SMU (10-3, 0-1 AAC) hosts its first game in the newly renovated Moody Coliseum vs. conference opponent Connecticut (11-2, 0-1 AAC)
WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 4 at 1 p.m. CT
WHERE: Dallas, Texas (Moody Coliseum)
RADIO/TV: ESPNU/WATCHESPN, SMU - KAAM 770 AM
SERIES: SMU 1-0. The Mustangs defeated Connecticut 80-66 in their only other meeting on Dec. 30, 1965 in Dallas.
PONY TRENDS: The Mustangs opened up their American Athletic Conference schedule on New Year's Day taking a 65-57 loss to Cincinnati in Ohio. The game was a defensive slugfest as expected that ended with the Bearcats' second leading scorer Justin Jackson besting the SMU big men. Jackson blocked shots all night long, got to the free throw line and played ferociously around the basket ending up with 17 points.
SMU had moments of success and didn't shoot the ball terribly (45.1% FG) but they gave up entirely too many possessions by turning the ball over -- something they've also struggled with in games past.
SMU's lone double-digit scorer was Markus Kennedy who got into foul trouble midway through the second half. Cincinnati simply outplayed the Mustangs in the second period earning more points in the paint, second chance points as well as points off turnovers.
The Ponies did shoot well from the free throw line hitting 8-of-9 for just under 90 percent.
OPPONENT STRENGTHS: Through 13 games, Shabazz Napier has proved once again why he is one of the top guards in the collegiate ranks. He is incredibly difficult to guard because of his scoring and playmaking ability. Napier is superb when it comes to the catch-and-shoot as well as shooting off the dribble. He is also very crafty and can create space.
He has been knocked in the past for not being the ideal distributor and not making the other players around him better but head coach Kevin Ollie (a former point guard) is doing a good job of making Napier a complete player at the position. Napier leads the Huskies in nearly every major category – PPG (16.3) RPG (6.5) APG (5.8) SPG (1.9) MPG (34.4) and 3-PT FG's made (22). With Napier's deep range, dynamic playmaking and experience, he will continue to be one of the Huskies' marquee strengths.
The Huskies as a team shoot well from behind the arc averaging just under eight three pointers a game. They are shooting 42 percent from three thus far. UCONN also excels at blocking shots, which SMU struggled with mightily against Cincinnati. The Huskies have blocked 85 shots while their opponents have blocked just 34.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Shabazz Napier vs. Nic Moore – Both guards know how to put the ball in the basket point blank. Napier is coming off one of his best performances of the year where his 27 points proved not to be enough as the Huskies were stunned by Houston. Napier will be looking to put his team back on the right track while Moore is looking to earn respect as one of the best shooters and most over looked players in the conference Moore is clearly disadvantaged in the size department but he brings a high motor on defense and does a great job of getting around screens and contesting shots. With Nick Russell having a down year and Ryan Manuel not being much of a threat offensively, Moore is going to have to put SMU's backcourt on his back and show UCONN that they aren't the only team who can rain down threes. With SMU being a tough team on the interior it will also be up to Moore to force Napier into taking difficult outside shots (which he has been known to do) unless Brown chooses someone else to defend him. Either way, these two should be fun to watch.
KEYS TO THE GAME: SMU is always at their best when they pass the ball effectively and get the rock down low to their big men. Yanick Moreira and Markus Kennedy need to step up and own the paint on Saturday. If they can play solid minutes without getting into foul trouble and finish strong when they have opportunities (i.e. not get there shots pinned to the backboard), it will force UCONN to give more help inside the box. This will give SMU wide open looks from three which they will need to hit. They've done it before, but can they do it when it matters? Russell also needs to get out of his slump and the Mustangs have to be careful not to get caught up in the fact that it's their first game in Moody. They must be focused and they have to use the crowd to their advantage.
UCONN has to attack the basket. SMU's transition game is not up to the standard that Larry Brown would like it to be, especially their transition defense. If Napier and Daniels can get to the rim early and often and get the SMU bigs into foul trouble they can certainly come out with a victory. UCONN also has an advantage because they are used to playing in front of big crowds so the atmosphere won't be a problem for them. The Mustangs on the other hand have continuously shot themselves in the foot with horrible passes and sloppy turnovers. If UCONN can force SMU to make poor decisions and throw the ball away like they did against Cincy, SMU could lose in front of their first sell-out crowd in more than a decade.
Game Preview: SMU vs. UConn
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