Just in Time for the NCAA Tournament, Your Guide to Hopping on the SMU Bandwagon

SMU basketball star Semi Ojeleye.
SMU basketball star Semi Ojeleye. SMU via Youtube
SMU's men basketball team won Sunday. It wasn't a surprise. The Mustangs' win over Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference Tournament final is their 30th this year and 16th in a row. With the win, they are officially guaranteed a berth in the NCAA Tournament that was already a foregone conclusion, becoming North Texas' only representative on college basketball's biggest stage.

With that in mind, here's a guide to all things Pony, if you're planning on hopping on the SMU bandwagon.

The who, when and where: SMU opens NCAA Tournament play Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Despite their gaudy record, they're seeded sixth in the East Regional, thanks to weak schedule. SMU will play either Providence or USC, who will contest a play-in game Wednesday night. Should SMU take care of Providence or USC, they'll likely take on third-seeded Baylor in the second round on Sunday. That would be fun, to say the least.

The history: SMU hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game since 1988. The school has only been to the NCAA's twice since 1990 and hasn't won more than one game in a single tournament since 1957, when it made its only Final Four appearance. SMU's most famous moment on the national stage is probably getting jobbed on an obvious goal-tending call and losing 60-59 to UCLA the last time it made the tourney in 2015.

The style: SMU is worth watching for more than just proximity's sake. Throughout the season, they've stuck to a rotation that isn't a rotation. Coach Tim Jankovich plays each of his five starters at least 29 minutes a game and his sixth man, Ben Emelogu, more than 20. Thanks to his team's length — each of SMU's starters is taller than 6-foot-6 — Jankovich is able to employ a defense that switches on all screens on the perimeter and then helps against any penetrating opponent. Thanks to that flexibility, the Ponies are capable of playing suffocating half-court defense, one of the best attributes a college basketball team can have in the post-season.

The star: Junior Semi Ojeleye leads SMU. Ojeleye, a 6-foot-7 wing, transferred to the Hilltop from Duke in 2015. Due to NCAA rules, he had to wait to make his SMU debut until this season. The wait's been worth it. Ojeleye has averaged 19 points a game on 49 percent shooting.

The supporting cast:  Three of Ojeleye's comrades in the starting lineup — Shake Milton, Sterling Brown and Ben Moore — each average more than 11 points a game, despite the fact that Ojeleye often dominates the ball.

The outlook: Thanks to a lack of quality opposition in the regular season — SMU's best wins have come on the road against Houston and at a neutral site against Cincinnati — it's hard to know just how good Jankovic's team is. Thanks to their talented starting five — which will benefit from the additional TV timeouts that populate NCAA telecasts — and a plodding half-court style, however, SMU seems perfectly suited to the NCAA grind. It wouldn't be much of an upset at all if they knocked Baylor off and played into the tournament's second weekend.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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