It’s been a long time since the Madness of March made its way to the Hilltop, and after a 22-year hiatus, the SMU Mustangs have finally made it back to the Big Dance.
The No. 6 seeded Mustangs will face 11th seeded UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Championship on Thursday.
SMU has won four straight games, 25 of its last 28, and is 2-0 this season in neutral site-games.
Thursday will be only the third time SMU and UCLA have squared off and the Bruins hold a 2-0 advantage. However both losses came in UCLA’s backyard, and the last meeting was way back in 1976.
The Mustangs enter Thursday’s matchup riding the high of winning the American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles.
The Bruins, however, are looking to bounce back from a six-point loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.
- Gurad- Norman Powell
Powell is the Bruin’s leading scorer- averaging 16.4 points a game. The senior is shooting 46 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three-point range. At 6-4 215, you have to imagine Ryan Manuel will draw the defensive assignment against the Bruins’ top weapon.
- Guard- Bryce Alford
The 6-3 sophomore guard is the second leading scorer for UCLA and is averaging 15.1 points a game. He is a solid all around player that does a lot of things right, but isn’t too flashy.
- Forward-Kevin Looney
This will be the guy to watch. He’ll be battling it out with SMU’s bigs all day long. Look for him and Markus Kennedy to have a war in the paint. Looney has the ability to stretch the floor and is 46 percent three-point shooter this season. It’s going to be interesting to see what Larry Brown throws at him to disrupt him on the offensive end.
- Guard- Nic Moore
The Mustangs leader has averaged 14.2 points a game this season. He struggled to get going at times during the Conference tournament, it will be interesting to see if he starts the NCAA Tourney dialed in from the onset.
- Forward- Markus Kennedy
The American Athletic Conference Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, will have his work cut out for him against the Bruins. Kennedy’s presence in the paint was the center of SMU’ success in the AAC Tourney. Like I mentioned earlier, expect to see him and Looney go head-to-head.
- Guard- Sterling Brown
“Lock Down” as he is refered to by his teammates, was a a driving force in SMU’s AAC tournament success. His defense and rebounding limited opponents offensive looks and provided SMU with many fast break opportunities.
The Bruins have five players averaging double digit point totals, but the drop off is significant outside that group. SMU has four players averaging double-digits, but it has eight players that contribute heavy minutes to the game. This means, that the Mustangs are able to sustain a higher level of play for a longer period of time because they can rotate more players into the game.
SMU’s defense and rebounding has been a key ingredient to its winning formula. That will be tested now that the competition has elevated and teams should be able to match their size better.
Tip off is set for 2:10 CT and you can follow our live updates here: j.mp/mustangmadness.