Anyone that has followed the SMU program this season knew that it had the potential to be good but very few expected a 24 point blowout over a University of Michigan team that was expected to contend for a top spot in the Big Ten Conference this year and make a return to the NCAA Tournament after missing the Big Dance last season.
The Mustangs are still focused
Despite not being eligible for post-season tournaments due to the NCAA sanctions passed down over the summer, it still seems as if the SMU coaching staff and most importantly the players haven’t stopped playing hard this season. Prior to the match-up with the Wolverines, there are some that would have said that the Mustangs had not played a quality opponent outside of the road victory over the Stanford Cardinal, but on December 8th, the entire rotation proved that it was capable of rising to the occasion when needed.
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Michigan may never have a legit inside presence.
OK. Michigan fans it’s time to come to grips with the reality that head coach John Beilein does not value an post presence as many fans do. It’s a hard pill to swallow but its time to accept the fact seeing another player with the interior skillset like Mitch McGary or even Jordan Morgan will not happen under his leadership, and it is unfortunate because the team could benefit from that type of player. Even with Markus Kennedy going down with a lower leg injury within the first minute of the game, the Wolverines had no one that could stop his replacement, Jordan Tolbert. Fortunately for the SMU fans, the rest of his teammates recognized that and Tolbert went on to score a season-high 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting — nine of those made field goals being dunks.
Nic Moore exposed Michigan’s weakness at point guard.
Derrick Walton Jr’s injury has been difficult for the Wolverines, but not having the junior guard in the lineup against SMU was almost mission impossible. Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman did his best offensively to keep the Wolverines in the game, but it was on the defensive side that U-M missed Walton Jr. the most. The team had no answer for senior guard Nic Moore — who seems to be fully healed from his own injuries — and when the Wolverines defenders tried to help Abdur-Rahkman slow down Moore, that just led to easy buckets for the rest of the SMU offense.
No Caris… BIG PROBLEM
1-of-13, five points, and the first field goal did not occur until well after the game was decided.
That is not a stat line you want from your best player, especially when on a night when it seemed as if the rest of the Wolverines players — outside of Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson (15 points on five three-pointers) — were unable to hit the side of a barn with a bazooka. But before I put this poor performance all on what Caris Levert did not do, you must give credit for what SMU guard Keith Frazier did. He took the opportunity to check one of the nation’s best players as a personal challenge, and it worked out to his benefit. Not only did Frazier have a tremendous defensive game, but the energy he provided in 15 points offensively including two momentum-shifting three-pointers.
As long as Michigan struggles getting others involved, Caris cannot afford to have many more performances like he did that night or the Michigan faithful will have another year of not making the NCAA tournament, and his draft stock will plummet.
Can SMU survive without Kennedy
The team did a good job pulling together once he went down with the ankle injury, but what happens if he is out for an extended period? They were able to get past U-M simply because of the lack of inside presence from the Wolverines but what if they face a team with a legitimate post offense? We have already seen the team struggle with the NCAA’s rule adjustments with fouls so can SMU still get the job done relying only on Tolbert in the middle and Ben Moore and the power forward position? It was thought that Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye would provide help up front but according to Jon Rothstein, SMU plans on redshirting the forward so that he will have two more years of eligibility and the Mustangs will have his services when they can play in the postseason.
For fans looking for help this season it could be frustrating but looking long-term, this would ease the blow from losing both Tolbert and Kennedy after this season.
SMU is home to Nicholls State on December 16th. The Colonels are on a brutal road stretch that has them playing seven games away from home, and it has shown as NSU has lost its first two games by a combined margin of 162 to 107. Ja’Dante Fyre is the team’s leading scorer averaging 19 points, and he also grabs 7.0 rebounds per game. This will be another matchup against an undersized team, and the Mustangs should be able to capitalize on it.