SMU (25-9, NIT #1-seed) takes on California (21-13, NIT #2-seed) in the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament.
Larry Brown Press Conference
WHEN: Wednesday, March 26 at 8 p.m. CT
WHERE: Dallas, TX (Moody Coliseum)
RADIO/TV: ESPN2, SMU - KAAM 770 AM
SERIES: Tied. (1-1) SMU won the last matchup in the Kentucky Invitational during the 1979-80 season.
PONY TRENDS: SMU had another slow start out of the gate in round two of the NIT against LSU. After the game on Monday, Markus Kennedy called it the team's "Achilles heel." The Mustangs gave up 40 first half points, 18 of them coming from big man Johnnie O'Bryant and LSU's second-best all-time three-point shooter Andre Stringer.
Throughout the year, SMU has been very susceptible to perimeter shooting but luckily for them, LSU eventually ran cold from long range.
In the second half SMU regained form and executed at a much higher level. Timely shooting from Nic Moore, Nick Russell and fan-favorite Keith Frazier ignited the crowd of 7,021 and the electric energy translated into more intensity, turnovers and stops on the defensive side of the ball.
The SMU bench continues to play a major role in the team's success. Ryan Manuel played valuable minutes with solid defense (aside from Jordan Mickey's dunk), one could argue that Frazier had his best overall game of the season (might have passed a little too much), Ben Moore held his own in the paint getting a big block on O'Bryant and Cannen Cunningham made the gym shake with his monstrous dunk in the first half.
As impressive as these come-from-behind wins are, the question of whether or not SMU can show that level of resilience outside of Moody still lingers. However, in one of the most important games of their season thus far, that question matters not. Moody will be sold out and rocking as usual.
OPPONENT STRENGTHS: Cal is lead by 1st-Team Pac-12 senior guard Justin Cobbs, who is in the running for the Bob Cousy Best Collegiate Point Guard of the Year award. Cobbs is second in the Pac-12 in assists this year (5.8) and ninth in scoring (15.5).
SMU has faced an array of great guards this year and Cobbs to say the least. His ability to finish in traffic is second to none. He is quick off the dribble, fast in transition, can pull up from range and plays with a high level of emotion and intensity. This Minnesota transfer is to California what Shabazz Napier is to Connecticut and his buzzer-beater handing Arizona their first loss of the season was as clutch as you'll see.
The Golden Bears play well on defense and have held their last 10 opponents to 66 points or less. Cal jumped out to a 31-8 lead on Arkansas in their game on Monday without one of their best players. Senior forward Richard Solomon, who led the Pac-12 in rebounds and averaged a double-double (11.0 ppg, 10.2 rpg), is questionable for this contest after missing Cal's past two matchups because of a concussion. Guard Ricky Kreklow, will take the court wearing a protective mask after breaking his nose when the Bears hosted Arkansas Monday evening.
Cal is a very well-coached basketball team under the helm of former Golden State Warrior Head Coach Mike Montgomery. The successes of Montgomery are well noted as he has taken Cal to four NCAA tournaments and two NIT's in six years at the school. Montgomery ranks ninth in wins amongst active NCAA head coaches and is 26th all time.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Nick Russell vs. Justin Cobbs – This could be one of the most exciting matchups of the year. SMU fans know how streaky Nick Russell can be as a shooter but he played excellent basketball vs. LSU. He has consistently faced opponents' best guards this year and he will have his hands full with Justin Cobbs who is as dangerous a passer as he is a scorer. Both players are terrific leaders, incredible competitors and one of them will be playing their last collegiate basketball game ever. If this isn't a great matchup I don't know what is.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Shut down Cobb and the Cal guards – especially in transition. SMU needs to turn this into a half-court matchup, especially with Solomon coming off of a head injury. This means that SMU can't turn the ball over or settle for jump shots early in the shot clock. Cal has a stable of good young guards that they rotate when electing to use a smaller lineup including Tyrone Wallace (11.3 ppg), Jabari Bird (18 in the last game) and three-point shooter Jordan Mathews. SMU cannot afford to let the Cal backcourt run down the court for easy baskets. SMU has to control the tempo and feed the beasts down low. Kennedy, Cunningham and Moreira should have a much easier time in the post this game compared to last.