SMU (28-4 overall, 17-1 in AAC play) vs. UCF (21-10, 11-7)
WHEN: Saturday, March 11 at 2 p.m. CT
WHERE: XL Center (Hartford, Connecticut)
TV/RADIO: ESPN2 | 770 KAAM AM
SERIES: SMU leads the series 7-6
LAST MEETING: SMU beat UCF 65-60 in their only meeting of the season Jan. 25 in Orlando.
After building up a big first half lead, SMU narrowly held on for an 81-77 victory over East Carolina Friday afternoon. SMU took a 22 point lead into halftime and led by 18 with just seven minutes to play before poor perimeter defense and sloppy turnovers allowed ECU to come back and tie the game with just 57 seconds left. AAC Player of the Year Semi Ojeleye led the way for SMU with 36 points and 12 rebounds to help the Mustangs sneak by. Aside from the shaky three point defense and turnovers, SMU was also uncharacteristically out rebounded 32-31 and also gave up seven offensive rebounds in the second half alone.
This was a good wake-up call for an SMU team that had been playing as well as just about anyone in the country the past two months. Even though SMU should have cruised in the final 20 minutes, many of the areas they struggled with are correctable for Saturday and simply caused by a lack of focus.
While SMU's game was in doubt down to the last 20 seconds, that was most certainly not the case for the fourth seed in the conference tournament, UCF. The Knights handed Memphis their second straight 30 point loss with an 84-54 drubbing Friday. Matt Williams led the way for UCF with 17 points, while AAC Defensive Player of the Year Tacko Fall was credited with 11 rebounds and two blocks. The Knights come into their rematch with SMU winners of 6 straight including a 53-49 win over Cincinnati just two weeks ago. Much like SMU, UCF is usually in no rush offensively ranking 273rd in the country,per Kenpom, at 18.3 seconds per possession. Despite their deliberate pace, the Knights still average close to 15 turnovers per game, which was exactly what they had in their loss to SMU earlier this year.
UCF Players to Watch
G Matt Williams: Williams is the senior leader for UCF and one of three Knights averaging in double figures on the year at 15.2 points per game. The 6-5 guard doesn't mind taking aim from the three-point line, as evidence by his 21 three point attempts in a 38 point output against USF earlier this season. In SMU's matchup earlier this year, Williams did not take a shot inside the three point line while being held to just 12 points on 4 of 12 shooting.
G B.J Taylor: The sophomore guard has been on a roll lately scoring in double figures in 13 straight games after a 14 point, 5 rebound performance over the Tigers in UCF's win Friday. Taylor is another guy that doesn't mind shooting it from anywhere, but the quick 6-2 guard is also not afraid to drive it and get to the line. Taylor played well in UCF's first game against SMU scoring 22 points while also collecting 8 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists. He will once again be a tough matchup for SMU and certainly a guy capable of getting SMU in foul trouble.
C Tacko Fall: Fall is a matchup problem for just about everybody that plays UCF, but SMU did a nice job keeping him in check their first time around holding him to 10 points and 12 rebounds on just 7 shots. The Mustangs mixed in a zone quite a bit while the 7-6 center was on the floor and I'd expect that is something they will once again use to slow him down. The sophomore center from Senegal has had trouble scoring lately with just one double digit point performance in his last seven games. Fall has still been efficient scoring once he gets the ball in the post, but he has not been able to get enough touches the last month as more and more teams deploy a zone.
Projected UCF Starters:
G B.J Taylor
G Matt Williams
C Tacko Fall
F Nick Banyard F. A.J Davis
Projected SMU Starters:
G Shake Milton
G Sterling Brown
G Jarrey Foster
F Ben Moore
F Semi Ojeleye
Matchup to Watch
Tacko Fall vs Ben Moore: Moore did a great job in their first matchup frustrating Fall and forcing him to pass out of double teams. SMU will need a similar effort from the senior forward if they hope to keep Fall in check once again. On the offensive end, Moore can exploit this matchup by continuing to be aggressive on the offensive end and forcing Fall to guard him off the bounce or make a decision at the rim. In SMU's first go around with UCF, Moore had 14 points while holding Fall to just 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Keys to the Game
SMU certainly didn't play their best game Friday against ECU, but were able to escape with a four point win. As Cincinnati found out two weeks ago, this is a tough UCF team and SMU will need a much more focused and inspired effort to reach the AAC Final for the second time in three seasons. As SMU did in the first matchup, they need to force UCF into turning it over, as well as, limit Tacko Fall's touches around the basket.
On the offensive end, SMU needs to be stronger with the ball as 16 turnovers is not going to get it done against the Knights. While the Ponies struggled with the press against ECU, it remains to be seen how much or if UCF will follow a similar tactic even if they aren't trailing. If they do however, SMU has got to handle it better than they did Friday and beat the press through passing not dribbling. In what figures to be another close, low scoring game, offensive efficiency is going to be the key to this one.