coaches’ polls.  A 12 rank is indicative of a three seed in the NCAA Tournament, while a 15 is indicative of a four.

Other factors enter into the equation though, and projections have the Mustangs getting anywhere from a three to a seven seed.  Winning the conference tournament will undoubtedly help in getting a better seed.  However, the Mustangs are a lock to make the Big Dance, no matter what happens this week in Hartford.

The AAC announced that Sterling Brown was the Conference Player of the Week for the final week of regular season play.  He averaged 22.5 points per game against Tulsa and Memphis.  That pushed his career scoring total over 1,000.  It was Brown’s second time to be named Conference Player of the Week this year.  He was also named to the Weekly Honor Roll in another week.

Semi Ojeleye averaged 22 points per game to earn recognition on this week’s Weekly Honor Roll.  It is Ojeleye’s eighth time to be honored as one of the outstanding players in the conference for a week.  He has been the Player of the Week twice and had been named to the Weekly Honor Roll five other times.

Head Coach Tim Jankovich was named the District VII Coach of the Year for leading the Mustangs to a 27-4 record.  This is awarded by the U. S. Basketball Writers Association.  He had previously been named one of 10 finalists for the Naismith National Coach of the Year Award.

Semi Ojeleye was also named to the All-District VII team.  He finished the regular season ranked third in the conference in scoring and second in the conference in three point scoring percentage.  He also ranked in the top 10 in field goal percentage.

On Tuesday, the All-Conference teams were named by the AAC.  Ojeleye made the first team, while Brown, Ben Moore and Shake Milton made the second team.  The only other season the Mustangs had four players garner All-Conference recognition was 1956-57, when Rick Herrscher, Bobby Mills, Jim Krebs and Larry Showalter were named.  Other conference individual awards will be announced later in the week.

SMU plays Friday at Noon (Eastern)/11:00 AM (Central) on Friday against the winner of Thursday’s game between Temple and East Carolina.  (The early Las Vegas betting line has Temple favored by five points.)  ESPN2 will televise the game.  Based upon the Sagarin Ratings as of March 6, the betting line will be either SMU -12.5 points over Temple or SMU -18.5 points over East Carolina.

AN AMAZING WEEK

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Men’s basketball team beat Houston last Saturday night 76-66 to win their third game in seven days.  It was the second game in a row that the Mustangs came back from a double digit deficit for the win.  All three were hard fought wins with a short bench.  It was a great week of basketball and a week that changed the season for SMU.

It started on Sunday with a win over Cincinnati, the 11th ranked team in the nation at the time.  It is by no means a stretch to say that this win is one of the most important regular season wins in school history. Cincinnati arrived with a 22-2 record overall and was undefeated in conference play, having tagged SMU with the Mustangs’ only conference loss in January.  It has been apparent for weeks that the race for the regular season conference championship was down to two teams.  A Cincinnati win would all but mathematically have clinched that championsip.

The Mustangs got behind early, but rallied with an 8-0 run to end the first half with the score tied at 28.  After the Bearcats opened the second half with a 12-3 run to grab a nine point lead, the Mustangs took charge of the game with a 15-0 run of their own.  The Bearcats stayed close, but never got the lead back before losing 60-51.

The game was televised on the mothership of the ESPN networks, ESPN itself.  It was the prime time basketball game of the day.  It was billed as the “Game of the Year” in the American Athletic Conference, and it lived up to the billing.

In the afterglow of the great win over Cincinnati, players and coaches reveled in the Moody Coliseum crowd.  The official paid attendance was 7,518, the largest crowd since Moody Coliseum was remodeled.  “It was an unbelievable atmosphere,” Associate Head Coach K. T. Turner said the following Monday on the KAAM 770 AM Monday night coaches show.  “Our guys fed off of that.”

SMU had cracked the top 25 earlier that week slipping in at number 25 in the AP poll.  The Cincinnati win thrust them into both polls, and after winning two more games last week, the Ponies are up to number 17 in the AP and 22 in the USA Today Coaches’ poll this week.  Cincinnati has dropped to 15th and 16th in the AP and USA Today polls respectively.

Head Coach Tim Jankovich has been non chalant about getting ranked in recent weeks.  He essentially said that he just worried about winning the next game, and that winning games would ultimately take care of getting into the polls.  Now that his team is ranked in both polls, he has admitted that he wanted it to happen as a reward to his players that have worked so hard to make this a successful season.

A let down for the Tulane game that followed last Wednesday was inevitable.  The win over Cincinnati was so emotional.  Tulane arrived fighting South Florida to stay out of last place.  It was easy to see where players and fans alike would take the Green Wave for granted.

However, it was far worse than even the most pessimistic SMU fan could have imagined.  Tulane played great.  Indeed, it is hard to imagine how they arrived with just one conference win.  They have an outside shooter – Cameron Williams – that can hit the three, and he did.  He scored 23 points to lead all scorers in the game.  They have Ryan Smith inside at the five.  He’s listed at 6′-10″, 250 and he gave SMU fits on both sides of the ball.  They have Mike Dunleavy as the new head coach, the same Mike Dunleavy that has coached more than 2,000 NBA games.

Despite the shoddy record of 4-20 coming into the game, this Tulane team has not thrown in the towel on the season.  They played hard!  They hit shots early.  Dunleavy had a good game plan.  The bottom line is that amazingly, Tulane took a 15 point lead to the halftime dressing room!

The Mustangs did come back to win it, but it wasn’t easy.  More than five minutes of the second half were played before SMU got the lead into single digits.  More than 10 minutes of the second half had been played before SMU took their first lead of the game.  Once the Mustangs got the lead though, they never gave it up.

80-75 was the final score.  The 75 points Tulane scored are the most any team has scored on the Mustangs since November.

