As SMU prepares for their second game in a 24 hour swing, lots of questions need to be answered.
For one, the Mustangs not only have to play back-to-back games, but they also must do so with a short bench. SMU only played 7 players vs. Nicholls State on Wednesday night, including walk-on Jonathan Wilfong, who played for a career-high 21 minutes.
Markus Kennedy is still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in the first minute of last week’s Michigan game. Reports had circulated that Kennedy planned on making the start last night, but he ended up sitting out. He wore a boot on the bench all night.
Keith Frazier has been suffering a nagging knee injury that has kept him out of practice all week. Frazier, like Kennedy, did not dress to compete on Wednesday night.
Coach Jankovich said in his postgame press conference on Wednesday night that he is hopeful Kennedy and Frazier will be available for SMU come Thursday, even if in a limited capacity. Their availability will be a game-time decision.
Sedrick Barefield wasn’t even on the bench Wednesday night. Barefield had a fever and was suffering from a respiratory issue. Jankovich said Barefield will be a no for Thursday.
If everything goes well, SMU could be back to an active roster of 9 players for Hampton, but we won’t really know until tomorrow. It’s very possible SMU might have to send the same 7 players back onto the floor against the Pirates.
To further complicate matters, Semi Ojeleye’s status on the roster has still to be decided upon. Ojeleye, who transferred in from Duke last season, sat out the second half of the year and the first 8 games of this season. Ojeleye is eligible to play come tomorrow, that is, unless SMU opts to red shirt him. Red shirting Ojeleye would help maintain a full two years of eligibility, and would be beneficial for the program moving forward. Then again, SMU is currently so short-handed, it makes the decision difficult.
SMU doesn’t really have a clear picture of what they’ll be working with tomorrow night, but must prepare anyway. Let’s take a look at the Hampton Pirates:
Predicted Starting Line-up for the Mustangs
Nic Moore – point guard
Jordan Tolbert – forward
Ben Moore – forward
Sterling Brown – guard
Shake Milton – guard
What do the Pirates bring?
Hampton won the MEAC Tournament Championship last season, and for good reason. The Pirates are a talented team and enjoy playing scrappy. A few weeks ago, the Pirates overcame a 22-point second-half deficit against Northern Arizona, winning the game 98-94 in double overtime. While Northern Arizona isn’t the best team in the world, teams who can overcome that kind of adversity always need to be watched closely. Hampton deserves respect.
Looking at Hampton’s roster, it’s intimidating considering SMU’s current situation. Hampton has 20 players. 20 players. Not all of them play of course, but still, yeesh. Worst case scenario, SMU is forced to play with the same 7 men who played the night before. Best case scenario? The same 7 men who played the night before and two players not 100% recovered from injury. Hampton has the depth to challenge SMU’s stamina, meaning the Mustangs will need to play efficiently to avoid being overrun.
6’2 guard Reggie Johnson leads the team with 18.7 points per game. Johnson takes a lot of shots. He shoots .324 percent from behind the arc, but only .371 percent from the field overall. He’s attempted 132 field goals through 7 games, making 49 of them. For comparison, Keith Frazier has attempted only 74 shots through 7 games, making 34 of them (.459). Like I said, Johnson isn’t afraid to shoot.
6’6 guard Quinton Chievous is a big playmaker for the Pirates, scoring an average of 16.5 points per game and averaging 13.3 rebounds per game. 6’2 guard Brian Darden contributes 11.7 ppg, and 6’8 forward Jervon Pressley also adds 7.7 ppg and 6.7 rpg.
As a team, Hampton shoots .414 percent from the field and .297 percent from beyond the arc. SMU is shooting .531 percent and .454 in those categories respectively.
Interestingly enough, SMU and Hampton are both very good rebounding teams, and it will be fun to see both sides battle down low. Hampton comes into this game ranked 26th nationally in rebounds per game (42.7) while the Mustangs come in ranking 47th (41.1) in that category.
SMU at full strength easily takes care of Hampton. SMU is by no means at full strength. The Mustangs’ bench is short and injured. If Kennedy and Frazier play, there’s no way to predict how effective they will be on either side of the ball. Stamina and conditioning will determine whether or not SMU has an easy time or not. If the Mustangs are forced to play with the same 7 they played with versus Nicholls, low energy could be costly against a team who likes to fight for rebounds.
Also, the Mustangs were fortunate the officiating crew for the Nicholls State game called such a loose game. The officials were letting both sides play, and therefore, neither side got into foul trouble. SMU can’t bank on that happening again. The Mustangs need to be prepared to play tight, clean basketball. They also need to be prepared to make defensive adjustments if the game is called strictly.
Wrap it Up
The outcome of this game is very dependent on how ready SMU is to play. I know I keep harping on their readiness, but that’s because I see it as a legitimate concern. We’ve all seen how lackluster the Mustangs can perform when de-energized. Much like they did vs. Nicholls State, SMU needs to get out to an early lead and pound the pavement. Waiting around to take control of the game will only give Hampton more opportunities to wear SMU down. SMU is the better team by a large margin, but Hampton comes in with some advantages other teams who have passed through Moody have not had. I think this game will be more competitive than the Nicholls State match up, but if SMU plays like we know they can, the Mustangs will get a few days of rest before heading to Vegas still perfect.
Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports