Game Preview

SMU and Their 3-2 Zone Take on Georgia

Tim Jankovich’s SMU Mustangs take on the Georgia Bulldogs in another AAC-SEC game this season.

Tim Jankovich came into this season on the hot seat at SMU and he really needed to get this SMU team off to a good start.  One can say that Jankovich has done so although the schedule has been soft thus far.  They come to Stegeman Coliseum with an 8-1 record and 13 days of rest since their last game, which was a loss against the inconsistent and mercurial Georgetown Hoyas.  Georgia faces SMU after a dreadful second half at Arizona State and roster shuffling.  Georgia will have Senior “Basketball Player” Jordan Harris back after a 9 game suspension and Amanze Ngumezi is not coming back.  The American and the Southeastern Conference square off in another non-conference game and it will be the first of two games for Georgia.

Let’s Meet the SMU Mustangs

SMU is coached by Tim Jankovich, who has had stints as a Head Coach and an Assistant Coach prior to joining predecessor Larry Brown’s staff at SMU.  Jankovich has the true experience of what it means to be a College Basketball coach based on his resume.

1984–1986 Kansas State (assistant)
1986–1987 Texas (assistant)
1987–1991 Colorado State (associate HC)
1991–1992 Baylor (assistant)
1992–1993 Oklahoma State (assistant)
1993–1997 North Texas
1997–1999 Hutchinson CC
1999–2002 Vanderbilt (assistant)
2002–2003 Illinois (assistant)
2003–2007 Kansas (assistant)
2007–2012 Illinois State
2012–2016 SMU (associate HC)
2016–present SMU

After a 30-5 2016-17 Season where SMU made the NCAA Tournament and was summarily eliminated in the Round of 64, SMU has been a .500 team under Jankovich.  Lost scholarships due to NCAA violations committed by Larry Brown have hurt SMU and forced the team to play with less depth.

SMU is more dependent on JUCOs and transfers than other programs and the transient nature of talent has hurt SMU Basketball more than other programs because of the aftermath of the Larry Brown era.

Jankovich’s 3-2 Zone Defense stands out because it is a defense that is not often seen on the college level.  Very often, teams use a 2-3 Zone Defense and the 1-2-2 Matchup Zone that was popularized by Rick Pitino and Herb Sendek has faded away a bit in popularity.  The 3-2 Zone can be confused by the 2-3 Zone at time as wing zone defenders can patrol one side of the floor, which creates a 2-1-2 Zone sort of a look (even though the defense does not actually exist).  The 2-1-2 Zone look can be confused for what Mark Fox used with Travis Leslie, which was a Zone with a rover and this would technically be a junk defense that is not a Box and One.  (It is a strange thought that Fox actually had an innovation during his time at Georgia.  Strange how things changed.)

Here is a small sample of an instructional video that Jankovich created in conjunction with Championship Productions where he teaches what seems to be a group of 8th or 9th graders how to play 3-2 Zone Defense.

The objective of a 3-2 Zone is to take away dribble penetration, challenge passing lanes toward the center 50% of the court, and force the offensive action toward the wings and corners.

This season, the 3-2 Zone has been effective in forcing SMU’s opponents to take a lot of three point shots (45.6% of shots are three point shots) and they have kept opponents from getting shots in the restricted arc (26.2% of shots).   SMU’s 3-2 Zone has played a role in allowing opponents to shoot 42.9% effective Field Goal rate in non-transition possessions (43rd in the country).  In transition, SMU allows a 55% effective Field Goal rate.  It’s a big difference and while SMU is generally pace-neutral on offense, they really want to choke an opponent’s offensive pace.

Who to Watch for the Mustangs

Kendric Davis – Point Guard

The transfer from archrival TCU switched sides and joined the other country club university in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.  Davis is undersized, but he is an aggressive offensive player who uses the dribble drive to set up himself and his teammates.  He is an excellent distributor and is not necessarily prone to turning the ball over.  He is a lot like Remy Martin of Arizona State.

Unlike Remy Martin, Davis plays with an experienced Combo Guard who can take the load off him when necessary.

Tyson Jolly – Combo Guard

Jolly was a California commit who ended up at Baylor, transferred out of Baylor, and then landed at SMU after a stint at Trinity Valley Community College.  Jolly was not a strong shooter at Baylor and he was an average shooter from three point range playing in Junior College.  Jolly is a strong rebounder for his size and position, he is very similar to UGA alumnus Juwan Parker in this regard.

Thus far, Jolly has overperformed as a catch-and-shoot three point shooter, has shown that he can create his own shots in the mid-range, and he can finish at the rim very efficiently.  Jolly also leads the team in putback attempts.

Isiaha Mike – Combo Forward

Mike is the team’s best three point shooter.  The transfer from Duquesne is a challenge because he is a good three point shooter and he is able to score inside.  Mike is effective on post-ups, ball screens, and kick outs.  Mike does it all for SMU.  He is also a 90.3% Free Throw shooter this season.

