SMU’s tournament hopes are fading

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, January 31st, 2020

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     UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The Mustangs closed out the month of January with a 65-43 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats this past Wednesday.  They finished the month with a 15-5 record for the season, a 5-3 record in American Athletic Conference play, and a 6-3 record in January.  Interestingly, they finished the month by playing their best and worst games of the season in that order.

     Last weekend, the Mustangs beat Memphis, then ranked 20th in the nation, with a miracle finish.  The Ponies were down by 12 points with around seven minutes left in the game, but finished with a 15-0 run for the win.  They followed that last Tuesday with a wretched performance at Cincinnati.  Three SMU starters failed to score.  The Mustangs didn’t make their first field goal until more than 10 minutes into the game.  They never got closer than four points, but trailed by 15 points at halftime and weren’t able to cut that lead into single digits in the second half. Truly awful performance!

    Four games ago, Head Coach Tim Jankovich altered his starting lineup.  Feron Hunt and Ethan Chargois went to the bench in favor of Isiah Jasey and Emmanuel Bandoumel.  That lineup worked well for three games as the Mustangs beat Temple, East Carolina and Memphis.  It didn’t work so well last Tuesday in Cincinnati when Bandoumel and Jasey were two of the three starting players that failed to score even one point.  

     Hunt was one of the more consistent players for SMU over the first two months of the season, but his game has fallen apart as a non-starter.  He was shooting 58% from the field before the demotion.  He’s hit just 8-19 field goal attempts (42%) coming off the bench in the four games since.  He’s scored just two points in each of the last two games.    

     Kendric Davis and Tyson Jolly were the best Mustang players in January.  Davis made the American Athletic Conference Honor Roll in three of the last four weeks.  He shot 46% from the floor for the month totaling 132 points (14.8 per game).  He is one of the top free throw shooters in the nation at 88% on the season.  Jolly was close behind scoring 122 points in January (13.6 per game) while shooting 41%.  He made 23 three-point baskets.  Davis at 15.2 points per game and Jolley at 14.6 points per game rank third and eighth in the conference. 

    Fifteen wins going into February usually puts a team strongly in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case for SMU. The pitiful non-conference schedule has most likely doomed the Mustangs’ chances of making the tournament.  The non-conference strength of schedule is ranked in the 300s (there are 353 division one teams), such that the Mustangs have almost no chance of receiving an at-large bid.  Last week’s win over Memphis is the only quadrant one win in the books, and with Memphis reeling, it may not be when the selection committee chooses the field.  Team Rankings gives the Mustangs a 6% chance of receiving a tournament invitation.  Their best (and maybe their only chance) is to win the conference post-season tournament and receive the conference’s automatic bid.  

    Going into the weekend, Houston leads the conference with a 7-1 record.  They are ranked 20th in the Coaches Poll and 21st in the AP.  Tulsa trails the Cougars by one-half game at 6-1.  It’s surprising that they are not getting more attention.  Their wins include Houston and Memphis, yet they received just three points in the voting for this week’s AP rankings.  Cincinnati is surging after a slow start.  They are third in the standings at 6-2.  Wichita State is ranked 22nd in the Coaches poll and 23rd in the AP.  They are close behind Cincinnati at 5-2.  SMU is fifth at 5-3, with Memphis just behind them at 4-3.  

     ESPN’s NCAA Tournament bracketologist Joe Lunardi projects the conference will receive three tournament bids this year, down from four last season.  He still has the talented Memphis Tigers as one of the last four teams in the tournament.     Houston and Wichita State have the best looking NCAA Tournament resumes at this point.  There are still a lot of games to be played, and these early tournament projections are subject to wild swings.  The conference may end up with more than three bids, but the likelihood is that six AAC teams are fighting it out for the three and possibly four tournament bids.  Team Rankings gives SMU a 6% chance to get an NCAA Tournament invitation.  

    The bottom line is that SMU has a lot of ground to make up over the final 10 conference games.  Team Rankings gives them a better than 50% chance to win in just four of those games as the schedule is rough.  The rough schedule however is an opportunity.  Four of those games are against the other five teams currently at the top of the standings.  If their best chance is winning the conference post-season tournament, they need to finish in the top four for the regular season to get a first round bye.  Without the bye, the Mustangs would face the almost impossible task of winning four games to capture the conference’s automatic bid, instead of three games with the bye.      

ATTENDANCE:  The Mustangs have now played 12 home games with a total paid attendance of 49,659, an average of 4,138 per game.  Two seasons ago, the average home attendance was 6,656 per game.  After that season the athletic department increased the Mustang Club donation required for season ticket holders of the better seats.  For many of those seats, the required donation doubled for the second time in four years. On top of that, the donations were due by March 31, 2018, but season ticket holders received no assurance that they would retain their seats.  The administration wanted to attract new season ticket holders willing to donate larger amounts, so they made the best seats available to attract new donations.  Many season ticket holders during the 2017-18 season chose not to renew tickets for fear of losing their seats.  Others did pony up the larger Mustang Club donation and were moved to seats in inferior locations.  Many of those subsequently chose not to renew this season, an easy choice with the team coming off a losing season.  

    The end result then is that average home attendance has dropped by 2,518 per game, a 38% reduction since instituting the re-seating process.  This will also be the first season since Moody Coliseum re-opened in the 2013-14 season that total home attendance will not reach the 100,000 mark.

    The actual attendance is even bleaker than the numbers above indicate.  The attendance figures in the box scores are the tickets sold, not the actual number of fans in attendance.  At the most recent home game on January 22, the announced attendance was 3,878.  Per the eyeball test, the actual number of fans in attendance was most surely less than 2,000.  Second semester classes began that week.  The students being out of town for the semester break was not the excuse.  On the StubHub and Seat Geek ticket re-sale sites, tickets were available for as little as $5.00 and $6.00.  The buzz about the men’s basketball program is gone.

    This Saturday, the Mustangs return to action at home to face Tulane at 7:00 PM.  It is the first of a four game stretch in which SMU plays three home games.  It will be televised on ESPNU.

NOTABLE:

    SMU received votes worth three points in this week’s AP Poll.  It’s the second week this season that they have received votes, though they are not likely to receive votes again for next week’s poll after the poor showing in Cincinnati.

    SMU leads the conference in field goal percentage (45.7%), free throw percentage (76.4%), assists (16.4 per game), and three point shots made (8.2 per game). 

    There are no seniors on this year’s SMU basketball team.  At the early signing date in November, the Mustangs consequently signed no new players to scholarships for next season. 

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  1. David A. says:

    As a former repeat season ticket holder for several years, I can only say that seeing the horrible attendance is well deserved. SMU attempting to pursue large contributors by pushing dedicated fans to the exits thru price gouging. At the university’s current rate, the team can play games on a practice court since seats will be superfluous.

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