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.

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.