When: Saturday, December 31 at 11 a.m CT
Where: Minges Coliseum (Greenville, N.C.)
TV/Radio: ESPN3/KAAM 770 AM
Series: SMU leads 9-4
Last Meeting: SMU beat ECU 74-63 in Dallas on Feb. 21, 2016.
Despite the losses of Harry Froling and Tom Wilson, SMU extended their winning streak to seven games with a gritty victory in Memphis on Tuesday night. As he has all season, Semi Ojeleye led the charge for SMU, scoring 17 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. Without Froling, SMU has been forced to go to a smaller lineup. Sterling Brown and Jarrey Foster have been pushed into the paint and they have responded. Brown grabbed eight rebounds and Foster nabbed 7, as SMU out rebounded Memphis by 19, despite their size disadvantage. After disconcerting losses early in the season, SMU appears to be finding their groove.
ECU enters this matchup with a 9-5 record. They are 1-0 in AAC play after defeating USF in their conference opener on Wednesday. ECU did not play a tough non-conference schedule, as their best win was against NC Central, who is ranked at #169 by KenPom. ECU has played well defensively this year, holding opponents to 60.6 points per game on just 36.7% shooting. They showcased this strong defense in their last game, as USF scored just 49 points against them on Wednesday. ECU is turnover-prone; they have coughed up the ball 16.7 times per game so far. This game is a chance for the Pirates to prove themselves against a strong opponent.
ECU Players to Watch
G Caleb White: ECU's senior guard is a sharpshooter. White is knocking down an astonishing 44.7% of his threes on 5.8 attempts per game on the year. White is the team's leading scorer at 12.9 points per contest, and he takes care of the ball. White should not hurt SMU from inside the arc, as he has made just 21 two-pointers on the season, but he will burn SMU if they leave him open from three.
G Kentrell Barkley: Barkley is perhaps ECU's best all-around player. He is third on the team in scoring at 10.4 points per game, second in assists at 3.3 per game and second in rebounds at 6.6 per game. Kentrell's rebounding numbers are especially impressive considering he stands at just 6 foot 5. Barkley's shooting numbers are far down from last year, as his field goal percentage has fallen from 46.4% to 40.2% and his three-point percentage has slipped from 35.3% to 25%. Barkley will become even more dangerous if his shot falls against SMU.
C Andre Washington: Washington, a grad transfer from Wake Forest has been a presence for ECU in the paint. At 7 foot 1, Washington has been an elite rim protector, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Washington is also ECU's best rebounder, averaging 7.8 per game. Washington does not shoot much, but he is efficient. He is shooting 66.1% from the field this season. For a small SMU team, Washington could be a handful on the boards and under the basket.
Projected ECU starters:
G Jeremy Sheppard
G B.J. Tyson
G Caleb White
G Kentrell Barkley
C Andre Washington
Projected SMU starters:
G Shake Milton
G Jarrey Foster
G Sterling Brown
F Semi Ojeleye
F Ben Moore
Matchup to Watch
SMU's bigs vs. Andre Washington: On paper, a big man like Washington is the type of player who could give SMU trouble. Washington has a solid five inches on anybody on SMU's roster, and could use his size to gobble up boards and swat shots. SMU has done well this season against talented big men in Reid Travis and Dedric Lawson, and they will have to continue to battle inside to prevent Washington from having a major impact on the game. SMU can put Washington in the pick and roll to draw him away from the basket and neutralize his shot blocking ability. Their bigs will also have to be strong inside on the defensive end to prevent dunks and offensive rebounds. Washington does struggle from the free throw line, so SMU can hack him if he establishes position inside.
Keys to the Game
Defend the perimeter and make free throws. SMU is a better team than ECU and should beat them fairly easily. One way that ECU could potentially steal the game is a barrage of three pointers. They shoot just 32.7% from three on the season, but Caleb White has been red hot. SMU has had problems with leaving shooters open in past games, and they cannot afford to do so with White. On the offensive end, SMU has struggled from the free throw line in recent games. They shot just 11-19 against Memphis, and it is important for them to get more consistent from the charity stripe.