Shake Milton boosts SMU’s NCAA tournament stock

Just when you thought the SMU Mustangs might be back-sliding out of NCAA tournament at-large consideration, guard Shake Milton has answered with a phenomenal performance.

Milton scored 33 points on the road Wednesday night as SMU stunned seventh-ranked Wichita State, 83-78.

SMU (13-6, 3-3 American Athletic Conference) had lost to Tulane, Cincinnati and Temple coming in against the powerful Shockers.

A 66-64 loss to Temple on Jan. 10 stung the most as it snapped SMU’s 33-game, home-court winning streak.

With a week off to soul search, the Mustangs responded with their best effort since they beat Arizona and Southern Cal in late-November, early-December.

Milton was on fire with 11-of-14 shooting, including five three-pointers.

A few of those threes came from very long distance as video from the AAC attests.

As a result, SMU broke Wichita State’s 27-game win streak at Koch Arena. In all, the Shockers had won 67 of 68 at home before the Mustangs arrived.

SMU coach Tim Jankovich said in the days leading into the game that his team might need a “near perfect” performance to win.

“Might have been better than perfect,’ he told reporters after the Mustangs shot 63.8 percent from the field and committed only eight turnovers in front of a hostile crowd.

Before the game, Wichita State and Cincinnati had been pegged in various bracket projections as solid NCAA picks out of the American Athletic Conference even without an automatic bid.

In addition, Houston had been showing up in bracket forecasts, as well.

But after the Cougars (14-4, 4-2) lost by nine at Tulane Wednesday night, who knows what the next round of predictions will show?

What about SMU? What about Memphis (13-6, 4-2)?

The Tigers, after all, have won four in a row. Memphis on Tuesday night continued to raise eyebrows, hammering Connecticut at home by 24 points.

Furthermore, are we overlooking coach Mike Dunleavy’s Green Wave at Tulane (12-6, 3-3), with victories over both SMU and Houston of late?

All of which means that middle-of-the-road programs from the five big-money football conferences had better keep a close eye on the American.

The AAC is stating its case about sending four teams into the NCAA field of 68, especially if both Cincinnati (16-2, 5-0) or Wichita State (15-3, 5-1) fail to secure the automatic bid.

Or, perhaps, if teams can’t figure out how to stop Shake Milton.