After getting snub from March Madness, the top-seeded SMU Mustangs will take on the 8-seeded UC Irvine in the first round of the NIT.
WHEN: Wednesday, March 19 at 8 p.m. CT
WHERE: Dallas, Texas (Moody Coliseum)
RADIO/TV: ESPN 2, SMU- KAAM 770 AM
SERIES: Wednesday's meeting will be the first between the two programs.
PONY TRENDS: The Mustangs entered their AAC tournament first-round matchup with Houston having lost two consecutive games for the first time all season. But when the Mustangs entered halftime with 38-29 lead over the Cougars, it looked as if the Ponies were going to bounce back.
Then the Cougars rattled off a 19-4 run and the rest is history.
The Mustangs had one of their worst defensive performances against Houston, allowing the Cougars to shoot 47.4 percent from behind the arc and 44 percent from the field.
SMU, usually one of the best rebounding teams in the AAC, was pushed around by All-AAC second team forward TaShawn Thomas.
The Mustangs also continued to struggle from the free throw line down the stretch, missing five key free throws in the final 5:33.
Morale is down at SMU, so the UC Irvine Anteaters will look come in, start fast and pull off the upset.
OPPONENT STRENGTHS: The Anteaters are a very balanced and deep team. All five of UCI's starters average at least 8 points per game, and they have 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes of play. UCI doesn't score a ton of points, but thanks to 7-foot-6 freshman Mamadou Ndiaye and 6-foot-8 junior Will Davis II, the Anteaters rebound well, play solid defense, and can score in the paint.
When Ndiaye and Davis II are on the floor together, it could cause problems for the Mustangs. SMU has struggled with staying out of foul trouble all year. Ndiaye also led the Big West with 99 blocks, so there is no doubt his defensive presence will be felt.
Big West freshman of the year Luke Nelson is also a viable threat from the three-point line (38 percent), where the Mustangs have struggled to play good defense at times.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Yanick Moreira vs. Mamadou Ndiaye – There is no question the Anteaters' freshman Ndiaye will cause problems for the Mustangs on Wednesday. All of SMU's centers will be tasked with guarding the 7-foot-6 behemoth, but junior Yanick Moreira should be the guy on him most of the night. Despite weighing 70 pounds lighter then Ndiaye, Moreira has the length to cause problems for the un-athletic anteater. Sophomore Markus Kennedy will also be tasked with guarding the Senegal native, but Coach Brown will want to keep the Villanova transfer out of foul trouble. My guess is that Brown will use all of his big men on the Anteaters' center, but Moreira has the best shot at causing troubles for Ndiaye.
KEYS TO THE GAME: All season long, the Mustangs' Achilles heals have been 3-point defense and rebounding. If SMU can win the rebounding battle and defense the three-point shot well, they shouldn't have any trouble beating the Anteaters. But the last thing the Mustangs need is for Ndiaye, who averages just 8 points per game, to have a strong offensive game, so the Mustangs will need to stay out of foul trouble. It will be important for Larry Brown to rotate his big men in and out of the game. Every player on SMU's team was hurt after hearing they wouldn't be playing in March Madness, but it's time to move on. SMU is the more talented team, but if the Mustangs don't show up, they will get beat.