WHEN: Wednesday, March 5 at 3 p.m. CT>
WHERE: Dallas, Texas (Moody Coliseum)
RADIO/TV: ESPNews, SMU - KAAM 770 AM
SERIES: Louisville Leads (2-7)
PONY TRENDS: On Wednesday night SMU will look to honor their two seniors (both Dallas-natives) with a season defining win in the most talked about home finale in decades. But in actuality, a win against Louisville will do much more than that.
This is the first home game of the season where SMU is an official underdog. Beating Louisville will put the cherry on top of what most people would call a miraculous turnaround on the Hilltop and push the Mustangs' RPI and ranking even higher. Not to mention, SMU would finish perfect at home and Larry Brown would almost certainly move into top-three candidate territory for Coach of the Year along with Gregg Marshall of Wichita State and Tony Bennett from Virginia.
SMU sitting just a game behind Louisville and Cincinnati for the regular season conference title, would still have their hopes of sharing a piece of the conference championship intact with a win, going into the last game of the season.
Coach Larry Brown went on record saying that his Mustangs did not play like a ranked team in their last matchup versus UCF at home but with the stakes higher than they have ever been, it is safe to expect no lack of effort or intensity in Moody Coliseum on Wednesday night.
OPPONENT STRENGTHS: Make no mistake, SMU has their hands full. The Louisville Cardinals have re-emerged as one of the deadliest teams in the country and have shown why they were the preseason pick to win the conference out right.
With Cincinnati climbing as high as number seven in the AP Poll and beating the Cardinals head to head in Louisville, for a moment it looked as if Rick Pitino's team would play second fiddle to the Bearcats this year. But the veteran leadership on the Cardinals roster never allowed them to drift out of focus for too long and eventually they fought their way back to the top spot.
In the last meeting between Louisville and SMU, the Mustangs were exposed inside and out by the wiles and wills of those same experienced playmakers. Both Russ Smith and Luke Hancock had 23 point games as the former slashed and attacked off the dribble and in transition and the latter splashed shots from the perimeter.
Montrezl Harrell, who has gained plenty of national attention for his athleticism and post play also added a double-double in the game.
You can always expect Louisville to bring a well-coached, high intensity basketball squad to the floor who can apply intense pressure when needed, and because they dropped their last game vs. Memphis, they will be looking for vengeance any way they can get it.
Matchup to Watch: SMU Backcourt vs. Louisville Backcourt – Nic Moore, Sterling Brown and Nick Russell vs. Russ Smith and Chris Jones (and I would count Hancock but he is listed as a forward) should be a classic. You will be hard pressed to find a more fearless competitor than Russ Smith, but if you ask anyone who has followed SMU's games they will say the same about Nic Moore. Both of these guys can create baskets in so many different ways and they make it look easy. The biggest thing to watch for is how SMU will react when Nic Moore is not in the game and Louisville tightens up their defense. Moore can not afford to get into foul trouble for SMU this game or their chances of winning decrease dramatically. This will be fun to watch.
Keys to the Game: It is fair to say that when SMU played Louisville the first time it was under a different set of circumstances. They were confident that they could play with anybody in the conference and they had beaten UCONN at home but they had not beaten highly ranked opponents on a consistent basis and they were not respected nationally with a top-20 ranking. Coming into this game, everybody knows that SMU could very well come out victorious especially because they are playing at home. The key to SMU being victorious is playing their heart out on defense. They should try to keep this as low-scoring a game as possible. They must contest every three and stop Russ Smith's penetration at the same time which is a daunting task. Louisville needs to push the pace offensively and defensively. They must work the transition game like they did in the first matchup allowing Russ Smith to quiet the crowd with his penetration. If they can get SMU's star players in foul trouble (especially Nic Moore) they have already won half the battle. That will happen through getting inside the box and blowing past the SMU defenders.