SMU (26-9, #1-seed) takes on Clemson (23-12, #3-seed) with an NIT Championship Game berth at stake.
Larry Brown Pregame Press Conference
WHEN: Tuesday, April 1, at 6 p.m. CT
WHERE: New York, NY (Madison Square Garden)
RADIO/TV: ESPN2, SMU - KAAM 770 AM
SERIES: Clemson Leads (1-0) The Tigers defeated the Mustangs in their only other meeting 67-51 back in 1970.
PONY TRENDS: The SMU basketball team has excited the masses once again in what has proved to be one of their best seasons all-time. SMU has won more games this season than in any other season within the last quarter century. With the second-most wins in program history the Mustangs lead an exodus from Dallas, Texas all the way to Madison Square.
SMU's win against California may be its most impressive of the post season. Despite a deficit and miraculous shooting from the Golden Bears in the second half, SMU did not falter. Nic Moore's game winning three-pointer was just one storyline of many.
SMU forward Markus Kennedy contributed 19 points and 10 rebounds in SMU's final home game of the season capping off a 12-1 record in Moody Coliseum. Freshman Keith Frazier also gave solid minutes hitting clutch shots from long range tallying nine points in just 15 minutes. He has saved his best basketball for the end and SMU has benefitted from that immensely.
Senior Nick Russell left the court for just one minute during the entire contest and finished a reverse layup that gave SMU a late lead before Cal's senior Justin Cobbs hit a big time three-pointer of his own.
After Moore's three pointer, fans rushed the court in celebration. After losing the final three games leading up to Selection Sunday, SMU finds themselves on a three-game win streak, they're playing with confidence and something to prove.
SMU has taken full advantage of their number-one seeding to this point, but in a neutral environment where there will be significantly less energy to feed off of, the Mustangs will need to motivate themselves internally.
SMU is 8-8 away from home and 2-2 at neutral arenas specifically.
OPPONENT STRENGTHS: SMU faces a very good Clemson team who is young and hungry. They have decent wins over Duke (almost beat them twice), Florida State and NC State, and they lost to Virginia and Arkansas by five and six points respectively.
Much like SMU, the Tigers were a difficult team to face at home and are coming off a 12-game home win streak, but are just 7-9 away outside of Clemson.
The team that finished 6th in the ACC is lead by 6-6, 200 lb. forward K.J. McDaniels: 1st-Team All-ACC and the conference defensive player of the year.
The Alabama native is the leading scorer and rebounder for Clemson and led the ACC with 2.8 blocks per game. McDaniels had a monster game in the first round of the tournament vs. Georgia State with 30 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.
Jay Bilas mentioned McDaniels as one of the most underappreciated players in the NCAA saying that is athleticism makes him the best perimeter shot blocker in the country.
Clemson does not have any seniors on their roster but they do have two talented juniors at the guard position in Rod Hall and Damarcus Harrison. Harrison has found his groove late in the season reaching double figures in eight of Clemson's last 11 games including 17 against Georgia State and 16 vs. Belmont. Hall is a strong, ball handler who can knock down mid-range shots and get to the rim.
The big man in Clemson's offense is Landry Nnoko. The 6-foot-10 250 lb. sophomore from Cameroon averages 28 minutes per game. He is not incredibly skilled offensively but he is a proven shot blocker and will work for offensive rebounds.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: K.J. McDaniels vs. SMU D – McDaniels is a hand full to deal with because he has optimal size, frame and wingspan for a wing and can handle the ball as well as a guard. He has one of the best transition games in the country with his explosive athleticism and accounts for a major part of the Clemson offense. McDaniels' 444 field goal attempts on the season, is 199 more than his closest teammate. He has a quick first step, gets into the lane with ease and is an above the rim player when it comes to finishing. He is also an excellent rebounder and will posterize opponents with tip dunks if they fail to box him out. It will be interesting to see who guards McDaniels. Sterling Brown is someone who could match up well being a very solid defensive player, having a high motor and a commitment to battling for rebounds and boxing out. But with McDaniels' versatility, it will take great team defense and good offensive possessions to limit his production especially in transition.
KEYS TO THE GAME: SMU has to come back down to earth. They have traveled into new territory having the best season in recent history, and anybody can see that SMU is excited to be playing in Madison Square Garden; home of 60-point games, Spike Lee and some of the most historic events to ever take place. But going into this game SMU has to focus harder and dig deeper within themselves than ever before. There aren't 7,000 rowdy fans getting into opponent's heads. There will be no arena shaking after a clutch Keith Frazier three pointer and there will undoubtedly be at least a few Clemson fans in attendance. SMU has to manufacture the same energy and adrenaline that they get from Moody Coliseum.
Clemson needs to attack the basket and collect buckets in transition. They don't have many excellent outside shooters but they have guards and forwards who can get to the rim. It will benefit them if they can push the tempo and get off to a lead right out of the gate. SMU has formed a bad habit of playing from behind at the start of the game. That may not fly away from home.