If you had told me after the conclusion of the 2016-17 season that SMU wouldn’t even come close to returning to the NCAA tournament in the next 2 seasons and head coach Tim Jankovich would find himself on the hot seat… I would have been surprised, to put it mildly.
Looming NCAA sanctions from Larry Brown’s time as head coach, plus untimely transfers and injury crises, had an outsized effect on the Ponys’ drop off the last 2 seasons.
I mean, just look at the win/loss records from the last 4 seasons:
· 2015-15: 25-5
· 2016-17: 30-5
· 2017-18: 17-16
· 2018-19: 15-17
For the first time in several seasons, SMU has a full compliment of scholarship players and have avoided injuries to key players. At the beginning of the off season they lost starting point guard Jimmy Whitt to a grad transfer (back) to Arkansas, which looked like a big loss.
But, Jankovich dipped heavily into the transfer market and may have upgraded at point with sophomore Kendric Davis. Last season Davis, a Houston native, played at TCU and somehow got a penalty-free transfer to SMU (this may or may not have been related to a now former TCU assistant getting caught up in the FBI probe).
Davis has been efficient as a facilitator and is currently 10th nationally in Assist Rate and averages 7.2 assists per game while also leading the Ponies in scoring (16.3 points/game). Maybe the most underrated aspect of Davis’ game though is getting to the free-throw line where’s made an unbelievable 93.1% of his attempts, up from 70.6% last year.
It has probably helped Davis that he can distribute the ball to juniors Isiaha Mike and Tyson Jolly who have been consistently effective scorers.
Mike not only leads the Ponies in 3-point FG attempts (79) but is also making 45.6% of those shots from deep and he’s been effective scoring inside the arc (60.5% on 2-pointers). There’s only been 1 game this year (a Pony win at Vandy) where Mike didn’t score in double figures. Jolly, who started his college career at Baylor, is shooting 39.3% on 3-pointers and has only been marginally less effective than Mike as a scorer.
The Pony front court also should present some challenges, mainly from sophomore Feron Hunt. Not only is Hunt the team’s leading rebounder, but he’s shooting an incredible 64.1% on 2-point field goals and has the shooting range to occasionally punish teams who leave him open from deep. Hunt and junior Ethan Chargois are the 2 guys UH will have to contend with most on the offensive glass.
As a team, SMU is 20th nationally in Offensive Rebound % and the Coogs can’t afford to give an offensive as efficient as this one too many second chances when they miss. This will also be the highest rated offense (the Ponies are 22nd in Offensive Efficiency) the Coogs have seen since playing Oregon early in non-conference play.
The Ponies are extremely deliberate offensively (317th in Adjusted Tempo) and with the exception of BYU, all of the Coogs’ losses this season have been deliberate, low possession games.
But this SMU team hasn’t faced a bunch of difficult tests, either. This trip to UH will be easy the toughest test of their season to date. In fact, SMU’s only top 100 KenPom opponents in 15 games played before tonight were Georgetown (KenPom #47) and Georgia (KenPom #78) and the Ponies lost both.
Their last time on the court, the Ponies blew a lead as large as 13 points and gave up 44 2nd half points in a loss at ECU. Granted, that’s an improved ECU team but it’s also still one likely to finish last in the league standings.
Iffy schedule and loss to ECU aside, this Pony team will challenge the Cougars and an effort similar to Saturday’s loss at Tulsa will ensure the first UH loss to SMU since February of 2017.