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SMU is looking at taking a big step forward this season

Led by Kendric Davis, a returning 19 ppg scorer, the Mustangs will be the Tigers first real test of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Southern Methodist at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri’s non-conference schedule early on provides the Tigers enough tune-ups to prepare them for a much tougher stretch as they head towards the holiday season. Matt offered me a brief respite this past weekend in the preview game by giving you all a look at the Northern Illinois Huskies.

After the Huskies, the schedule starts to take a sharp turn. Three early rebuilding mid-majors turn into a destination trip for the Jacksonville Classic with three very much NOT rebuilding (potential) opponents.

So let’s hop in with a quick recap of the schedule (with links to the past previews):

With those first previews out of the way we start to get into what really is a meaty schedule. Once you hit the Jacksonville Classic part, there’s only one remaining “gimme” type game against EIU, and the rest are serious challenges. Particularly for Missouri as they enter a very likely rebuilding season.

So let’s talk about the…

Southern Methodist University Mustangs

Head Coach: Tim Jankovich

NCAA Basketball: Southern Methodist at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

SMU basketball has teased with being really good in recent years, but they’ve been nowhere near as good as they were in the transition from Larry Brown to Tim Jankovich. Brown had built the program towards more success than it’s had in decades.

Jankovich enters his 6th season in charge and seat is likely warming a bit. In his first season the Mustangs won 30 games and were a 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, since then it’s been a little bit of a struggle despite having good talent on the roster. Last season the Mustangs dealt with more COVID issues and only competed in 17 games, but had their first above .500 finish since the aforementioned 2017 season.

Jankovich joined Larry Browns staff after having good success at Illinois State, and was quickly named head coach in waiting. Brown ran aground with the NCAA rather quickly, was suspended for 9 games and steered the program into an NCAA suspension from the post-season. Following that train wreck, Brown stepped down and Jankovich took over.

The 2017 roster was stacked with players like Semi Ojeleye, Sterling Brown, and Shake Milton. Since then Jankovich has failed to find the consistency on his roster, though this past year Kendric Davis stepped into a lead role and provided the best season for the Mustangs, COVID issues aside. Jankovich has to be hoping for a breakthrough so as to provide a little more solid footing for his program and ensure he’s on the bench for the next few years to come.

SERIES HISTORY | Missouri leads 8-2

NCAA Basketball: Southern Methodist at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri and SMU don’t play often, but when they do Mizzou usually wins. The Mustangs took down the Tigers in 1973, and in 1964. The other times have all been Mizzou wins. There was a thrilling back to back (literally they played on consecutive nights in 1949) Tiger wins right before Christmas following the end of World War 2.

Then there were the five straight wins in the 90’s, with the last win coming in Quin Snyder’s first season. A late surge by the Tigers won the game despite an awful shooting night from Keyon Dooling and Jeff Hafer was the hero. I’m just trying to include a lot of names you’ll lovingly remember. Also in double digits that day, Webster Groves Legend Johnnie Parker and future doctor Tajudeen Soyoye.

SMU hasn’t beaten Mizzou since the 1973-74 season. Let’s try and keep it that way.

What about the team now?

Despite a season of progress a year ago, Jankovich is turning the roster over in serious fashion. Kendric Davis is back after averaging 19.0 points per game, and with an offensive rating of 121.6. Only one other double digit scorer returns with Emmanuel Bandoumel, who scored 10.2 ppg with less efficiency at 102.4.

Gone is just about everyone else, and Jankovich imported a host of transfers to fill the holes. The well travelled Weathers brothers signed up to play in Moody Coliseum. If Marcus or Michael Weathers names sound familiar it’s because they were local Kansas City kids who popped up in the transfer portal a lot. After attending Shawnee Mission North, the twins committed to Miami (OH). Then Michael transferred to Oklahoma State, and Marcus went to Duquesne. Michael slipped out then to Texas Southern, and now both are together again at SMU.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Jankovich also landed Zach Nutall from Sam Houston State, who is a high volume low efficiency type. But perhaps the most intriguing name to be imported into the roster is Tristan Clark. Clark was a monster at Baylor as a freshman, and was having a fully breakout season before injuring his knee halfway through the season. Clark returned to action the next season but was never quite the same. Shortly after, Clark medically retired and left Baylor. It’s easy to forget though that Clark was a preseason All Big 12 player as a sophomore and projecting towards being a lottery pick. If he can get close to that level of player SMU will be tough.

So question marks surround both teams, but we’ll have a much clearer idea on SMU as their second game of the year is against Oregon. As Missouri plods through their opening season games, the first major test will come in this game against a legitimate high major program.