Matt Visinsky

Pony Stampede SMU Hoops Predictions

The Pony Stampede predicts the SMU basketball season and hands out preseason awards!

It's been an offseason full of uncertainty and turmoil for the SMU Mustangs, but the reigning AAC champions now start their regular season title defense without a chance at an NCAA Tournament berth. The Pony Stampede staff breaks down and predicts everything for SMU basketball for their 2015-16 season.

Game Predictions

11/14/15 vs. Sam Houston State: SMU opens up with a team that is going through a major overhaul and should roll in an easy tuneup for their road trip to Stanford. The only thing that could keep Sam Houston around is if SMU comes out sloppy and undisciplined. -Billy
Picks: Demo, Billy, Hatts, Scott, Patrick-SMU

11/19/15 at Stanford: Despite losing Robert Cartwright, Marcus Allen, Malcolm Allen and Grant Verhoeven to injury before the start of the season, I still think this could be a trap game for the Mustangs.  Traveling all the way to Palo Alto to face a well-coached Cardinal team will be an adjustment for the team, and it’s their first road test under Tim Jankovich. -Scott  
Picks: Patrick, Billy-SMU. Scott, Demo, Hatts-Stanford. 

11/22/15 vs. Yale: The Bulldogs went a quiet 22-10 last season and came within a playoff win of an NCAA tournament bid. They’re a good defensive team that could keep this one low scoring. But offensively, they won’t have enough to get by SMU. -Patrick 
Picks: Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Billy, Demo-SMU

11/29/15 vs. Brown: After two tough matchups with Yale and Stanford, SMU will have a week to get ready for Brown.  The Bears are coming off a below .500 season in which they struggled offensively. This bodes well for SMU they should have no problem with Brown. -Hatts
Picks: Scott, Patrick, Billy, Hatts, Demo-SMU

12/02/15 at TCU: In SMU's second road contest of the season, they pick up their first road win. TCU shouldn't prove to be too tough and with the extra motivation that comes from a rivalry game, SMU pulls out the win, easily. -Demo 
Picks: Scott, Patrick, Billy, Hatts, Demo-SMU

12/05/15 vs. New Hampshire: This is kind of a trap game as SMU is coming off a rivalry game against TCU and Michigan looms three days later, but SMU takes care of business in Moody Coliseum. -Billy
Picks: Scott, Patrick, Billy, Hatts, Demo-SMU

12/08/15 vs. Michigan: The Wolverines are a much better team than what SMU faced last season in Ann Arbor, but in a wild Moody environment on national television, the Mustangs should handle their business.  Nic Moore will have to control the tempo once again, and the Mustangs will have to defend behind the arc just like they did last year against Michigan. -Scott  
Picks: Scott, Demo-SMU. Billy, Patrick, Hatts-Michigan

12/16/15 vs. Nicholls: Win. This is my obligatory comment about the Nicholls State Colonels, who are a very bad team from Louisiana. -Patrick 
Picks: Scott, Patrick, Billy, Hatts, Demo-SMU

12/17/15 vs. Hampton: This will be the second game of a back to back just a few days after finals for SMU. They will have to be ready for Hampton and bring energy but should be able to roll in this one before getting five days off and finish off the job for Tim Jankovich. -Hatts
Picks: Scott, Patrick, Billy, Hatts, Demo-SMU

12/22/15 vs. Kent State: Kent State was really good last year, and even won it's fifth conference title since 2005. It's hard to bet against SMU even if Moody Magic heads to Las Vegas for this one. -Demo
Picks: Billy, Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Demo-SMU

12/23/15 vs. Colorado/Penn State: I really don't like this game with Christmas eve the next day, the team is in Vegas for a couple nights, and everything points to SMU stumbling here. I'll agree with that notion unfortunately for SMU. Bad loss to Colorado or Penn State in this holiday tournament. -Billy
Picks: Scott, Patrick, Demo, Hatts-SMU over Colorado. Patrick, Demo, Hatts-SMU over Penn State. Billy-Colorado over SMU. Billy, Scott-Penn State over SMU. 

