SMU (24-9, NIT #1-seed) takes on LSU (20-13, NIT #5-seed) in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.
WHEN: Monday, March 24 at 8 p.m. CT
WHERE: Dallas, TX (Moody Coliseum)
RADIO/TV: ESPN, SMU - KAAM 770 AM
SERIES: Tied. (2-2) The home team has won every matchup.
PONY TRENDS: SMU did not look deserving of the number one seed in the first half of their first round game against Cal-Irvine. SMU trailed 11-3 after the first six minutes of the game and went into halftime trailing the Anteaters 30-29. SMU had one of their worst shooting halves of the season making just 10-of-34 shots for 29 percent.
SMU's most notable playmakers, Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore both failed to score ten points in the matchup. In the Mustangs' last two matchups Kennedy has gone 8-for-24, and Moore, 2-for-14 from the field. Though their scoring has dropped off, Moore has averaged eight assists in the last two games and Kennedy has led the team in rebounds.
Luckily for SMU, the bench players have rose to the occasion as they have many times throughout the course of the year. Big man Cannen Cunningham has put in his bid as a critical part of the SMU rotation, leading the team in each of the last two games. Cunningham's new found aggression and ability to knock down the mid-range jumper has been a great asset for the Ponies and they will need him to continue his raised level of play.
With SMU being near perfect at home and Moody Coliseum returning to packed-out status, this should be a lively game.
OPPONENT STRENGTHS: LSU is a very dangerous team led by a couple talented freshmen and All-SEC 1st Team Junior Forward Johnny O'Bryant III. The 6-foot-9, 256 lb. Cleveland native is averaging 15.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game this year.
Former Prime Prep (Dallas, TX) and four-star recruit Jordan Mickey also suits up for LSU. The freshman has made key contributions for the Tigers on both ends of the court. His 102 blocks on the season are second most all time behind Shaquille O'Neal and he narrowly edges out O'Bryant as the leading rebounder on the team averaging 7.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-8, 220 lb. athlete is also second on the team in scoring averaging close to 13 points per matchup. Between O'Bryant, Mickey and other freshman sensation Jarell Martin (6-foot-9 241 lbs.) LSU has a formidable combination of size and athleticism in the post, which could certainly cause trouble for SMU's big men especially if Kennedy, Williams or Cunningham find themselves in early foul trouble.
Senior Andre Stringer is a leader on this Tiger squad averaging double figures in all four of his seasons at LSU. Stringer is lethal from the three, shooting 39.7 percent. The Ponies will have to keep tabs on him as well as junior guard Anthony Hickey who can light it up from the perimeter.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: SMU Bigs vs. LSU Bigs – This game will be won in the post there's no doubt about it. Under Coach Brown SMU has always made it a point of emphasis to put the ball in the hands of their post players and LSU has a like-minded approach. SMU has more experience technically but the Tigers are battle-tested having to face the likes of Patric Young, Julius Randle, and Will Yeguete this season. SMU did not do a great job against the duos of Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles in their first matchup against Cincinnati or Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin in their second matchup against Memphis. It's likely that the storyline for this game comes from the interior.
KEYS TO THE GAME: SMU can't afford to get into early foul trouble down low. They will need their full rotation to handle the big men of LSU especially with things not looking good for Yanick Moreira at this point. SMU has to play excellent help defense and do the best they can to contest shots on the perimeter even though their main focus will be battling down low. If SMU should get themselves in a tight game they will need to keep their cool under pressure and play within themselves. They can't take ill-advised shots or get frustrated. The Mustangs should feed off the energy of the sellout crowd and that could be their biggest advantage. Nic Moore and Nick Russell will also be key. If the SMU backcourt can't make wide open shots it will spell danger for the Ponies.