Jalen Jones’ Transfer Illustrates SMU’s Chemistry ChallengePosted by CD Bradley on November 9th, 2013
Many observers, us included, consider the SMU Mustangs a darkhorse (pardon the pun) contender for an NCAA bid out of the AAC this season. At the same time, we also have noted that the biggest challenge facing Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown is figuring out how to combine five returning starters with a bunch of talented newcomers. That chemistry experiment had its first failure before SMU’s first game even tipped off on Friday night. Reporters noted that Jalen Jones, a 6’7” wing who averaged 14.0 points, 7.7 rebounds (leading the team in both categories) and more than 32 minutes per game for SMU last season, didn’t dress for Friday night’s opening win over TCU. After the game, Larry Brown implied the reason had to do with a disagreement over playing time. And Saturday afternoon, Jones tweeted that he would be transferring at the end of the fall semester.
Four newcomers played key roles in the TCU win. Illinois State transfer point guard Nic Moore led the team in points and minutes, McDonald’s All-American freshman guard Keith Frazier scored 11 in his college debut, JuCo center Yanick Moreira grabbed eight boards, and Villanova transfer big man Markus Kennedy scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in 23 minutes. With incoming players taking many of the minutes in the rotation, there was a logjam of incumbent wings between 6’4” and 6’7” – Ryan Manuel, Nick Russell, Shawn Williams, and Jones – all of whom all started last season. Jones apparently got squeezed out.
What makes it somewhat surprising that Jones became the odd man out was the strengths he brought to the team. He was the most efficient offensive player on the team last season, posting a 108.4 offensive rating according to KenPom.com (shooting better than 50 percent from the field certainly helped). He also had the team’s highest offensive rebounding percentage at 13.6 percent, which ranked #47 nationally among major contributors. That helped the Mustangs rank #72 as a team in offensive rebounding percentage, one of their highest rankings in any specific category. His departure increases the pressure on Moreira, Kennedy and company to hit the boards, particularly on the offensive end. They did a pretty good job Friday – admittedly against a weak TCU team that was thoroughly mediocre at rebounding last season – but can they keep it up? The Mustangs have one major chance for a signature non-conference win: against Virginia on November 29 in Corpus Christi, Texas. The Cavaliers’ biggest strengths last season were keeping teams from making shots (#23 nationally in two-point field goal defense, #37 in three-point defense) and then getting those rebounds (#40 nationally) – and Jones could have been a major help in both areas. Now if they are to get that win, they’ll have to do it without him.
So Brown’s balancing act may have gotten a bit easier with one fewer player for whom he has to find minutes and shots, but the promise so many saw in his team was based on the accumulation of talent. That accumulation is now a bit smaller, but there are still a lot of guys Brown has to juggle, and his success in doing so still appears to be the biggest factor in whether the Mustangs can snap a two-decade NCAA Tournament drought.