Plus, Mike is a disruptive defender in the 3-2 Zone.  Not a shot blocker, but he can finish possessions with rebounds and get deflections with his length.  The concern with Mike from an SMU perspective is that he can get himself into foul trouble.

Feron Hunt – Power Forward

Hunt is 6’8″ 190 pounds, which means that he is giving up a lot of weight in the post.  Ethan Chargois is the team’s interior enforcer when it comes to fighting the paint (Chargois is the team’s best offensive rebounder).  Hunt can block shots, score at the rim, rebound, and get fouled.

SMU’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths:

  • Point Guard play – lead distributor
  • Offensive rebounding (18th best in offensive rebounding percentage)
  • Defending without fouling
  • Free Throw Shooting
  • Keeping opponents out of the restricted arc.
  • Getting dunks

Weaknesses:

  • Depth, this is a 7-8 deep team (and that’s being overly generous).
  • Bench production
  • Untested team that lost against the only team with a similar or better talent level.
  • Forcing turnovers
  • Allow opponents to take more shots than them.
  • Inefficient with second chance opportunities.
  • Defensive rebounding.
  • Very fast paced teams give them difficulties.

What is Georgia playing for?

The harsh reality is that the SEC is down.  In fact, the conference is in such bad shape that a competitive conference schedule will result in the conference eating itself.  SEC teams are not winning games against major and even mid-major conference teams.  Pretending that the SEC is elite during conference play and disbelieving the clear trends from non-conference play is an act of ignorance.  The assumptions that Kentucky will be a high seed, that Florida will emerge as an elite team, Arkansas is back (even though they have played an extremely soft schedule) or that the entire non-conference slate that Mississippi State played without Nick Weatherspoon will magically not count are absurd media traps.

The SEC has an automatic qualifier and likely two at-large bids at stake in March because the conference failed to show superiority or even competitiveness.  The other bids that the SEC would have received in a season reflective of the past three seasons are going to the Pac-12, Big East, West Coast Conference, and The American.  SEC conference season will be comprised of games that do have consequences as the conference is generally wide open.  As many as 12 teams will be fighting for position in the SEC Tournament to get the easiest path to the automatic bid.  The NCAA Tournament Committee will not respect the SEC.  History shows that when the SEC is this weak in the overall metrics, the conference will receive either three or four bids.  The conference is neither top heavy nor bottom heavy, the conference is as a whole at a lower level than past seasons and no cluster of teams is holding the conference down.  It is a collective failure to perform and it will likely get worse as it is possible that Kentucky comes to Athens having lost three of their previous four games.  A flailing Kentucky harms the conference perception.

Georgia is not playing for an at-large berth anymore. 

Not winning key non-conference games and not being able to rely on a strong conference schedule to bolster the resume puts Georgia in a bad spot.  The promise of a season that could have resulted in an at-large bid is gone.  It does not mean that the season is lost, it is certainly not.  It just means that Georgia can afford to grow during the season without worrying about what bracketologists have to say.  Georgia just needs to grow and get themselves into position to peak in March so that they can win the SEC Tournament in Nashville.  Winning the SEC Tournament is usually a daunting task, but given the weakness of the conference, a lot of teams can actually win it.  Georgia can win the SEC Tournament.  In fact, Georgia has a better chance of winning the SEC Tournament than making the Field of 68 as an at-large.

Georgia gets Jordan Harris back and this will improve the team’s defense and three point shooting.  Harris’ key flaw is his ball handling, which is far too loose inside the perimeter.  Harris’ energy and ability to hit three point shots may spur this Georgia team to take the next step in maturing.  Harris had a strong February and March last season and he needs to have a carry over in his performance.

What decides this game?

Georgia will dictate how this game goes and how it is decided.  SMU really will not have a say in the outcome outside of how they punish Georgia for their mistakes.  The last team that played a lot of zone against Georgia was Georgia Tech and we all know the outcome of that game.  Georgia Tech was content to push pace, SMU is not content to push pace.  Georgia will have to play fast and force SMU to rely on their thin bench.

  • Depth
  • Offensive Rebounding
  • Georgia’s Shot Selection
  • Pace

Above are the four factors that will dictate how this game goes.  Depth and pace go hand-in-hand.  If Georgia plays a game that is 70 possessions or more, SMU will lose.  If this is a game that is 65 possessions or less, Georgia is forced to play a game that values possessions and this is not a Georgia team that values possessions.  Georgia needs volume of possessions to make up for their own bad decisions on the floor.

The likely scenario is that Georgia forces SMU into foul trouble and wears out the SMU in the last 8 minutes to a win.  This is a game that is very important for Sahvir Wheeler, Toumani Camara, and Christian Brown to show some maturity and composure on the floor.  They take a small step against SMU.  Georgia is a different team at Stegeman Coliseum than outside of it.

Prediction:  Georgia 89 SMU 78

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