Matt Visinsky

Game Preview: SMU Mustangs vs. East Carolina Pirates

Patrick previews SMU's road AAC matchup at East Carolina on Wednesday at 5:15 pm CT.

When: 5:15 p.m. CT, Wednesday, Jan. 13
Where: Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum (Greenville, NC)
TV/Radio: ESPNews/KAAM 770
Series: SMU leads 7-4
Last meeting: SMU won 74-68 on March 13, 2015 in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament

Pony Trends

SMU (AP No. 10) has soared into the top 10 for the first time since 1985 after its comeback win vs. Cincinnati Thursday night. With Keith Frazier likely done at SMU and Sterling Brown’s first-half ejection, SMU had to play the game’s final 27 minutes with six scholarship players, but still erased seven-point deficit with 3:40 to go. Nic Moore is still playing like a conference player of the year. He made two three-pointers in the final two minutes of SMU’s win vs. Cincinnati and drilled six of nine threes in Sunday’s win over Central Florida. He’s averaging 17.5 points per game and shooting 47 percent from deep in four conference games this year. As a team, SMU averages 1.19 points per possession, which ranks sixth in the nation. The Mustangs’ 43.1 offensive rebound percentage ranks third in the nation, while their 55.5 percent mark on two-point shots ranks 20th.

Scouting East Carolina

The Pirates have dropped three straight games to open conference play, putting their record at 8-8. In a nutshell, they are an unspectacularly mediocre team. They don’t do anything horribly, but don’t have a true strength. It makes for a predictable and sometimes boring team to watch. ECU lacks the athletes or producers in the frontcourt that SMU has, so it shot a lot of three-pointers in the two matchups last season. Combine the predictably of ECU’s offense, its shortage of knockdown shooters and poor defense, and results like a 23-point loss at Moody on Jan. 17, 2015 aren’t surprising. ECU has improved defensively this year, surrendering 67.1 points per game (85th nationally) and 101.1 points per 100 possessions in adjusted defensive efficiency, nearly seven PPP better than a season ago. But it hasn’t seen an offensive team like SMU yet this year.

Three players to watch

SG B.J. Tyson: The Pirates leading scorer as a freshman last year, Tyson leads the team with 14.1 points per game and is second with 5.2 rebounds per game. He’s 7-for-23 (30 percent) from the floor in his last two games, but has five 20-point outings this year. While not a great three-point shooter (32 percent), he is an aggressive scorer who also draws fouls well.

SF Caleb White: The junior is going to shoot threes, and a lot of them. White attempts nearly six threes per game, but makes 40.7 percent of those attempts. He’s more of a wing, but he starts at the four and is a little one-dimensional for that spot. He struggles to finish at the rim and provides little production as a rebounder (2.0 offensive rebound percentage, 8.8 defensive rebound percentage, each worst on the team).

SF Kentrell Barkley: Barkley may be the team’s best all-around player, even as a freshman. The North Carolina native leads the team in offensive rating (114.6, per KenPom) and shoots 53.5 percent on two-pointers. He mixes in a couple threes per game, and shoots 36.7 percent from distance. He is averaging 10.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game in his last 11 games.

Matchup to Watch

Ben Moore vs. Caleb White: SMU can’t allow White to get into a groove from three-point territory, so Moore will need to be diligent in getting out in space to guard him. SMU has faced a couple lineups with four-men who like to shoot a lot of threes, and results were mixed. Michigan’s Duncan Robinson made five of his nine threes off the bench against SMU on Dec. 8, while starter Zak Irvin had some open looks, but didn’t make them. TCU’s Vlad Brodziansky found room when he stepped out against SMU on Dec. 5, making two of three from deep. White is more reliant on the three than Irvin or Brodziansky and not as good a shooter as Robinson, so it’s a manageable task for Moore.  

Keys to the Game

If SMU can prevent ECU from getting open shots from three and making a lot of threes, it should be in good shape. The Pirates made 15 of 35 three-point attempts against the Mustangs in the AAC tournament a season ago and were able to keep the game close, despite 15 turnovers and a mere 21 rebounds. ECU doesn’t have the depth of shooters like it did a year ago, so expect a lot of White and more threes from Tyson, point guard Prince Williams and center Michael Zangari. That group is not going to wow anyone with its shooting abilities and is unlikely to stay hot from three for a whole game, even against an SMU defense that surrenders a decent amount of open threes. The Pirates would be wise to give Barkley a lot of chances. He is likely to see a lot Sterling Brown, a very good defender, but he is the best chance for ECU to consistently find some points in ways other than the three-pointer.

Midweek road games are never easy, but SMU is a heavy favorite here. ECU doesn’t have the talent, size or athleticism to match up, and doesn’t have an obvious strength it can use to beat a disciplined team like SMU. That’s why it resorts to a heavy dose of three-pointers. SMU should win handily as long as it doesn’t give ECU a lot of open looks or allow Barkley to have a career day.

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