The Opponent: SMU Mustangs
Date: December 4, 2021
Time: 8:00 PM CT
Last year: 11-6 (7-4 AAC), 56th in KenPom
That would be former Vanderbilt assistant coach Tim Jankovich, who was named the head coach in summer of 2016 because he was the top assistant when Larry Brown decided he was done with this shit and Bobby Johnson’d his way into retirement. This is Jankovich’s third stop as a head coach, after an unsuccessful run at North Texas in the 1990s (53-57) and a somewhat more successful run at Illinois State from 2008-12 (104-64), where he joined in the parade of former Kevin Stallings assistant coaches to hold the job since Stallings himself left. (Seriously: since Stallings left, they’ve employed Tom Richardson, Jankovich, and current coach Dan Muller, with only a four-year break when Porter Moser was the coach.)
Anyway, in five years as head coach at SMU, Jankovich is 101-55, but that record is heavily inflated by a 39-5 stretch to open his career there (that’s counting serving as the acting head coach for nine games in 2015-16 while Brown was serving a suspension.) Since then, he’s 62-50.
A lot of people! We are, after all, in the era of the transfer portal. Feron Hunt, the team’s second-leading scorer last season (11.1 ppg/7.9 rpg), declared for the NBA Draft (and went undrafted.) Also gone are the team’s fourth- and fifth-leading scorers, Tyson Jolly (9.3 ppg/4.8 rpg) and Ethan Chargois (8.8 ppg/5.4 rpg), who transferred to Iona and Oklahoma, respectively. The Mustangs’ bench got hit, too, with Charles Smith IV (5.2 ppg/1.4 rpg), Darius McNeill (7.3 ppg/2.6 rpg), Yor Anei (6.6 ppg/2.2 bpg), and William Douglas (3.5 ppg/1.4 rpg) electing to leave the program.
The good news for the Mustangs: at least they return three starters, and one of them, 6’0” senior Kendric Davis (19.0 ppg/7.6 apg) is the team’s point guard and unquestioned star player. If there was a single player that Jankovich had to keep, it was this guy. Also returning are two more seniors, 6’4” Emmanuel Bandoumel (10.2 ppg/2.9 rpg) and 6’10” Isiah Jasey (3.6 ppg/3.8 rpg.) The lone bench player returning is 6’9” junior Jahmar Young (1.4 ppg/2.8 rpg), who played 52 minutes in 2020-21.
Jankovich hit the transfer portal hard while not completely abandoning high school recruiting. The most notable player here is 6’10” senior Tristan Clark, who averaged 14.6 ppg and 6.3 rpg for Baylor in 2018-19 before seeing limited playing time in 2019-20 and missing the 2020-21 season. He also added 6’3” senior Zach Nutall (19.3 ppg/5.7 rpg at Sam Houston State), 6’5” Marcus Weathers (15.3 ppg/7.5 rpg at Duquesne), 6’3” Michael Weathers (16.5 ppg/5.2 rpg at Texas Southern), and 6’9” junior Franklin Agunanne (2.3 ppg/1.8 rpg at Loyola-Chicago in 2019-20.) Agunanne is a gamble on upside, but the other four should be immediate contributors.
There are also four freshmen on the roster, including four-star recruit Stefan Todorovic (#106 in 247 Sports composite), who has the size (6’8”) and skill to play right away. The other three freshmen — 6’3” Zhuric Phelps (#134), 6’3” Jalen Smith (#235), and 6’4” Tyler Lundblade (#246) — will probably have trouble finding playing time in SMU’s crowded backcourt.
For all the roster turnover, SMU’s outlook hasn’t changed all that much from last year to this — the Mustangs finished 56th in KenPom last season and are ranked 60th to open this season. In other words, all the roster churn probably just put SMU in more or less the same place that it’s been for Jankovich’s tenure since his second season. SMU was threatening to establish itself as an AAC power under Larry Brown, but under Jankovich they’ve settled in as more or less a team in the AAC’s middle tier, behind Houston, Memphis, and Wichita State (and, prior to John Brannen’s ill-fated tenure, Cincinnati.)
Still, this should be a decent team and with the game in Dallas, this is one of two nonconference games (and the first of the season) in which KenPom’s algorithm has Vanderbilt as an underdog.