Semi Ojeleye (Photo by Matt Visinsky)

Five SMU basketball off-season storylines to follow

SMU’s season ended earlier than expected, with a first-round loss to USC in the NCAA Tournament. Now, it’s the offseason, and SMU has plenty of areas to address before preseason practices start in October. Here are five storylines to watch for the offseason.

Find a big man

This is priority No. 1 for SMU in the offseason. SMU didn’t really have a true big man last year – it was essentially a team with seven wing players and a six-man rotation. Ben Moore was SMU’s main five-man last year, and his departure leaves a hole to fill. He played 32 minutes per game. SMU has two freshman bigs in its 2017 recruiting class: Everett Ray and Ethan Chargois. But expecting either to play 30 per game regularly and provide similar production as freshmen is unfair. So SMU needs to find someone with experience who can. A grad transfer makes the most sense. SMU can be selective with a grad transfer. The Mustangs have one spot, and there are usually plenty of grad transfers each offseason. Grad transfers want to play for winning teams, so SMU won’t have a lack of interest problem. The coaching staff will emphasize fit, above all, when looking for one. 

2018 class makeup

AAU season begins in late April, with live periods on last two weekends of the month. That’s when SMU can get out on the recruiting trail to really start focusing on the 2018 class. SMU has handed out some offers already, but the spring is when the coaches will get a better idea of who they want to prioritize or who they want to offer than they hadn’t already. One thing is clear: 2018 will not be a large class. As it stands now, it’s likely to be one or two players. SMU can be selective because of the small class size, but the spring and summer will determine SMU’s biggest targets and the positions it wants to emphasize in the 2018 class. 

2017 recruiting class finish (or lack thereof)

Spring is usually where teams finish off their recruiting classes for the upcoming season. SMU, though, doesn’t plan on doing so. It has one spot left, barring attrition, for the 2017-18 season. Filling the one spot puts SMU at 12 players for next season, allowing one scholarship to count toward the NCAA-issued restrictions. The glaring need is experienced big men, and another freshman couldn’t offer experience. So don’t expect SMU to dabble much into still-unsigned 2017 recruits. If SMU sees any roster attrition, it’s possible the staff goes after a freshman, especially if someone huge re-opens his recruitment due to a coaching change. But with four freshmen in the class already, plus Jimmy Whitt and Jahmal McMurray eligible next season (McMurray in December), it might make more sense to use an addition spot on a transfer who would sit out the 2017-18 season. Never say 0 percent chance, but it’s highly unlikely right now SMU takes another freshman in the 2017 class.

Pro declarations

It’s been a long time since SMU has needed to think about players leaving for the draft. But Semi Ojeleye and Shake Milton are two non-seniors who are legitimately on NBA teams’ radars. They have until April 23 to declare for the 2017 NBA Draft. If they do not hire agents, they can decide to return to school anytime before May 24. That withdraw deadline comes after the NBA Draft combine, which runs from May 9-14. Neither player has said anything about his intentions yet. Last year, 162 players declared early, and 91 of them later decided to return to school.

Transfers fitting in

SMU will have two Division I non-grad transfers eligible for 2017-18. Former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt sat out last season and figures to be in the rotation next season. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 6.1 points as a freshman at Arkansas in 2015-16. He’s likely to play off the ball for SMU. The Mustangs have a lot of guards and wings next year, so Whitt will have a little competition for minutes. He has spent a lot of time during his redshirt year working on his 3-point shot, an area that needed improvement for him. He’s more of a slasher and a defender with quick feet. The depth in the backcourt will get better at the end of the fall semester, when Jahmal McMurray becomes eligible. He transferred from South Florida in December and is currently at a junior college in Dallas. He will arrive on campus in June. McMurray is a scorer from all over the floor who was miscast a little as a point guard for USF. He’d likely play a lot off the ball for SMU. He will need to improve his passing ability and be OK with sharing the load with other guys. 

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