Gameday Preview and Open Thread: No. 17 UConn at SMU

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

2pm, Moody Coliseum, ESPNU

Southern Methodist University Mustangs

KenPom Ratings: No. 46 overall (59th Offense, 53rd Defense)

Head Coach: Larry Brown

2013-'14 Record: 10-3

Preview

As soon as the college basketball schedule was released in March of 2013, we scoured the docket to identify what the important games were going into the season. There was a fun season opener against Maryland at the Barclays Center, an early season matchup against Florida at Gampel. There would be a home/away with Louisville, Cincinnati and Memphis, and- surprise!- the Louisville game at UConn would be in Gampel. My point is, there are a number of games that stood out as important that we were circling on the calendar and there are others (particularly in the AAC slate) that were completely glossed over.

I am 100% sure that the January 4th game at SMU and was not highlighted on any Husky fans calendar.

Much to our surprise, this game is of critical importance for Kevin Ollie's team. After a so-so start to the season was masked by close wins, UConn has come out flat across the winter break and can't seem to put together a full 40 minute game. This has resulted in painful losses to Stanford, after a dismal second half which erased a ten point lead, and Houston- a game where UConn was losing by 21 points at one point.

With three of the next four games being against Harvard, Memphis and Louisville, UConn needs to win this game for a number of reasons. First, to re-establish the balance of power. This  loss to Houston has teams like SMU and Cincinnati thinking that they could vault UConn in the battle for conference supremacy this year. The Bearcats just beat SMU, if the Huskies can't do the same we are in a very tenuous position. 0-2 in conference play with Memphis and Louisville coming up does not bode well for the rest of the season.

***

Enter the SMU Mustangs. Coached by Larry Brown, the same Larry Brown who has been head coach at UCLA, Kansas and 9 (!) NBA Teams. He's in his second season coaching the Mustangs and seems to have them on the rise with a solid run so far this season and really good recruits coming in for 2014. So far this season they have lost to Arkansas, Virginia and Cincinnati. Their best win was against Wyoming.

Their leading scorer is 5-foot-9 Point Guard Nic Moore with 13.4ppg who is joined in the backcourt by Nick Russel and his 8.1ppg. Here's the bad part- the Mustangs have outscored all 13 of their opponents in the paint by nearly double on average. Starting Center Yanick Moreira, standing at 6-foot-11, has been averaging 9.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. They have a pretty good backup for him in 6-foot-10 Junior Canen Cunningham, so if Moreira gets into foul trouble they are just fine. They also have 6-foot-9 PF Markus Kennedy coming off the bench to average 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. This team has a lot of depth and a lot of different ways they can beat you, but prefer to do it down low using a rotation of energetic forwards and big men. This is not an easy matchup for the Huskies, but one that they should be winning.

For 11-2 UConn's situation is quite simple. If they can avoid long stretches of shitty play then they can win in what will be a hard fought game. If they come out sluggish then we're in for a long afternoon and we're left questioning how good this team really is. Unlike the Washington game, UConn can't afford to fall behind early in this one and they really need to make a statement after such an embarrassing loss.

This is a big day for SMU Basketball. They are christening a newly renovated arena and are hosting their first sellout since 2001. They consider themselves to be pretty good, but have yet to beat a quality opponent this year. UConn, with their Big East pedigree and the prestige that comes with three national championship banners, offers a timely opportunity given how vulnerable the Huskies have looked and how well they match up against our flimsy front court. Larry Browns team will be ready to play today, let's hope the Huskies are up for the test.

***

There have been reports that there might be another shakeup in the starting lineup as apparently Tyler Olander has been practicing with the ones. Olander deserves as fair a shake as anybody else given how inept our big men have been. If DeAndre Daniels can bring his A game today, maybe Olander can contribute in a complementary role.

Best case scenario for the Huskies today is that we see a re-focused Husky team show up, silence the home crowd early, and come home with a solid win and some optimism for the challenging slate ahead. I HATE to say this, but if we see lethargic play from UConn again today, then Kevin Ollie's coaching needs to come into question. I understand it's only his second year, but his team simply can't be losing like this- with undisciplined and unenthusiastic play . This is either a major turning point for the Huskies season, or the moment where we realize we need to temper postseason expectations. I'm pretty nervous.

Prediction: I believe that KO and Shabazz understand exactly how important this game is and we come out ready to play. SMU is a good team, so it won't be easy and it won't be close, but I think UConn will get the win today and we can all rest easy, 66-63.

Next Three:

1/8 vs. Harvard at Gampel Pavilion

1/11 at UCF

1/16 at Memphis

GO HUSKIES!

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