Matt Visinsky

SMU Basketball's biggest question marks heading into first season under Tim Jankovich

The Pony Stampede staff weighs in on the biggest question marks facing SMU basketball as the team nears the start of the 2016-17 season.

Billy: Will the lack of a true rim protector come back and bite SMU?

SMU is going with a group of versatile players for this roster under Tim Jankovich that for the most part, can all play multiple positions. One glaring weakness is the lack of a true rim protector. Harry Froling is the closest thing to that and he's been nicked up in practice and still needs to get his conditioning down. Yet, with a healthy Froling, he lacks the athleticism to be a dominant interior presence that makes opponents question whether they'd like to take it to the rim. He's a freshman and will have to be ready to bring physicality to the interior along with Ben Moore and Semi Ojeleye. SMU doesn't have a game-changer in the post right now.

Moore is a solid player and is versatile, but not a shot blocker by any means. Same can be said for Ojeleye, who we've yet to see in a game just yet. The question will be if the trio can be physical enough to affect shots and make the paint a tough place to play for opponents. That's been the case for much of the last few seasons, but still SMU has lacked that interior presence since Yanick Moreira's departure. It'll be something to watch especially as SMU plays bigger lineups this season.

Patrick: Can SMU play consistently effective defense?

Tim Jankovich talks frequently about his plans to shoot more 3-pointers and play at a faster pace. With that faster pace offensively comes more time on defense. Jankovich wants to play fast on offense and slow down an opponent on defense. Last year was SMU’s least efficient defensive season of its last three (45th nationally with .962 points allowed per possession) – a good number overall, but not without a few games of less-than-stellar defense. The home loss vs. Tulsa, loss at Temple, loss at Houston and narrow win vs. Yale come to mind. SMU forced a turnover on 18.3 percent of opponent possessions, also its lowest of the last three seasons and only 160th overall.

With Jordan Tolbert and Nic Moore gone, SMU doesn’t have its best post defender and one of its better on-ball defenders from a sometimes-inconsistent defensive team. There are still good defenders on this year’s team, such as Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster, Sterling Brown and Ben Moore. But at the “5” spot, SMU has freshman Harry Froling and Semi Ojeleye. The latter has not played in a game since December, and when he did, he played on the wing. Ojeleye has all the athleticism and explosiveness to defend and rebound the position effectively. Froling is known more for his offensive skill, and his average lateral quickness can hurt him on defense. SMU needs a lot out of Ojeleye and Froling defensively from the start of the season. If they can play good defense, SMU shouldn’t have too much to worry about on that end of the court. If they’re inconsistent, SMU might find itself in more high-scoring games than it has in previous seasons.

Scott: Will Shake Milton be able to replace Nic Moore as the guy for the Mustangs?

Coming into this season, there’s no question there are high expectations for Milton after an impressive freshman campaign.  And now that Nic Moore is no longer here, Milton will be counted on as this team’s leader on the court.  Not only was Moore a great locker room guy, but he was SMU’s best player, which means Milton as gigantic shoes to fill.   While clearly Milton has the talent to step into that role, he is just a sophomore now.  We have seen players across all sports have impressive freshman/rookie seasons, and then get hit with a sophomore slump.  Do I think Milton is a player that can avoid that trend? Absolutely.  But it is something worth keeping an eye on, especially if Milton is  playing 30+ minutes a night again as a underclassman.

Matt Visinsky

Hatts: How will the backup point guards far for SMU?

SMU is once again deep and talented at all five positions with plenty of options coming off the bench as well. With Nic Moore gone however, one big test SMU will have to pass is utilizing two young backup point guards in Dashawn McDowell and Tom Wilson off the bench to give Shake Milton a breather. While we have heard good things about both players at times this fall, especially Wilson, the big test is going to be how these two freshman are able to handle a hostile environment on the road. 

Two years ago, SMU struggled when veteran point guard Nic Moore was out of the game and there wasn’t a good option in the backcourt to spell him that didn’t turn it over. It will be up to Wilson and McDowell to grow up fast early in the season and be able to provide depth for Milton, who slowed down at the end of last season after playing a lot of minutes. Providing a solid backup option should help keep the sophomore guard fresh throughout the year. 

Demo: Who is going to be this team’s go-to when the chips are down? 

With Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy gone, SMU’s most reliable star players have left the building, so who is going to step up and fill those shoes. Will it be the seniors Sterling Brown and Ben Moore? Maybe Semi Ojeleye will be a monster now that he is finally hitting the court for the Mustangs. Or will SMU turn to the Shake Milton after he had a tremendous freshman season.   

Replacing Nic Moore and Kennedy is tough and each of the player I mentioned have given us reason for uncertainty. With Ojeleye, it is inherent. We haven’t seen him play in and SMU uniform so its hard to trust what we’ve seen in practice as what we’ll get on gameday. Brown and Ben Moore have been good, but aren’t always the most consistent. Milton is entering his sophomore season, it is completely understandable to be wary of a slump. No matter who it is, SMU will need someone to emerge as ‘the guy’ this season.

Matt Visinsky

Phil: How will they replace Kennedy and Tolbert’s rebounding?

Two of SMU’s three big men graduated, and the Mustangs will have to find a way to fill the void left on the boards. Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy combined for 14.8 rebounds per game, a large percentage of the 39.4 that SMU averaged over the course of the season. To fill their spots, transfer forward Semi Ojeleye and freshman center Harry Froling will play the big man positions. Ojeleye, while standing just 6’8”, should be able to use his strong body to jostle with other centers under the rim. As SMU fans saw last year with Tolbert, a player does not necessarily need to be tall to be a great rebounder. Standing at 6’11”, Froling could be a true beast on the glass. As a freshman, he lacks the experience of some opponents he will go against, but should still be able to snag a good amount of boards. 

While it does hurt to lose two rebounders as good as Tolbert and Kennedy, SMU should have the talent to replace them. Ben Moore, the team’s second-leading rebounder from last season, will return, and Ojeleye and Froling can pick up most of Tolbert and Kennedy’s slack. Also, SMU has big players on the perimeter, who should be able to drop down and get a few rebounds as well. Coach Jankovich mentioned in his preseason presser that SMU will not have the luxury of Tolbert cleaning the glass for them every night, and will need to be a gang rebounding team to avoid giving opponents second possessions. 

Matt Visinsky

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