SMU Team vs. ECU (Photo by Matt Visinsky)

NCAA Tournament Game Preview: SMU vs. USC on Friday at 2:10 p.m. CT

SMU faces USC in Tulsa, Okla. on Friday at 2:10 p.m. CT in the NCAA Tournament on truTV.

SMU (30-4) vs. USC (25-9)
WHEN: Friday, March 17 at 2:10 p.m. CT
WHERE: BOK Center (Tulsa, Okla.)
TV/RADIO: truTV | KAAM  770 AM
SERIES: USC leads the series 5-1
LAST MEETING: Trojans won at home, 78-73, on November 25 in the first meeting since 1994.   

Mustang Trends

SMU is back in the NCAA Tournament for the 12th appearance in school history and second in three years after being banned from postseason play last season.

The Mustangs’ first opponent is one they have already faced this year in the USC Trojans, but SMU has played 28 games since then and went 26-2 the rest of the season.

Last Sunday, SMU took down Cincinnati 71-56 to sweep the regular season and the tournament titles in the American Athletic Conference. While their AAC tournament run didn’t begin as smoothly as the Mustangs would have hoped—they watched huge leads evaporate in the second half against both ECU and UCF—SMU seemed to regain its killer extinct against the Bearcats and won its 16th consecutive game.

SMU continues to do all the things well that have carried it to this point and is among the nation’s top teams in several categories: scoring defense of 59.8 (3rd), rebound margin of +9.0 (3rd), field goal defense of .384 (7th), and assist to turnover ratio of 1.5 (8th).

With its solid defense and efficient offense, there aren’t too many things SMU does poorly. The only thing that is cause for concern is the one issue that has been present all season but has yet to drastically affect an outcome of game: SMU’s lack of depth.

Ben Moore (Photo by Matt Visinsky)

Scouting USC

The Trojans beat SMU back in November, 78-73, when Bennie Boatwright and De’Anthony Melton combined for 32 points—Boatwright was 4-of-7 from 3-point range.

 In the second half of that contest, the Trojans went on a19-4 run that was capped by a Melton 3-pointer to put USC up 51-41 with 10:56 left in the game. Melton contributed nine points during that run.

SMU spent the rest of the game trying to climb out of that hole and got as close as 74-68 with 1:15 left to play, but no closer.

The Trojans were the second to last team given an at-large bid to go dancing, and needed to overcome a 17-point deficit (one of the 10 biggest comebacks in NCAA Tourney history) to take down Providence Wednesday night and advance to take on SMU.

As Patrick noted in his Know Your Opponent story, the Trojans like to play faster on offense, but slow the game down on the defensive end.

USC is a young team with no seniors in its rotation and relies more on its offensive prowess rather than its skills on the defensive end.

Shotgun Spratling |

USC Players to Watch

G Jordan McLaughlin: As USC point guard, the Trojans’ offense runs through him and his performance Friday night will go a long way in determining whether SMU gets the USC from the first or second half from Wednesday night. He comes into the game averaging 13.1 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.4 RPG and is shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range. He scored 18 points against Providence Wednesday to go with a team-leading 10 rebounds. He was 2-for-3 from 3-point range in the win.

F Bennie Boatwright: By far the most difficult matchup on the USC roster, Boatwright brings shooting, size (6-10, 230) and versatility to the floor for the Trojans. He can be a fairly reliable catch-and-shoot guy, but he can also create off the dribble. He averages 14.6 PPG, 4,3 RPG, and is shooting 36 percent from 3-point range. He scored a career-high 24 points against Providence and had seven rebounds and three assists. In the game against SMU earlier in the season, he scored 17.

F Chimezie Metu:  He is the Trojans’ second leading scorer and boasts quite a bit of athleticism for his size (6-10, 225). He averages 14.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 APG and shoots 55 percent from the floor. He scored 15 points Wednesday night, to go with eight rebounds and two blocks. Six of his boards came on the offensive glass—where Metu can have the greatest impact. It’s worth noting that Metu fouled out in 25 minutes against SMU in November.  

Projected USC Starters:
G Jordan McLaughlin
G Elijah Stewart
G De’Anthony Melton
F Bennie Boatwright
F Chimezie Metu                                                                                                                                                                    

Projected SMU Starters:
G Shake Milton
G Sterling Brown
G Jarrey Foster
F Ben Moore
F Semi Ojeleye

Matchup to Watch

Bennie Boatwright vs SMU Front Court: With Boatwright’s size I can see SMU also going with Ben Moore in this matchup, but with Sterling Brown’s reputation as a lockdown defender, it would seem the Mustangs might be okay with sacrificing a couple of inches for the ability to completely shadow the Trojans’ best player. Forget that Boatwright is taller than anyone on SMU’s roster, and his skill set alone demands some extra attention. That would put Brown, a seasoned veteran, on a sophomore. Wednesday’s performance from Boatwright suggest that he won’t shy away from the moment, but that’s just one game. Let’s see if he can do it again against one the field’s best defenses. Whether it's Moore, Brown or Ojeleye, Boatwright will need a big game for USC.

Bennie Boatwright (USA Today)

Keys to the Game

This tournament is going to be mostly about SMU’s ability to maintain its high level of play against opponents with a ton of depth. Part of that will be how SMU manages fouls. SMU has played a whole season with a limited bench, so this isn’t going to be something that the coaching staff and players will be inexperienced with. 

In their come-from-behind win Wednesday night, the USC starters had just four personal fouls between them and two turnovers. The Trojan starters, though young, are very careful with the ball and are smart on defense. It will be up to SMU to flip those numbers and force USC into foul trouble to get some of the more turnover prone players on the court.

SMU also needs to defend the 3-pointer as well as it has all season. Ever since the UCLA game in March two years ago, I’m wary of opponents getting hot from 3-point range during the NCAA Tournament. Ten of Boatwright’s 16 field goal attempts were from 3-point range. He only hit three of them, but all it would take is for him to get just a little bit hot from deep and USC could be even tougher to beat.

The Trojans’ biggest strength in matching up with SMU is Metu and Boatwright’s size. If SMU can get Metu in early foul trouble, like they did last time around, it can even things up a bit.

USC also likes to dictate the pace of the game, speeding things up on offense, but slowing it down on defense. Friday’s game needs to be SMU’s game; the Mustangs need to dictate the pace. I think of it like MMA—often you’ll hear a fighter’s corner yelling ‘be first.’ SMU needs to strike first and make USC adjust to its game plan.

Tim Jankovich (Photo by Matt Visinsky)

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