Back from one-year ban, SMU faces USC in Tulsa

The SMU Mustangs are back in the NCAA Tournament after a one-year ban.

The next step for SMU will be attempting to stay around for more than one game.

The 11th-ranked Mustangs (30-4) won 25 games last season but were excluded from postseason competition because of NCAA infractions committed under former coach Larry Brown.

SMU, which has won at least 25 games every season since 2013-14, is still looking for its first NCAA Tournament victory since 1988. Two years ago, 11th-seeded UCLA bumped the sixth-seeded Mustangs in the first round.

Southern California (25-9) will try to repeat that feat Friday.

The Trojans defeated Providence 75-71 on Wednesday night in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. That means 11th-seeded USC comes into Tulsa, Okla., to play sixth-seeded SMU with momentum and history on the Trojans’ side.

Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 68 teams with four play-in games in 2011, teams seeded No. 13 or higher who have won play-in games are 6-5 in the first round.

Apparently, getting a kick-starter game in before the tourney cranks up in earnest is a benefit.

But even without that factor, first-year SMU coach Tim Jankovich has an unenviable task in getting ready for the tournament opener on Friday afternoon at BOK Center in Tulsa.

“(The NCAA Tournament selection committee is) killing me because I’m having to watch both,” Jankovich said earlier this week about having to prepare for both Providence and USC. “I’m staying up really, really late. It’s two really good teams in your mind instead of one, and that’s a lot of stress. I’m telling you: It’s not fun.”

Jankovich said at least it’s a level playing field as USC didn’t get to focus on the Mustangs until late Wednesday night.

However, the Trojans seem ready for the challenge. USC already defeated SMU 78-73 in Los Angeles in November.

“We were fortunate enough to beat them at home,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We know that they’re playing very well. So are we. It should be a great college basketball game in Tulsa on Friday.”

USC gained some needed traction by defeating the Friars. The Trojans had lost five of their last eight. Most recently, third-ranked UCLA defeated the Trojans by two in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament.

Aside from the awkward nature of playing a play-in opponent, SMU enters as one of the hottest teams in the country.

The Mustangs have won 16 consecutive games, including a 71-56 victory over No. 15 Cincinnati. The Bearcats were the last team to beat SMU; their 66-64 win on Jan. 12 ended the Mustangs’ 10-game winning streak.

“They just keep exceeding what you would normally see as the standard,” Jankovich said of his team. “Just look at the streak of wins. We’re a basket away from an incredible streak. You have to have more than just talent to do that. You’ve got to have some incredible character and maturity and chemistry and a lot of things.”

Whether all of those ingredients will result in SMU’s first tournament win in nearly 30 years will be determined on Friday.