UC Irvine (23-11) at SMU (23-9)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, March 19, 9 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Moody Coliseum (7,000) -- Dallas, Texas. Television: ESPN2. NIT Record: UC Irvine 2-4, SMU 0-2. Series Record: First- ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: After being snubbed for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the SMU Mustangs will begin play as the overall No. 1 seed against in the National Invitation Tournament against the UC Irvine Anteaters at Moody Coliseum on Wednesday night.
A three-game losing streak, including a setback to Houston in the American Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinals, came at the wrong time for SMU, which missed out on the NCAA Tournament despite owning a national ranking and logging the most wins for the program since (1987-88). The Mustangs will have to settle with a berth in the NIT, where they have suffered first-round losses in their two previous visits (1986, 2000).
UC Irvine's absence from the NCAA Tournament is a bit less surprising, but still not what was expected at the end of the regular season. The Anteaters won the Big West Conference regular-season title, but they lost to an 11-19 Cal Poly team in the conference tournament semifinals. They are 23-11 overall as they enter their fifth NIT. They are 2-4 in the event all-time.
This matchup will mark the first ever between these two teams, and the winner will take on either San Francisco or LSU in the next round.
Although UC Irvine never trailed by double digits, it also never led in the second half in its loss to Cal Poly. The Anteaters connected on 46.9 percent from the floor in the contest, but had a slight deficit from the free-throw line (10-7), which proved to be the difference.
UC Irvine still maintained its reputation as one of the better defensive teams in the country in losing to Cal Poly. On the season, the Anteaters are only letting up 63.6 ppg on 37.5 percent shooting, ranking fourth in the nation in opponent field goal percentage. They counter with a balanced, if not extremely potent offensive attack. Luke Nelson (11.7 ppg) is one of three double-digit scorers on the roster, with Chris McNealy (11.1 ppg) and Will Davis II (11.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) also lending a hand. Mamadou Ndiaye (8 ppg, 6 rpg, 3 bpg) is critical for his ability to protect the rim.
Off nights from several major contributors doomed SMU against Houston. Nic Moore, who earned all-conference honors, was especially out of character, finishing with eight points, all from the free-throw line, as he went 0-of-9 from then field. The Mustangs only shot 40 percent from the floor as a team.
SMU is also a team that focuses more on defense and feeds off of that success when it has the ball. The Mustangs rank among the top-20 in the country in both scoring defense (62.3 ppg) and opponent field goal percentage (.377). Moore (13.7 ppg, 4.8 apg) is the team's top scoring threat, and a solid defender in the backcourt. Nick Russell (9.6 ppg, 3.3 apg) provides plenty of support. Markus Kennedy (12.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg) is an athletic forward who can score, rebound and defend with equal effectiveness. Kennedy was the only one of the three to really show up against Houston, finishing with 13 points and nine rebounds.
There should be some extra motivation for SMU in this game, and the tournament as whole. Expect the Mustangs to feed off of the disappointment from Selection Sunday, and roll into the second round.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: SMU 76, UC Irvine 62
03/19 10:33:36 ET