Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
You win and you get respect…
Sounds simple enough, that’s unless you are the SMU Mustangs who, despite winning its regular season and post-season conference championship, ended up as a sixth seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. And while no one will openly admit it, you have to think that SMU is motivated to prove the committee wrong against the UCLA Bruins on Thursday afternoon.
When you look at SMU resume, nothing about it says “six seed” or that there are 20 better teams. It was one of a handful of teams to pull off the championship daily double: winning the regular season and tournament championship in its conference. It has the AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore, running the offense and boasts one of the best frontcourts in the nation led by senior Yanick Moreira and junior Markus Kennedy.
The NCAA tournament gives the Mustangs a stage to show how good the team is… but it first must take care of business against UCLA.
The Bruins received a berth in the Big Dance despite having 11-13 record versus the RPI Top 150 and finishing 11-7 in an average PAC-12 conference this season. The lone signature win on the season was a 69-59 home victory over the Utah Utes – but this was after being destroyed by the Utes 71-39 in early January.
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Head coach Steve Alford relies heavily on five guys as the bulk of every statistical category: points (90%), rebounds (71%) and assist (85%) is accounted for by the guys who start for him. Outside of forward Tony Parker, who averages 24.6, every other Bruin starter averages at least 30.8 minutes per game.
But despite the questionable tournament resume and the non-existent bench, the Bruins still are a dangerous team. They are led by senior guard Norman Powell who garnered All-PAC-12 honors after averaging 16.4 ppg and 4.7 rpg on the season. The consummate scoring guard, Powell has shown the ability to consistently get to the hole and draw contact – he had five games of at least 10 free throw attempts on the season.
Also joining him in getting post-season recognition was freshman Kevon Looney. The 6-9 forward from Milwaukee, WI made All-PAC-12 rookie team and according to many, would have been the choice for Freshman of the Year, if not for the outstanding season by Arizona’s Stanley Johnson. On the season Looney averaged 11.8 ppg and flashed glimpses of his potential when he scored 27 in the 69-67 double OT victory over Stanford.
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SMU easily moves on to the next round if:
SMU Size Matters
The Mustangs boasts four players at least 6’8 in its rotation while Looney, Parker and 7-footer Thomas Welsh are the only bigs for UCLA to have logged significant minutes on the season. Parker has a propensity to collect a lot of fouls, so if he spends more time on the bench than in the game that could give SMU a big advantage.
SMU is on upset watch if:
Moore stays cold
Despite shooting 40% from three-point on the year, Nic Moore has only had one game in the past five where he hit more than one. He is the Mustangs only perimeter option and if SMU isn’t able to take advantage of the Bruins’ inability to defend from deep (39% allowed), it could give UCLA confidence on both ends of the court.
Breath easy SMU fans, Markus Kennedy and the depth up front will prove to be too much for UCLA as the Bruins spend most of the night in foul trouble. The Mustangs pull away late as Nic Moore hits multiple three-pointers for a 67-58 victory.