Injured horses don’t exactly have great track records, and after a myriad of injuries have derailed the SMU Mustangs’ season it now officially feels like somebody had the decency to take the Ponies’ chances of receiving an at-large bid on Selection Sunday out back behind the barn and off to greener pastures.
Sunday’s 76-51 home defeat was SMU’s worst home loss since 2008. Easily the low point of the Larry Brown/Jankovich era, it also marked the Mustangs’ seventh loss in ten games and was significantly worse than the score suggests. The Bearcats are about the furthest thing there is from a bad loss by any metric but at 15-10 (5-7) SMU has at least one bad loss (UNI, @Tulsa, @UConn, @Tulane) for every quality win (Arizona, USC, Boise State, @Wichita State). The loss column has simply reached a tipping point – and if SMU can’t get healthy it is likely going to get worse before it gets any better.
SMU had just six scholarship players available against Cinci – and only one of them was on last year’s 30-win squad. Head Coach Tim Jankovich is apparently resorting to stand up comedy as a coping mechanism, though not without reason:
Tim Jankovich: “I feel like a YMCA coach. ‘Can Johnny play today?’ ‘No, Johnny’s mom is working and he can’t come'”
— Adam Grosbard (@AdamGrosbard) February 13, 2018
Tim Jankovich says on KAAM 770-AM that SMU didn’t practice today because it only had three players physically able to practice. Says he feels like SMU was actually four starters down yesterday because Ben Emelogu can’t shoot with right hand injury
— Adam Grosbard (@AdamGrosbard) February 13, 2018
The injury bug has hit SMU so hard that if you were to round up all of SMU’s injured body parts for some weird science project, you could probably combine them to make an entire incredibly injured person. You would have Jarrey Foster’s ACL, Shake Milton’s hand and fingers, Everett Ray’s foot, Ethan Chargois’ ankle, Ben Emelogu’s wrist, and the brains of a few over-reacting SMU fans who must’ve suffered enough blunt force trauma to the head to come to the conclusion that Jankovich should be fired. Jon Rothstein has never called me a mad scientist, but according to my calculations, that’s like 40% of a person.
SMU has had such rotten luck (337th according to KenPom) that they have had not one, but two players injure themselves during pre-game warm-ups. Freshman forward Everett Ray was ruled out for the season after breaking his foot before SMU’s home game vs Tulane, and news broke just 20 minutes before SMU got the Frisco Bowl treatment from Cincinnati that the Ponies would be without starting forward Ethan Chargois (who had already missed the loss at Tulane with the flu).
I now regret not showing up 45 minutes early to every SMU game this season to catch what I can only assume must be some form of mixed martial arts inspired pre-game lay-up drill followed by Krav Maga lessons from Semi Ojeleye.
The most impactful injury has been the one suffered by pre-season AAC player of the year Shake Milton, who has missed three straight losses and is doubtful for Wednesday’s Valentine’s Day tilt with Memphis. In every game since his injury, SMU has failed to survive back-breaking runs as their offense has struggled to find consistent scoring and their defense has failed to manufacture stops.
- SMU led at the half on the road against Tulsa but the Golden Hurricane responded with a 13-0 run to begin the second half. SMU only managed to score four points in the in the first seven minutes of the period and would never regain the lead.
- SMU saw a late seven-point lead vanish in a road loss at Houston as they failed to convert a single field goal in the final seven minutes of the game. The Cougars slammed the door shut by finishing out on a 17-1 run.
- SMU kept Cinci within striking distance for the first half but a quick 17-0 run for the Bearcats after the break sucked the soul out of every fan in Moody Coliseum.
The Ponies only average 72 points per game and will likely have at least 40-50 points per game of scoring sidelined for the foreseeable future.
On defense, with limited numbers, they are shackled to an ineffective 2-3 zone that just doesn’t work as well as they need it to with their current personnel. Cinci and Tulsa both were able to operate with ease from the high post and Houston’s Armani Brooks scorched the zone for seven three-pointers. It has been effective for stretches but the rotation is just too small an inexperienced to even dream about recreating what last years six-man rotation (that did have 4-5 future NBA players on it to be fair) was able to accomplish.
These injuries would likely be too much to overcome for any team – but for a team that was already struggling through a rocky rebuilding year after losing three players to the NBA and having all three freshmen in their 2016 recruiting class transfer away while simultaneously dealing with literally the most punitive scholarship restrictions in NCAA history it is simply an impossible task.
SMU didn’t leave themselves enough wiggle room when they were healthy to survive this injury-riddled slide. This was a fun but flawed team before it hit the fan – but it was still one that still had legitimate at-large aspirations. Per Haslametrics.com SMU is 350th in the NCAA in consistency and dead last in positive momentum. To say the least, it has been a roller coaster of a season for SMU, and this is as low as it has gotten. There is still room for one more peak if this team can get healthy – in all likelihood, it will just have to come during the AAC tourney.