Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Lyt­tle klyt­tle@states­man.com

Holy moly, this isn’t how the men’s basketball sea­son was sup­posed to play out in Texas.

The state’s only teams in the fi­nal na­tional rank­ings come from two pri­vate schools, and nei­ther one re­ceived a sin­gle vote in the AP pre­sea­son poll. And in a cruel twist of fate, just one of them can reach the Sweet 16.

Eleventh-ranked SMU and No. 12 Bay­lor were lumped into the same four-team pod in Tulsa, Okla. If they win their NCAA Tour­na­ment open­ers Fri­day, they will meet in the sec­ond round Sun­day.

least we’ll be close to home,” said Bay­lor coach Scott Drew, whose third-seeded team will open against West­ern Ath­letic Con­fer­ence Tour­na­ment champ New Mex­ico State. “The last two years, we were sent to Jack­sonville, Fla., and Prov­i­dence, R.I., so this is

a treat for us and our fans.”

Yet SMU’s des­ig­na­tion as a No. 6 seed, which was uni­ver­sally panned by an­a­lysts who saw the Mus­tangs as a third or fourth seed, creates the pos­si­bil­ity of a sec­ond-round matchup between the Ponies and Bears that shouldn’t hap­pen un­til the Sweet 16.

“I re­ally could start whin­ing; I cer­tainly think we de­served bet­ter,” said SMU coach Tim Jankovich, whose team will be­gin play against the Prov­i­dence-USC win­ner, “but the truth is, they’re just num­bers. It’s like the pre­sea­son rank­ings. Just silly num­bers.”

SMU’s num­bers are quite stun­ning. The Mus­tangs (30-4) have reeled off 16 vic­to­ries in a row, the na­tion’s third-long­est win­ning streak be­hind Ver­mont (21) and Prince­ton (19). Af­ter start­ing 4-3, SMU is 26-1 and swept the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence reg­u­lar sea­son and tour­na­ment cham­pi­onships.

“Our con­fi­dence is sky­high,” said se­nior guard Ster­ling Brown, who scored 18 points in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence ti­tle game. “We’ve jelled, and it shows. I feel like we’ll make a good run in the (NCAA) Tour­na­ment.”

SMU has pulled this off with a ros­ter of three-star re­cruits and one blue-chip­per, ju­nior for­ward Semi Ojel­eye, a trans­fer from Duke.

“Our chem­istry is as good as any team in the coun­try,” said Ojel­eye, the AAC player of the year who av­er­ages 18.9 points and 6.8 re­bounds.

The Mus­tangs have an un­usual makeup. They start five al­most in­ter­change­able play­ers, each between 6 feet 6 inches and 6-8. They only go six deep, but they don’t foul. They are in the NCAA top 10 in scor­ing mar­gin, re­bound­ing mar­gin, 3-point shoot­ing, field-goal per­cent­age de­fense and fewest fouls.

“I just keep be­ing amazed by what they do night af­ter night,” Jankovich said.

Bay­lor wants a shot at SMU to set­tle who’s the best in Texas. The for­mer South­west Con­fer­ence ri­vals haven’t met in 13 years.

But the Bears are tak­ing noth­ing for granted, not af­ter be­ing ousted from the NCAAs in each of the past two sea­sons by dou­ble-digit seeds Yale and Ge­or­gia State.

“That’s all we’re hear­ing about this week: ‘Don’t get bounced in the first round,’” said se­nior guard Ish Wain­right, who will be­come the first Bay­lor player to par­tic­i­pate in four NCAA Tour­na­ments. “I’m pretty sure we’re prop­erly mo­ti­vated.”

Drew said New Mex­ico State (28-5), which had a 20-game win­ning streak at one point this sea­son, doesn’t look like a mid-ma­jor squad.

“Some­times when you play teams from other con­fer­ences, they might not have the size and ath­leti­cism, but these guys do,” he said. “They are long, like to press and are led by a fifth-year point guard.”

Bay­lor (25-7) has been on a dif­fer­ent track than SMU’s. The Bears started 15-0, reached No. 1 in the coun­try for the first time ever but fin­ished 5-6 and as a banged-up team.

All-Amer­ica power for­ward Johnathan Mot­ley is play­ing with a dis­lo­cated fin­ger. Point guard Manu Le­comte, the Big 12 new­comer of the year, has dealt with a sprained right an­kle.

“If there’s a sil­ver lining about los­ing early in the Big 12 Tour­na­ment, it’s hav­ing time to get healthy,” Drew said. “We’re in bet­ter shape than we’ve been for quite some time.”


Johnathan Mot­ley and No. 3 seed Bay­lor were lumped into the same four-team first-round pod in Tulsa, Okla., as sixth-seeded SMU.


“Our chem­istry is as good as any team in the coun­try,” says SMU’s Semi Ojel­eye, the AAC player of the year af­ter aver­ag­ing 18.9 points and 6.8 re­bounds.


“That’s all we’re hear­ing about this week: ‘Don’t get bounced in the first round,’” says Ish Wain­right (24), the first Bay­lor player to be in four NCAA tour­neys.

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