In some ways, SMU has been a forgotten team this season. The Mustangs were on NCAA probation last season; they were an NCAA-caliber team but were not allowed to participate. Coach Larry Brown, who got hit with a nine-game suspension because of the violations, suddenly resigned in July. It was just another strange ending in a series of them for Brown.
Tim Jankovich took over, and he had a talented team returning, plus he was adding Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye, who has overachieved, becoming the team’s best player. Losses in December to Southern Cal and Boise State really pushed the Mustangs into the background. Plus the AAC (football’s stepchild of the Big East) has low visibility and respect issues.
SMU is finally overcoming all that. It has won 18 of 19, the one loss a 2-pointer at Cincinnati. The Mustangs got that one back by rallying for a 60-51 victory over the Bearcats at a sold-out Moody Coliseum Sunday.
They will be back in the tournament this season, a threat to do some damage. This might be the bracket buster you’ll be looking for.
Looking back on last week:
ELEVATOR GOING UP
Cal State Bakersfield: The Roadrunners have won six in a row, including a landmark victory over New Mexico State, to take over first place in the WAC. If they win the WAC tournament, it would mean the school’s first NCAA Division 1 Tournament berth. But the Roadrunners have won three Division 2 championships.
Florida: The Gators didn’t play great Saturday but they defeated Texas A&M, 71-62, for their sixth straight victory. A letdown can be excused following a huge win over Kentucky and a nice road win at Georgia. It still adds up to a 10-2 SEC record and a first-place tie with Kentucky and South Carolina.
Michigan: The Wolverines have had an inconsistent season, but last week was as good as it could be, as they beat Michigan State, 86-57, and followed that up by winning at Indiana, 75-63. It was their first road victory of the season and it completed a sweep of Indiana (the first since 1994-95). The Wolverines are 1-17 in Bloomington since 1996-97.
New Orleans: It’s as though this program has been wandering in the desert for two decades. A founding member of the Sun Belt Conference, the Privateers also played as an independent for a while. The effects of Hurricane Katrina put into motion a plan to drop to Division 3; then that was revised to Division 2. At the 11th hour, the school decided to stay Division 1 and joined the Southland Conference in 2013. Amazingly, they are now in first place in the Southland with a 10-4 record (15-9 overall). It’ll be quite a comeback to end up in the NCAA Tournament.
San Jose State: The perpetually downtrodden Spartans are playing decently; they’ve won six straight with the most notably one over San Diego State, the first time they’ve beaten the Aztecs since 1999.
ESCALATOR GOING DOWN
Green Bay: The Phoenix failed to capitalize on an upset victory over Valpo. Instead they dropped consecutive games to Northern Kentucky and Wright State.
Indiana: It just keeps getting worse, and after consecutive home losses to Purdue and Michigan, coach Tom Crean’s job security is being called into question (one year after winning the Big Ten regular-season title). If this keeps up, you’ll be hearing rumors about Brad Stevens and Indiana. I’ve already had one person tell me that alumni are pooling money for buyouts and wooing Stevens.
LSU: The season continues to plummet to the depths for the Tigers, who have now lost 11 in a row.
Marquette: Coach Wojo has not been able to turn the Fightin’ McGuires around. They’ve lost four of their last five, with the one win coming over DePaul.
North Carolina State: It is now officially a completely rotten, underachieving season for the Wolfpack, who have lost five straight and got hammered at Wake Forest, 88-58, Saturday. That prompted Wake’s Keyshawn Woods to say, “We knew if we got up on them early, they would quit.’’ Ouch.
North Carolina Wilmington: The Seahawks sure seemed like a lock in the CAA, but now they’ve lost three of their last five. They still have the league lead because Charleston lost to William & Mary. Next the Seahawks come to Boston to play Northeastern Thursday night.
Oklahoma: A season to forget continues to dissolve. The Sooners have dropped seven straight and are now 8-16 overall and 2-10 in the Big 12.
Stanford: The Cardinal had a lost weekend in the desert, dropping games to Arizona and Arizona State, and have now lost five of the last six.
THIS WEEK’S FINAL FOUR: Kanas, Villanova, Gonzaga, UCLA.
The most important piece of information that came out of the NCAA selection committee’s early-bird top 16 teams was that undefeated Gonzaga was not the top overall seed. Lack of respect for non-power conferences still exists. After winning at Saint Mary’s Saturday night (the last chance for a loss), the Zags are going to go into Selection Sunday undefeated, and they should be the overall No. 1 seed.
THIS WEEK’S NATIONAL CHAMPION: Kansas.Joe Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan