CDA News’ look at the NCAA tournament continues with the No. 6 seed in the East Regional, the SMU Mustangs. Southern Methodist has quietly been one of the most consistent teams in college basketball. The Mustangs weren’t allowed to take part in last year’s tournament following academic issues, but they’re back and they’re looking like one of the sleeper teams of the 2017 tournament. They’re the regular season and tournament champions from the American Athletic Conference and boast a record of 30-4. They’ll open up on Friday in Tulsa, Okla., against the East’s No. 11 seed, which will be the winner of the First Four matchup between the Southern California Trojans and the Providence Friars.
How they got here: Southern Methodist has simply been one of the most efficient teams in the nation on both ends of the court. The Mustangs aren’t one of the highest scoring teams in the nation, but they are one of the most effective at finding open looks, ranking in the top 25 in assists per game. They’ve proven their worth by dominating the American, with their only defeat in the league coming at home to Cincinnati. That’s a loss they’ve more than made up for by beating the Bearcats twice, including a win in the American tournament final.
Reasons for optimism: You don’t have to look far to find a reason to believe in the SMU Mustangs: their 30-4 record. SMU hasn’t lost in two months, having won 16 consecutive games and having won 26 of its past 27 since losing to Boise State in November. A team that consistently wins and gets tested in the process is likely to know how to handle any situation it comes across, making it very dangerous for anyone it plays. Further making the Mustangs dangerous are their defense, which ranks third in the nation, and the play of Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye, who has blossomed in Dallas and leads SMU in scoring with 18.9 points per game.
Reasons for concern: Other than Cincinnati, the SMU Mustangs didn’t really beat anybody. Part of that was because they were still figuring out which pieces went where in November during the non-conference schedule, but the question remains whether Tim Jankovich’s crew is legitimate or the product of a weak league. Otherwise, though, there’s a lot to like about the Mustangs. They do what a team needs to do to win basketball games, and they do those things well.
Outlook: Surprisingly for a No. 6 seed, the SMU Mustangs could be staring at a revenge game in the first round, as one of their defeats was a five-point loss at Southern California back when they were still figuring things out. With Baylor likely waiting in round two, the bracket sets up well for Southern Methodist to make a deep run in the tournament. SMU hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 in 50 years, and back then, the tournament was at 23 teams, so nine teams made the Sweet 16 simply by showing up. This time, the Mustangs will have earned their place if they get that far, and they have the talent to do exactly that.
Readers, are you sold on SMU’s 30 wins, or are you not buying the American as having prepared the Mustangs? Where do you think SMU gets in the bracket? Sound off in the comments!
Commentary by Dan Angell