Preview/Open Thread: SMU at No. 21 UConn

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

2pm on CBS Sports from Gampel Pavilion

UConn hosts SMU at Gampel today with third place in the American Conference standings on the line. Going into the season, we probably thought of a third place finish as worst case scenario.

Much to our surprise, the American Conference has provided a much more competitive regular season schedule than expected, primarily because of better than expected seasons from Cincinnati and SMU. With home and away games against four quality opponents, there are eight opportunities for statement wins. So far in five of those games, UConn is 2-3.

A win today would put us two games behind second place Louisville. With a game against Cincinnati and at Louisville remaining, we're in line for a very exciting end to the season. Here is the record and remaining schedule for the top half of the AAC:

Team Record Remaining Schedule
1. Cincinnati 13-2 @UConn, vs. Memphis, @Rutgers
2. Louisville 12-2 vs. Temple, @Memphis, @SMU, vs. UConn
3. SMU 10-4 @UConn, vs. UCF, vs. Louisville, @Memphis
4. UConn 9-4 vs. SMU, @USF, vs. Cincinnati, vs. Rutgers, @Louisville
5. Memphis 9-4 vs. Temple, @Houston, vs. Louisville, @Cincinnati, vs. SMU

As I've mentioned, UConn needs to finish at least third to guarantee an easy path to the AAC semi-finals. The 3-seed plays the 6-seed in the Quarterfinals and then the winner of 2/7/10 in the Semi's. If UConn ends up the 4-seed, they'd have to play the 5-seed for the right to play the winner of 1/8/9 in the Semi-finals.

***

SMU comes into Gampel today riding a questionable two game stretch. This past Sunday, they lost to Temple... badly. They followed that up by holding on for a win at home against Houston, 68-64. But before you go penciling us in for a win today, please recall that only two weeks ago this very SMU team put a sound beating on Cincinnati, 76-55.

The first time UConn and SMU played, the Mustangs won quite comfortably. UConn is most definitely a different team than the one which lost in Dallas in early January, but that doesn't change the fact that SMU matches up very well against the Huskies. On paper, they match up really well against anybody. They're 12th in the country in field goal% and 2nd in defensive field goal%- both good enough for first in the American. Before losing to Temple, they were enjoying their first stint in the Top 25 since 1985.

The Huskies, winners of four straight and ten of their last twelve, have been playing some of their best basketball lately. Kevin Ollie has his team comfortably beating lesser opponents and beating good ones on the strength of improved rebounding and a renewed commitment to defense. If DeAndre Daniels was available against Cincinnati, we could be talking about a Top 10 ranking and an eight game winning streak. Oh well.

Larry Brown's Mustangs will be led by a pair of Sophomores- 5-foot-9 Nic Moore, who averages 14 points a game, and 6-foot-9 forward Markus Kennedy, averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds per game. Those two accounted for 30 of SMU's 74 points the first time they played UConn and also got 14 points from Senior Guard Nick Russell, who averages 8 points per game.

For any team UConn plays it's important to gauge their abilities down low. In addition to Markus Kennedy, the 6-foot-11 Junior Yanick Moreira could pose a threat. He averages 7 points and 5 rebounds per game. Phil Nolan and Amida Brimah have been playing decently lately, hopefully they can hold it down in the paint. Last time we played SMU, they held a sizeable advantage in points in the paint and a +8 rebounding advantage. They also shot 47% from the field.

It is very encouraging for the Huskies that Ryan Boatright has finally emerged and has really stepped up his game. When he and Shabazz Napier are humming, this team is dangerous. Along with DeAndre Daniels, who needs to do well today, the Huskies now boast three legitimate studs. We also have Lasan Kromah, Niels Giffey and two semi-competent big men who are capable of making contributions. With the stakes raised, and a home crowd behind them, I think a much improved UConn team will be able to take care of business today.

Prediction: UConn wins 66-60

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