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UCLA vs. SMU: Breakdown of SMU

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Can UCLA's superior talent be enough to beat an efficient SMU team? SMU is led by AAC player of the year Nic Moore, and coached by Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, the only coach to win a NCAA championship and a NBA championship. SMU won both their regular season conference title and the conference tournament.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

You wouldn't think the tournament committee has a sense of humor  but they seem often want to create a story-line for us in the tournament.  This year is no different as we are facing an old coach of ours, Larry Brown, who by the way has won an NCAA championship with Kansas and a NBA Championship with the Detroit Pistons.Not surprisingly,  SMU is a well-coached team that shoots for a high percentage, rebounds well, shares the ball, and defends well.  The question is, can SMU hold up against more talented teams? We'll take an in-depth look at their team, including a look at some of their key players, to find out.

1.  SMU is Efficient

Their FG percentage is 47.9% (ranked 22nd) and their effective field goal percentage of 52.4% is 50th in the country.  They distribute the ball well, as evidenced  by 15.5 assists per game (19th) .  SMU holds defendants to 38% shooting (7th), an effective FG% of 45.5 (42nd), give up a lot of 3s, 7.8 per game (329th), but make opponents miss, only allowing opponent to shoot 3s at a 32.2% clip (69th) . Their bigs key a +7 rebound  per game advantage, with rebounding 35.3% of offensive rebounds (21st) and 73.7% of defensive rebounds (#63).   They are somewhat careless with the ball however, committing 12.6 turnovers a game (166th), average a turnover on 17.2% of their offensive plays (124th) and Nic Moore, their point guard, turns it over 2.6 times a game.  This is a slow-tempo team, ranking 285th in possessions per game.

2. SMU'S ROTATION

Brown goes with an 8-man rotation, with three guards playing heavy minutes--Nic Moore (who played almost every minute of their conference tournament),  Ryan Manuel, and Sterling Moore (the latter guards also averaging well over 30 minutes in the tournament..  While Nic Moore is only 5'9", otherwise they have pretty good height-- a 6'11" center in Yanick Moreira and their back-up center, Cannnen Cunningham is 6'"10--and they have a bruising 6'9", 245 pound power forward in Markus Kennedy.   They are also an experienced team,  with their five key players (Manuel, Brown, Kennedy, Moreira and Moore) comprised of three seniors and two juniors.  They rely on the bulk of their scoring from three players:  Moore, Kennedy and Moreira--those are the guys to watch for.   Here is their 8-man rotation:

Sterling Brown, sophomore guard, 6'6'' 200, 23.9 minutes/g, 5.3 points, 4.6 rebounds.

Cannen Cuninghham, senior center, 6'10" 225, 16.1 minutes, 6.3 pts, 3.6 rebounds.

Ben Emelogu, sophomore guard, 6'5" 205, 15.2 minutes, 2.8 points, 1.8 rebounds.

Markus Kennedy, junior forward, 6'9" 245, 22.5 minutes, 11.7 points, 6.1 rebounds.

Ryan Manuel, senior guard, 6'4" 185, 28.8 minutes, 6.6 points, 3.3 rebounds.

Ben Moore, sophomore forward,6'8" 185, 22.6 minutes, 7.3 points, 4.8 rebounds

Nic Moore, senior guard, 5'9" 175, 34.5 minutes, 14.2 points, 5.2 assists, 2.6 turnovers.

Yanick Moreira, senior center, 6'11" 220, 24.3 minutes, 11.2 points, 6.4 rebounds.

3. Key Players

a. Nic Moore--Player of the year in the American Athletic Conference and leads the team in scoring. He will probably play the entire game against us.  He is a good three-point shooter (71 threes at 40.8%) and very good free-throw shooter (almost 89%)--not a guy you want to foul at the end of games. He can drive off the dribble and dish or score. He will put good ball pressure on Bryce.

b.  Yanick Moreira--Won most improved player in his conference Their center averages a bit over a block a game, so not a big shot-blocker. And he is slight, only 220 pounds on a 6'11 frame. But very productive, averaging 11 points and almost 6.5 rebounds in only 24 minutes.

c.  Markus Kennedy--Their best inside player who has been coming on of late, averaging 16 points and 7 boards in his last 5.  He was academically ineligible last semester, which hurt the Mustangs in their non-conference schedule.

d. Ryan Manuel--Good all-around player who is a slasher-type player on offense.   He is included here because since he is a good defender and has good size one might expect he would be put on Normal Powell

4.  Match-ups

It will be interesting to see who Larry Brown has guarding Parker.  Both of SMU's centers--Moreira at 220 and Cunningham at 225--seem too slight to be able to handle Parker.  Perhaps Kennedy can try and guard him.? The match-up of Nic Moore against Bryce Alford will be interesting--Moore's ball pressure might give Bryce's problems but Bryce has the ability to drive (hopefully not to the baseline...) and might be able to get Moore into foul trouble. Also, Bryce might feel more comfortable shooting over Moore, who gives up 6 inches in height.  Can Ryan Manuel or anybody on SMU prevent Norman Powell from going to the rim? Will Powell have trouble finishing over a tall front line?

We have match-up problems against them, too.  I am guessing that we will put Powell on Moore, Bryce on Ryan Manuel and Hamilton on Sterling Brown.We could put Hamilton on Moore but that would seem to waste Powell's defensive ability   Bryce will  need to be able to stay in front of Manuel (I don't think Bryce could guard a 6'6" Sterling Brown).  It will be interesting to see how Alford matches up here.  And Looney does not seem strong enough to handle Kennedy. I suspect we will see a fair amount of zone, particularly since SMU has only player (Moore) who takes a significant number of threes.

5. SMU against Tournament teams

SMU  went 3-5 against tournament teams, but most of those games came when Markus Kennedy was academically ineligible.     Here are the games

@Gonzaga 72 SMU 56

@Indiana 74 SMU 68

SMU 77 EWU 68

Arkansas 78 SMU 72

SMU 72 TXSO 59

SMU 66 Wyoming 53

Cincinatti 56 SMU 50

@Cincinatti 62 SMU 54

SMU's stats in these games, as one might expect, are significantly worse than their overall stats:  45.7 fg% (47.9% overall), 43.8% opp fg% (38% overall), +3 rebounds/game (+7 overall), and 14.6 turnovers a game (12.6 turnovers overall).  Also, they played all of these, except for the games against Cincinnati, without Markus Kennedy.  But Cincinnati gave them fits--they couldn't shoot, they couldn't defend, and they were out-rebounded.

6.  Closing

SMU has had a very good year and their metrics look great but they never came up with a really big win.  But with an experienced point guard who can score and set up their offense, tough defense, and good bigs SMU will be a tough test.