John Martin: SMU has taken some bad losses this season, namely to Fresno State and Jackson State. Let's address the elephant in the room: How hot is Matt Doherty's seat right now? Is there any way he coaches in the Big East?
Laken Litman: It's on fire, especially among the fan base. This is his sixth season (has a 7-year contract) and he has yet to lead SMU to a winning record in Conference USA. If he can't win in C-USA, why would anyone think he could win in the nation's best basketball league?
JM: Robert Nyakundi, despite his team's fortunes, is putting together an exceptional season. His numbers are up across the board. To what do you attribute his success? Just another year of experience?
LL: Yes. He's a senior and has naturally matured and gotten comfortable as a team leader and scorer. He spends extra time in the gym and film room and is simply trying to make the most of his last year. He leads the conference in 3-point shooting (44.7%, which is 24th in the NCAA), averages 15.1 points per game along with 5.4 rpg.
JM: Last season, Memphis suffered a tough loss at SMU -- one that almost completely derailed its whole season. In your opinion, is the mystique of Memphis gone? Is there still an intimidation factor at all when it comes to playing the Tigers?
LL: Well it does seem like they start seasons with a lot of hype and fizzle out. But they still rank No. 4 in C-USA compared to SMU who's No. 8. But despite rankings, etc., this SMU group doesn't get intimidated easily. The reason why they've lost these buzzer-beater games (Jackson State, Ole Miss, an overtime loss to Oklahoma State) isn't due to intimidation, it's because of youth. They understand that they're a work in progress with nine new players, eight of which are freshmen. I know they're looking forward to challenging the Tigers on the road. A win would just be huge for the morale of this team and would put them back above .500 in C-USA play.
JM: What has Shawn Williams, the transfer from Texas, added to the Mustangs? He's a guy that obviously wasn't eligible for SMU last season, but he's stepped in and made a nice impact through 10 games. What does he bring in terms of production?
LL: He had an impact even before he was eligible as the team voted him captain before the season started. And ever since he's been playing, Shawn has been key, averaging 8.1 ppg without any apparent rust from missing so much time (since he was injured his freshman year at Texas, Williams really hadn't played a game since his senior year of high school, which was about two-and-a-half years ago). He has a strong voice on the court and is constantly talking, like a linebacker in football, according to Doherty. He also adds depth, maturity, intelligence and size.
JM: Finally, what's your score prediction for Saturday's game?
LL: Well SMU's defense will be key because Memphis scores more points than the Mustangs do. If SMU can keep it close, it'll come down to the final seconds because that seems to be the theme of this year. I say Memphis wins it though, 65-57.