When: Friday, November 11 at 7 p.m. CT
Where: Moody Coliseum (Dallas, TX)
TV/Radio: ESPN3/KAAM 770 AM
Last Meeting: SMU won, 64-63 at Jim Thorpe Classic on Dec. 28, 2002
It’s the first game with Tim Jankovich as the Mustangs head coach after being an associate head coach under Larry Brown. In a season marred with NCAA sanctions, suspensions, and a postseason ban, the Mustangs went 25-5, were ranked as high as No. 8 and finished the season ranked No. 24. SMU went 18-0 to begin the season. SMU would certainly like to get off to a similar start in 2016 and it all starts Friday night at Moody Coliseum. SMU is 60-40 in season openers and 43-16 when opening the season at Moody. SMU has won five-straight season openers and 17 of its last 20 home openers.
It’s been 14 years since SMU and Gardner-Webb have faced each other and a lot has changed since then, so nothing can be learned from their previous meeting. The Bulldogs are opening their season with four straight road games, beginning with SMU Friday night. In its fourth season under coach Tim Craft Gardner-Webb is picked to finish fourth in a preseason poll. Craft has led Gardner Webb to a winning season all four of his years at the helm and has his eyes set on a fifth. The Bulldogs bring a ton of experience to the court with just sophomore point guard, LaQuincy Rideau, as the only underclassmen.
Three Players to Watch
F Tyrell Nelson (14.2 PPG, 7.6 REB, 55.9 FG%) Nelson was runner up in voting for the Big South’s preseason player of the year. Nelson made 31 starts last season and led the team in free throws with 100 and blocked 26 shots. He is a physical presence on the court and is easily the Bulldogs’ best player. In the Big South Conference Tournament he averaged 19.0 points and 10 rebounds per game.
G LaQuincy Rideau (5.8 PPG, 2.6 AST, 2.0 STL, 43.7 FG%) was the 2015 Florida Class 7A Player of the Year after leading Blanche Ely High to a 28-0 regular season. Rideau was considered one of the most physical guards in his freshman class and at 6-1, 210 ponds he certainly has the build for that title. He made just one start last season and was among the nation’s leaders with 67 steals. He’s getting the keys to the car this season and should see a huge spike in his minutes and production.
C L’Hassane Niangane (2.8 PPG, 4.6 REB, 1.1 BLK, 47.0 FG%) played club basketball in Chalon-sur-Saon, France, with current Houston Rockets forward and 2014 NBA first rounder Clint Capela. Niangane started in 23 games last season and led the team in blocked shots with 37. Between Niangane and Nelson, the Bulldogs are tough down low and can beat up opponents that try to get to the rim.
F Tyrell Nelson
C L’Hassane Niangane
G LaQuincy Rideau
G Liam O’Reily
G Jamaal Robateau
Matchup to Watch
Tyrell Nelson vs Semi Ojeleye: Nelson, at 6-7 and 235 pounds, is physical and can set the tone for Garddner-Webb, but Ojeleye is also 6-7, 235 pounds. Ojeleye has yet to play a minute in an SMU jersey, but he is expected to bring size and athleticism to the SMU frontcourt. These two are bound to clash and whoever wins that matchup could be the difference in the game.
Keys to the Game
Last season, Gardner-Webb finished the season with a scoring margin of +0.8 and that’s largely why they finished 17-16. If the Bulldogs can get the Mustangs to play their style of basketball and keep it close all the little things will matter that much more. That means turnover and free throws will be critical. SMU has almost always struggled to maintain consistent ball security, so setting the tone for the game and the season would go a long way to show a step in the right direction. Last season, the Mustangs finished with a -0.3 turnover margin while the Bulldogs were +0.8. Where free throws are concerned, SMU shot 70 percent from the charity stripe, while Gardner-Webb shot 65 percent.