12/29/15 at Tulsa: Returning all of their starters from last year’s 23-win team, and with James Woodard set for an impressive senior campaign, this will be a tough matchup for the Mustangs.  Especially since it’s in Oklahoma, I think SMU loses a close one here. -Scott 
Picks: Billy, Patrick, Demo-SMU. Scott, Hatts-Tulsa

1/2/16 vs. USF: The Bulls should be a little more competitive with former Maryland point guard Roddy Peters and a healthy Chris Perry, but they’re still a rebuilding team. SMU wins easily. -Patrick
PIcks: Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Billy, Demo-SMU

1/7/15 vs. Cincinnati: Cincinnati has historically been one of SMU’s toughest tests and will prove to be challenging once again with another rugged team to go with improved shooting. However, with this being one of SMU’s deeper teams, coupled with this being SMU’s first big home game of the conference season, Moody will be rocking throughout. SMU sneaks out with a close home win. -Hatts 
Picks: Billy, Hatts-SMU. Scott, Patrick, Demo-Cincinnati

1/10/15 vs. UCF: Again, SMU at home is really tough to beat. This season, with a bunch of very athletic players that (should) fit well into SMU's system, The Mustangs should be able to protect Moody as well, or better, than ever before. -Demo
Picks: Billy, Scott, Billy, Patrick, Hatts, Demo-SMU

1/13/16 at East Carolina: I expect B.J. Tyson to be one of the conference's stars this year, but ECU won't be able to beat SMU even at home with him. The Mustangs' win streak since the Las Vegas debacle continues. -Billy
Picks: Billy, Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Demo-SMU

1/17/16 at Tulane: The Green Wave have a nice talent in Louis Dabney, but this Tulane team is too young to compete at this point. Despite it being a road game, Larry Brown will have his squad ready and the Mustangs get their third-straight win.  -Scott 
Picks: Billy, Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Demo-SMU

1/19/16 vs. Houston: The popular breakout team in the conference, Houston will give SMU a good battle, but the Mustangs prevail in a close one on their home floor. -Patrick 
Picks: Billy, Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Demo-SMU

1/23/16 at Temple: Temple was a tough out for SMU last year and this year will be no different. SMU likely has a leg up on Temple after they lost 30 percent of their scoring but with Quenton DeCosey and Jaylen Bond returning, this is not a team to sleep on especially at their place. -Hatts
Picks: Billy, Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Demo-SMU. 

1/30/16 vs. Memphis: Moody Magic. Memphis is a tough scrappy team, but SMU at home is just too good. -Demo
Picks: Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Demo- SMU. Billy-Memphis

2/1/16 at Houston: SMU just doesn't like Houston and they'll show it down in Htown after their loss to Memphis. Nic Moore takes over down the stretch to beat the Cougars. -Billy
Picks: Billy, Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Demo-SMU

2/7/16 at USF: Coming off of a nine win season, and picked to finish second to last in the AAC this season, the Bulls just don’t have the talent to compete with SMU.  Mustangs win their ninth straight game heading into a tough three game stretch. -Scott 
Picks: Billy, Scott, Hatts-SMU. Patrick, Demo-USF

2/10/16 vs. Tulsa: This is the start of the toughest three-game stretch for SMU. Tulsa’s so-so offense won’t be able to muster enough points on the road against a good SMU defense. -Patrick 
Picks: Billy, Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Demo-SMU

2/13/16 vs. Gonzaga: This will be the most talented team SMU plays all year and the SMU crowd will be electric.  Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country for a reason, however, and will escape Moody with a win. SMU has great size but will struggle to match up with Domantas Sabonas, Przemek Karnowski and especially Kyle Witljier who may well be in the running for player of the year.  -Hatts
Picks: Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Demo-Gonzaga. Billy-SMU

2/18/16 at Connecticut: After covering the conference tourney last season, I know first hand how deep the UConn SMU hate runs. I think the Huskies defend their turf and send SMU home empty handed. -Demo
Picks: Scott, Patrick, Billy, Hatts, Demo-Connecticut

2/21/16 vs. East Carolina: Another win for SMU over ECU, but this time SMU rolls by 20 after their lost to Connecticut. SMU has to make a statement after the loss and does so in a big way. -Billy
Picks: Billy, Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Demo-SMU

2/25/16 at Memphis: The Tigers have a very good forward in Shaq Goodwin, but with Semi Ojeyele eligible, the Mustangs matchup well. Memphis has some talent, but with the Lawson brothers just freshmen, I think SMU pulls this one out. -Scott 
Picks: Billy, Scott, Hatts-SMU. Patrick, Demo-Memphis

2/28/16 vs. Tulane: SMU will roll to a home win over a young Tulane team that will struggle on the road, although Louis Dabney will have a big game. -Patrick 
Picks: Scott, Billy, Hatts, Patrick, Demo-SMU

3/3/16 vs. Connecticut: SMU has had UConn’s number so far and with the Huskies rolling back into Moody for the Mustang’s senior day they could be in for another long evening. SMU will be up for this game as much as any one all season and despite UConn’s improved talent this season. -Hatts
Picks: Billy, Scott, Patrick, Hatts, Demo-SMU

3/6/16 at Cincinnati: Cincinnati is another program that has given SMU troubles over the last couple years under Larry Brown. I think the interesting match ups continue, but this being a road contest for the Mustangs, I give it to Cincy. -Demo
Picks: Scott, Hatts, Demo-Cincinnati. Billy, Patrick-SMU.

