2018-19 SMU Men’s Basketball Preview

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, November 9th, 2018
The American Athletic Conference 2019 Women's Basketball Media Day at the Marriott Airport Hotel in Philadelphia, PA on Sunday October 14, 2018. (Ben Solomon/American Athletic Conference)

(Ben Solomon/American Athletic Conference)

BY DIC HUMPHREY
DHUMPHREY24@GMAIL.COM

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU Men’s basketball season tipped off this week by beating the Southland Conference’s Northwestern State Demons, 69-58 on Thursday night.  The opening weekend continues this Sunday afternoon with a game against Southern Mississippi at 2:00 PM. The Mustangs’ home schedule has 18 games – nine against non-conference opponents (out of 13 non-conference games) followed by nine American Athletic Conference home games.
This is Tim Jankovich’s third season as the Mustangs’ Head Coach,
not including nine games that he served as interim head coach while
his predecessor, Larry Brown, served an NCAA mandated suspension.
The program is fully Jankovich’s at this point as just one player that
was recruited by Brown remains – Jarrey Foster.
The Mustangs were 30-5 in Jankovich’s first year as Head Coach, a
school record for wins in a season. Unfortunately, the four main
players on that team have moved on to the NBA.
SMU dropped to 17-16 last year. They got off to a great start in
non-conference play including wins over Arizona and Southern Cal.
Those opponents were ranked second and 14th in the nation respectively
at the time those games were played. Conference play looked promising
when the Mustangs started with wins over the two Florida teams
(Central and South).  However, the season went downhill from there.
They were upset at home by Tulane to end one of the longest home
winning streaks in college basketball.
Injuries later took out Jarrey Foster and Shake Milton for more
than half the conference games.  They finished at 6-12 and went into
the conference post-season tournament as the ninth seed, where they
were eliminated in the second round.  The Mustangs were not offered at
large bids to either the NCAA or NIT tournaments and chose not to
participate in any of the other post-season tournaments.
This year’s team returns Foster, Jimmy Whitt, Jr., Jahmal
McMurray and Ethan Chargois, who collectively started 90 games last
year. William Douglas and Everett Ray are two more returning
scholarship players. Walk-ons James Pyle and Luke Wilfong are also
back.
Isaiah Mike, a 6’-8” forward, transferred from Duquesne after the
2017 season and sat out last year per the transfer rules. He’s
eligible now and has a year of practice experience in Jankovich’s
system. Also, graduate transfer Nat Dixon, a 6’-4” guard from
Chattanooga is immediately eligible.
The Mustangs have three freshmen recruits.  Feron Hunt (6’-8”
forward) and Jahmar Young (6’-9” forward) are both from DeSoto High
School in the Dallas area.  C. J. White (6’-5” guard) is the third
freshman.  He’s from Little Rock.  Another walk-on, Grant Youngkin, is
a transfer from Rice and will sit out this season per the transfer
rules.
In Thursday’s season opening game, the starting lineup was
Chargois, Whitt, Mike, Dixon and McMurray. Foster is sidelined as he
continues to rehab from the knee injury that ended last season early.
He is listed as day-to-day, but the underground pipeline says that he
will not see game action until at least December. Everett Ray is also
sidelined with injury. He’s practicing, but there is no announced
timetable for his return.
The Mustangs didn’t run away with this game. Northwestern scored
first and jumped out to a 10-3 lead, before SMU closed the gap.  The
Mustangs’ first lead came at 12-11 at the 11:25 mark. The game was
tied at 26 at which point SMU went on an 8-3 run over the final four
plus minutes to lead by five at the half.
SMU pretty well ran away with the game in the second half.  They
extended their halftime lead to 17 points in the first six minutes.
Northwestern State wasn’t able to cut SMU’s lead under 10 points the
rest of the way.
Nine players dressed for the game, and all of them played.  Five
of them made their SMU debut – transfers Nat Dixon and Isiaha Mike
along with freshmen Feron Hunt, C. J. White, and Jahmar Young.
Play was definitely ragged.  The Mustangs shot under 40% from the
floor including 9-36 from the three point line.  That sounds like a
formula to lose a game, but the Ponies defense, especially in the
second half put this game in the win column. They out rebounded the
Demons 44-33, and that included 21 offensive rebounds on 65 shots.
“We’re certainly not a solid defensive team. We’re not a solid
offensive team.  We’re just a team that’s going to try to get better
each and every game.  And learn.  We’ll head in a direction once we
figure out what we really have, and who can do what in a real game;
not just practice,”  Jankovich said after Thursday’s game.
For sure, this is one of the lesser talented teams since Larry Brown
arrived. The Mustangs had the conference player of the year for three
consecutive seasons (Nic Moore in 2015 and 2016 and Semi Ojeleye in
2017). Milton was a strong candidate for that award last season until
he was injured and missed the final 12 games.  At this season’s
Conference Media Day, no Mustangs were predicted to be even first team
All-Conference.Foster and McMurray were named second team
All-Conference.
However, this team should improve on last year’s record.
First, the non-conference schedule is filled with JV quality
teams. There are literally only four losable games.
The conference is definitely down this year, after four players
were drafted by NBA teams and a fifth signed a free agent contract
shortly after the draft. Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston were
the top three teams last year. They all went to the NCAA Tournament,
but all three have lost key players.
In recent years, the AAC usually had at least two teams ranked in
the top 25, with a couple of more receiving votes. The first AP and
Coaches polls are out.  No AAC team is ranked, and Cincinnati is the
only AAC team receiving votes. This conference is likely to send just
one or two teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Jankovich is also facing a more disgruntled fan base. The
athletic department instituted a re-seating process for season ticket
holders coupled with a doubling of the required Mustang Club
contributions for most prime seats. Numerous season ticket holders
that paid the new required donation were moved to inferior seats.
Many more chose not to pay the donation and gave up their seats. In
the short run, there was a spike in Mustang Club donations. The
increase in the required donation for seats accounts for much of that.
However, there are a lot of miffed fans that are upset about getting
moved from seats they had occupied in some cases for more than a
decade.  The donations are likely to go down next season, when ticket
holders that were moved donated the lesser amount required for their
new inferior seat locations.
The attendance Thursday night was only 5,605, the smallest home
crowd since the 2013-14 season when the first games in the fall were
played in Garland. The athletic department is mum on their season
ticket sales, but the best guess is that they lost at least 600-700
season ticket sales from the increase in donation levels and the
re-seating process.
Jankovich has also been hampered by NCAA sanctions that reduced
scholarships.  The program is forfeiting two scholarships this season
to complete the penalty.  He is quick to point it out, and he also
points out with injuries that he often has fewer than 10 players at
practice.
The program has largely become a program of transfers. Transfers
Whitt, Mike, McMurray and Dixon were in Thursday’s starting lineup for
the season opener.  That’s largely because Jankovich has not been able
to recruit top high school players.  Of the seven freshmen that were
recruited in Jankovich’s first two years as head coach, four have
already left the program.
As for this year’s team, Jankovich said after Thursday’s game,
“I’m mostly about our effort.  I don’t expect us to be pretty.  I
don’t expect us to be solid yet.  There’s no way we could be. Not with
our numbers, not with our youth, not with our practices; but we’re
going to have great effort.  We’re going to have great unselfishness.
We’ve got a chance in the long run to have a heck of a team.”

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