Shake Milton block (MATT VISINSKY)

Game Preview: SMU vs. Houston

PonyStampede's Phil Mayer previews SMU's home tilt against Houston.

When: Saturday, January 21 at 5 PM C.T. 

Where: Moody Coliseum (Dallas, TX)

TV/Radio: ESPNU/KAAM 770

Series: Houston leads 48-30 

Last Meeting: Houston won 71-68 in Houston on February 1, 2016. 

Pony Trends

After falling to Cincinnati for their first AAC loss, SMU has bounced back and defeated Tulane and Connecticut. The Mustangs jumped all over Connecticut Thursday night, building a 21 point lead before halftime. When SMU was locked in, UConn could get not score. The Huskies had just 15 points in the first half, and struggled to score in the second before SMU started to let up.

After the win against Connecticut, SMU has now won 12 of their last 13 games. Their offense is moving the ball well and their defense is shutting down teams. The Ponies are now fourth in the country in defense, allowing just 59.2 points per game. SMU is playing like one of the best all-around teams in the country and could move into the top 25 with a couple more big wins. 

Scouting Houston

Houston has lost their last two games at the hands of UCF and Memphis, and three of their last four. Coming into the season, the Cougars were considered one of the top teams in the conference, so this will be a big game for them to try to re-establish that position. Houston is a good offensive team, averaging 75.3 points per game. Some of their success comes from their prowess from beyond the arc, where they shoot 39.3%. They will be a good matchup for SMU's stingy defense, which has not allowed 70 points to a team since their loss to Boise State back in November. 

Houston Players to Watch

G Rob Gray Jr.: Gray is potentially the most dangerous offensive player in the AAC. He is the conference's leading scorer, at 20.8 points per game and he is a weapon both inside and outside the arc, shooting 48.6% from the field and 37.6% from three. He has scored double digits in every game he has played, with a season high of 30 against Rhode Island. 

G Damyean Dotson: Dotson is shooting it lights out this season. He currently sits at 45.6% from three this season, which is second in the conference behind Sterling Brown among qualified players. He is not afraid to let it fly either, taking 6.6 threes per game. Dotson is not a one-dimensional player, as he also grabs 7.1 rebounds per game. 

G Wes VanBeck: In his junior season at Houston, VanBeck is finally getting the chance to play. Filling in for the injured Devin Davis, VanBeck provides Houston with another three point weapon. He is shooting an astonishing 50.9% from three, which would be top five in the country if he took enough shots to qualify. 

Projected Houston Starters:

G Wes VanBeck

G Galen Robinson Jr.

G Rob Gray Jr.

G Damyean Dotson

F Danrad Knowles

Projected SMU Starters:

G Shake Milton

G Jarrey Foster

G Sterling Brown

F Ben Moore

F Semi Ojeleye 

Matchup to Watch

Rob Gray Jr. vs. SMU's wings: It will be nearly impossible to stop Gray, so SMU can only hope to contain him. Gray is a prolific scorer, and consistently gets to 15 points, even on his cold nights. Gray will not stop shooting if his shot isn't falling, as evidenced by his 9-24 performance against Memphis on Thursday night. It is key that SMU doesn't let him completely light them up and take over the game.

Keys to the Game

One key for SMU is to bully Houston in the paint. Houston is a small team; three of their starters are 6-foot-2 or shorter, and they will have to stick 6-foot-5 Damyean Dotson on Ojeleye or Moore. SMU needs to take advantage of their size and crush Houston on the glass and score on them in the paint. On the other end, SMU needs to play sticky defense. Houston is a great three-point shooting team and SMU cannot afford lapses from out there. Against Cincinnati, they helped too far off the ball gave up too many open threes. They cannot do the same against the Cougars. 

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