Overall Predictions

Billy: 26-4, 16-2 AAC. SMU's team will see times this year that they just aren't focused. In a long season and without an AAC tournament championship or NCAA bid to play for, that's to be expected. The thing that's different with this team though is the leadership. I expect Moore and Kennedy to really step up and right the ship when it starts off course in a game and regain poise. SMU defends their AAC title this year and does so with an even better conference record. All of the AAC got better, but SMU will rely on two of the best players in the conference and their depth to repeat as AAC champions. It's about proving everyone wrong this year and aside from a few missteps, SMU is able to get it done.

Scott: 23-7, 14-4 AAC. Overall, this should be a good year for the Mustangs.  They’ll have to fight off UConn and Cincinnati once again to repeat has AAC champs, but I think they have a very good shot at doing so.  The three-game stretch that I look at as season defining for the Mustangs is when they play Tulsa, Gonzaga, and Connecticut over an eight-day period.  I have the Mustangs going 1-2 during that stretch, but if the Mustangs were to somehow win all three, they could easily find themselves in the AP’s top-15.  On the other hand, if they lose all three, they’ll be out of the top-25 rankings, and would be at risk at closing the season on the wrong foot with games against UConn, Cincinnati and Memphis remaining.  In the end, SMU will have to find a way to stay motivated, even though they won’t be allowed to play in the AAC tournament or March Madness.

Patrick: 24-6, 14-4 AAC. Connecticut wins the conference and SMU finishes in a tie for second with Cincinnati. SMU beats a just OK Stanford team on the road without Larry Brown, but regresses defensively against Michigan. The Mustangs get out-physicaled and lose to Cincinnati early in the season, but win the seven in a row. They hold Temple to under 60 points and beat Houston twice. The streak snaps with a loss in a major trap game at South Florida, which has given SMU all it can handle in Tampa the last two seasons. Gonzaga escapes Moody with a two-point win, and SMU gives up 80-plus points again in Connecticut. Memphis has enough talent to nudge by SMU on its home floor, but SMU wins out, including the season finale at Cincinnati. The team won’t let Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert go out with a loss. SMU spends most of the season in the AP top 25, but never higher than 15. 

Hatts: 25-5, 15-3 AAC. I think SMU will close this season out very happy with the way it went and hopeful for the 2016-2017 season. Their will be some disappointment they weren’t able to go to the NCAA tournament but with a couple big victories over the likes of UConn and Stanford, they will be happy with the progress they’ve made. SMU is not quite at the level of a Gonzaga or Michigan clicking on all cylinders quite yet but that will be the takeaway they have from the end of this year to take that next step to be ready for those schools in the future. Many of SMU’s losses will come on the road, where we have seen them struggle in tough environment’s in the past but there will be sprinkled in a few notable victories. 

Demo: 23-7, 14-4 AAC. I think SMU comes out fired up and whips the living snot out of Sam Houston State...and the hangover runs into the game versus Stanford. Things start to get rolling a bit, and they even beat Michigan with a little Moody Magic. I got SMU going on a heck of a run to close out 2015 with just the one loss to Stanford. I'm all up in that kool-aid man. I simply think SMU is too fired up and pissed off to take any games off. Also, they only play three away games during the first chunk so...Then things even out a little bit, you get into some more conference games and more road contests and SMU gets caught a few times. Ultimately I think SMU is going to have a dominant season--one that makes everyone look back at the NCAA's punishments with even more disdain. 

MVP Picks 

Billy: Markus Kennedy. The big man wants his own AAC Player of the Year trophy as he performs for pro scouts in his senior season. Kennedy averages almost a double-double this year to lead SMU to a regular season AAC title.

Scott: Nic Moore. Not only is Moore the most valuable player for the Mustangs on the court, but his experience and ability to teach the young guards on this team make him that much more important.  Obviously, Moore will be the floor general his final season on the Hilltop.  His ability to take over games offensively, while also controlling the tempo, is invaluable, and something no one else on this team can do. 

Patrick: Nic Moore. There’s more depth behind him at point guard than in years past, but SMU is a different team without Moore. The senior is SMU’s leader on the court and elevates the play of those around him.

Hatts: Nic Moore. Moore is on a mission this season and that is bad news for opposing teams.  Moore looks like a complete point guard at this point and will benefit from playing with a guard like Shake Milton and the rest of the talent this squad has. 