Semi Ojeleye had a big week last week with 18 points against Tulane and 18 more Saturday to lead the Mustangs in scoring against Houston.  Surprisingly, that was NOT good enough to earn Ojeleye the AAC “Player of the Week” award or even mention on the AAC Weekly Honor Roll.

After the Tulane game, Coach Dunleavy told the media how difficult Ben Moore is to deal with.  He has the length to deal with opponents’ big players defensively despite being only 6′-8″, while at the same time has the quickness and agility of a guard to give those big men fits trying to defend him.  He was named to the AAC Weekly Honor Roll after notching double-doubles in rebounds and points in both the Tulane and Houston games.

The Mustangs have three regular season games left.  Team Rankings, a mathematically oriented site, gives the Mustangs a 56% chance to win all three games.  That’s comprised of a 65.5% chance to beat Connecticut this Saturday, a 95.4% chance of beating Tulsa at home next week on Thursday (March 2), and a 90.3% chance of beating Memphis at home in the regular season finale on March 4.

The regular season championship is at stake.  No team in the conference has beaten Cincinnati or SMU besides Cincinnati and SMU.  The Mustangs may well need to win all three games to be co-champions of the regular season.

SMU is one win away from 25 for the year.  They’ll surely win another game, probably this Saturday, and when they do, it will mark the fourth consecutive season in which the Mustangs have reached the 25 win plateau.  In the previous history of SMU basketball, the Ponies have never won 20 games in a season more than twice in a row.  25 or more over each of four consecutive years is a milestone!

The Mustangs are a lock for the NCAA Tournament.  Even Coach Jankovich has departed from the typical coach speak (We’re just focused on the next game.) to say that the team is playing for a better NCAA Tournament seed in these final regular season games.

The seven days that ended last Saturday though have definitely brought national prominence to the SMU basketball program.  Saturday’s win over Houston mathematically eliminated all teams in the AAC not named Cincinnati or SMU from the conference championsip.  This Saturday’s game against Connecticut will be televised by CBS.  Game time is noon Eastern (11:00 AM Central).  It’s another great opportunity to show the nation that SMU is a top program in college basketball.

 

PONIES CRACK TOP 25

BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – This week’s AP poll was published Monday, and SMU came in at number 25,  The Mustangs just missed in the USA Today’s Coaches’ Poll as they had the most votes of any team that did not make the the Top 25 this week.  This is the fourth consecutive season that SMU has been ranked at some point during the season.

Head Coach Tim Jankovich has made light of not being ranked in recent weeks as the Mustangs continued to get close.  However, he did say after Saturday’s game in Tulsa, he did say he wanted it to happen as a reward for his players that have worked so hard to make this team successful.

“I’m happy to be there, and I’m happy for our guys,” Jankovich said Monday night on his weekly radio show.

The Mustangs comfortably won both games last week.  They blew out East Carolina at home on Wednesday by 40 points, and took a 23 point win on the road at Tulsa.  East Carolina is an also ran in the conference this year, but Tulsa went to the NCAA Tournament last season and has been among the contenders in the early part of the conference schedule.

The Ponies’ season record is 20-4 with last week’s pair of wins.  That makes the fourth straight year that the Ponies have reached the 20 win plateau.  They have won their last six games and 16 of their last 17.  The one loss was by two points to Cincinnati, ranked number 11 this week in both polls.  Over those 17 games the scoring margin is almost 18 points per game.  The defense has been magnificent.  They rank third in the nation in rebounding margin and scoring defense (58.6 points per game), and 12th in field goal defense (38.8%).

Sterling Brown was also named as the American Athletic Conference Player of the Week.  Brown was spectacular Saturday night in Tulsa.  He scored a career high 27 points against the Golden Hurricane, with 24 of those points coming in the second half.  Brown averaged 21.0 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals per game for the week.

This is a big week for the Mustangs.  They are 10-1 in conference trailing 10-0 Cincinnati for the lead in the conference championship race.  At this point, that race has boiled down to two teams.  Connecticut was a preseason projection to be solidly in the race, but they have fizzled.  Early in conference play, Houston, Tulsa, Memphis and Central Florida showed flashes of contending, but every team besides SMU and Cincinnati now has at least four losses.  It is likely that both SMU and Cincinnati will finish with fewer than four conference losses.

The showdown at the top of the standings takes place this Sunday.  Cincinnati is in town for a 3:00 PM game at Moody Coliseum.  The Bearcats start the week riding a 14 game winning streak and have a 21-2 overall record.  A Bearcat win will all but wrap up the conference championship.  A Mustang win will tie the pair in the loss column.  The game was announced to be a sellout on Monday, with just a few single tickets remaining.  ESPN will televise.

Before Sunday though, Cincinnati hosts Central Florida (15-8 and 6-5) on Wednesday night, and SMU travels to Philadelphia for a match with 13-11 and 4-7 Temple.  Both are potential “trap games” for Cincinnati and SMU if they look ahead to Sunday’s shootout.  Temple beat the Mustangs in the team’s only meeting last year.  The Mustang loss was the first of the 2015-16 season after opening with 18 straight wins and ultimately decided the regular season conference championship.

The AAC is looking more and more like it will get just two NCAA Tournament bids.  Cincinnati and SMU are virtual locks for tournament bids, but there is considerable doubt if any other team in the conference sneaks in.  UCONN, despite being 10-12 overall and 5-5 in conference is possibly the team with the best chance to be number three.  They host the conference tournament and could claim the automatic bid by winning the tournament championship.

In any event, this is a big week for SMU basketball.  The program has definitely progressed since Larry Brown took the reins five years ago.  In early February, Mustang fans are mulling what kind of seed their team will get in the NCAA Tournament, rather than pondering if they’ll even get in.

 

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.