SMU (23-4 overall, 13-1 in AAC) vs. Houston (18-7 overall, 9-4 in AAC)
WHEN: Saturdayday, February 18 at 5 p.m. CT
WHERE: Hofheinz Pavillion (Houston, Texas)
TV/RADIO: ESPN2/WatchESPN | KAAM 770 AM
SERIES: Houston leads 48-31
LAST MEETING: SMU won 85-64 At Moody Coliseum on January 21, 2017
SMU is sitting atop the American Athletic Conference standings with a nine-game winning streak, looking to make it an even ten. The Mustangs have also won 19 of their last 20 games and are enjoying their second week in the AP Top 25 at No. 19. Saturday will be the second matchup between SMU and Houston this season after the Mustangs took the first contest 85-64 in Dallas. SMU has been a solid road team in conference play, going 6-1 so far. Despite the lack of bodies, SMU has managed to play well defensively all season long and has proven it time and time again. The Mustangs held 19 consecutive opponents to 66 points or less before Tulane dropped 75 on them Wednesday night.
The Cougars have won five straight but have been off the court for a week. Either Houston will return well rested or covered in rust. Last time SMU came down I-45, the Cougars beat the Mustangs 71-68 on February 1, 2016. Houston leads the AAC and is in the top 13 in the nation when it comes to 3-point field goal percentage at 40.7 percent—an area that SMU has had some trouble guarding this year. Houston also takes care of the basketball with the fewest turnovers per game (10.2) and largest turnover margin (+4.1).
Key Houston Players to Watch
G Roby Gray: The junior leads Houston and the AAC with 20.5 points per game and seems poised to finish as the AAC’s scoring champion. In the last meeting with SMU, Gray scored 16 points and tallied five assists.
G Damyean Dotson: The senior is fourth in the conference with 17.2 PPG, making Houston the only team with two players among the top-four scoring leaders. Dotson has made at least one 3-pointer in all 25 games this season and is also ranked 10th in the AAC with 7.1 rebounds per game. He has also recorded a team-high seven double-doubles this season.
Projected Houston Starters:
G Galen Robinson
G Rob Gray
G Damyean Dotson
F Danrad Knowles
C Kyle Meyer
Projected SMU Starters:
G Shake Milton
G Sterling Brown
G Jarrey Foster
F Ben Moore
F Semi Ojeleye
Matchup to Watch
Damyean Dotson vs. Sterling Brown: We’ve seen a lot of team defense from the Tim Jankovich Mustangs, but Brown is the guy you usually ask to lock down a team’s best player. And while Rob Gray may be the conference’s scoring leader, Dotson has the potential to do damage on multiple fronts—whether that is by knocking down a 3 or by crashing the boards. SMU needs to do whatever it can to take Dotson out of his comfort zone, and that is the kind of task that usually falls in the lap of Sterling “lockdown” Brown.
Keys to the Game
SMU needs to limit Houston’s 3-pointers. It is something that always seems to hurt SMU and the closer we get to March the less you want to be known for lax 3-point defense. SMU is allowing 8.1, 3-pointers a game, while also hitting eight 3’s of its own every night. It may seem like those numbers cancel each other out, but let’s remember that those are averages and on average, no one in the American shoots the 3-ball better than the Cougars (40.7). To be fair, SMU is right behind Houston at 39.4 percent and the Mustangs have the fifth best 3-point defense in the AAC (32.9). Still all it takes is for an opponent to get hot from 3-point range to make a mess of things (remember the NCAA Tournament in 2015?). Houston is also talented at taking the ball away while also protecting it, which results in a league leading +4.1 turnover margin. That’s a little more than three points better than SMU’s +1.0. So, protect the ball and close out on those 3’s. It’d be nice if they rebounded too.