Demo: Nic Moore. Is this even a question in anyone's mind? With no chance of a tournament to showcase his abilities to a gigantic audience, I think Moore is going to be balling out all season long. 

Most Improved Player 

Billy: Sterling Brown. I'm a big Sterling Brown fan, but I was surprised he didn't take a bigger step forward last year. This year, Brown breaks out as the elite defender he can be and provides an even bigger scoring contribution. His development and SMU's winning ways will force Semi Ojeleye to be SMU's main sixth man option off the bench instead of a starter like many think will happen.

Scott: Keith Frazier. While we saw improvement from Frazier’s freshman season to his shortened sophomore campaign, I’m picking Frazier to take his game to another level this season.  With all of the drama that has surrounded the junior guard throughout his time at SMU, it’s his time to finally prove he was worth his five-star rating.  Now an upperclassman, I predict Frazier will find his stroke early, while also showing improved ball handling and decision-making.

Patrick: Sedrick Barefield. It seems kind of silly to have a freshman here, but at the end of the season, Barefield will be much more comfortable as a point guard on a Larry Brown team. He’s admitted it has been a tough learning curve, but as he gets more comfortable and avoids overthinking, he’s going to turn into a solid player. It will come with time and he may have a few teaching moments in games, but he’s going to be a better all-around player by season’s end.

Hatts: We expected it last year but this will finally be the time that Ben Moore breaks through. With the athleticism he has and a leadership role now, Moore will be more aggressive early on and give SMU a great option along the front line. 

Demo: Keith Frazier. Hopefully the aftermath of the NCAA's punishment will flip some kind of switch for him and we finally get to see the player we thought SMU was getting (every night).

Biggest Question

Billy: The first nine games will be the biggest test with Tim Jankovich taking over while Larry Brown is on suspension. If SMU stays focused and doesn't fold under Jankovich and Jankovich empowers the players to take ownership in this situation, SMU should be fine. Just how different will the team play under Jankovich is the story we're waiting on.

Scott: The absence of a true center may come back to bite this team in the rear end when all is said and done.  Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert can play on the block, but if they have to go up against bigger centers like Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis or Connecticut’s Amida Brimah, they may struggle.

Patrick: How will SMU use Ben Moore? He showed flashes early in the season, but his production tapered off down the stretch. He’s still a valuable and versatile player, but he’s going to become much more consistent when the coaches figure out how to best use him. That’s been the challenge for the last two seasons.

Hatts: Front court depth. SMU has Markus Kennedy and Semi Ojeleye and I think they have some good pieces in Ben Moore and Jordan Tolbert. But that is all they have. The depth in the frontcourt scares me a little bit especially with Ojeleye not able to play for another semester. 

Demo: With Cannen Cunnigham and Yanick Moreira gone, SMU is lacking some--but not all--of its height from last season. No more 7-footer. Will that lack of a true five hurt them or will the athleticism and size in other positions outweigh that shortcoming (see what I did there?).  

Bold Predictions

Billy: Shake Milton takes charge at the 2. This wouldn't be a ridiculous shock, but I think Milton will come in and contribute early and often for SMU. He's not going to light up the scoring sheet as he did in high school just yet, but his ability to play the 1 and 2 will have him see some major minutes. If Frazier struggle, the staff won't hesitate to go to Milton at that spot.

Scott: While the Mustangs have an incredible home-court advantage in Moody Coliseum, they have struggled at times on the road.  Stanford will be without four contributing players due to injury, but the last time the Mustangs headed west, they got beat badly by Gonzaga.  Because it’s early on and SMU will still be learning to play together, I think SMU loses just this one game during Jankovich’s tenure as acting head coach.

Patrick: Jarrey Foster averages more minutes per game than Keith Frazier. Foster is mature beyond his years and is a much better shooter than most expected. He’s also much better defensively than Frazier. Frazier should start the season ahead of him and allow Foster to get his freshman nerves worked out, but Foster’s versatility and defense will earn him a lot of minutes before long. Some of those minutes will come at Frazier’s expense.

Hatts: Keith Frazier will earn Second Team All-Conference- It’s no secret some believe Keith Frazier is more trouble than he’s worth but Frazier was off to a great start last season and I expect him to take another leap this season as he continues to learn under coach Brown. Frazier will show improvement again on defense and continue to be a threat from outside. 

Demo: Johnathan Wilfong will drop 20 points!!! Just kidding. I think we'll see some of the rookies given some serious roles early on. It will be tough to figure out how to balance all those minutes, but I can see Barefield or Shake stepping into an offensive role similar to Ryan Manuel's last year. 

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