SMU (5-0) vs. Arkansas-Little Rock (3-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 24, 9:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Puerto Vallarta International Convention Center (300) -- Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Television: None. Home Record: SMU 3-0, UALR 3-0. Away Record: SMU 2-0, UALR 0-2. Neutral Record: SMU 0-0, UALR 0-0. Conference Record: SMU 0-0, UALR 0-0. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: The semifinals of the Hoops for Hope Classic will take place in Puerto Vallarta on Saturday night as the SMU Mustangs take on the Arkansas- Little Rock Trojans.
The winner will go on to face either South Carolina or Missouri State in the championship round on Sunday, while the losers will play one another in the third-place game.
Larry Brown's return to college basketball has been an amazing success so far for SMU as it is off to its first 5-0 start to a season since it began the 1997-98 campaign 10-0. The Mustangs tuned up for their trip to Mexico with a pair of wins over Malone (81-47) and Rider (83-70) in the opening rounds at Moody Coliseum.
After claiming its opener at home over Tennessee-Martin, 84-68, UALR dropped a pair of difficult road games to Louisiana Tech (70-52) and Ole Miss (92-52). The Trojans bounced back nicely however, qualifying for the semifinals with wins over Milwaukee (59-43) and Jacksonville (78-56) earlier this week.
The teams have never played each other prior to the 2010-11 season, but this marks the third year in a row they will play one another, with the teams splitting the first two meetings.
SMU has been very efficient from the floor through five games this season, making good on more than 49 percent of its shots overall. It has also been busy from the foul line, making an incredible 28.2 trips to the stripe per game, while knocking down 78.7 percent of its free throws. The Mustangs put on a clinic offensively in their latest game against Rider, making 24-of-42 field goal attempts (including 8-of-11 from three-point range) and 27-of-34 free throws en route to a double-digit victory. Ryan Manuel put together a double- double with 24 points and 11 rebounds, while Cannen Cunningham scored 20 points on 8-of-10 from the field. Jalen Jones added 15 points, and he's been the team's top performer so far, leading the team in scoring (18.2 ppg) and rebounding (7.6 rpg). Manuel (16.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg) has also been fantastic in the early going, as has Nick Russell (15.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg), who also dishes out a team-high 4.4 apg.
It hasn't been quite the offensive explosion for UALR, which shoots just 40.1 percent from the floor through five games for 65 ppg. The Trojans managed to put together one of their best efforts of the year against Jacksonville however the last time out, making 29-of-64 from the floor while holding their opponent to just 35.1 percent from the field. John Gillon paced four teammates in double figures with 16 points and four assists, while Will Neighbour scored 15 points, Taggart Lockhart came off the bench to net 14 points, and James White tallied 13 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks. Gillon is the team's leading scorer with 13.6 ppg thanks in large part to a nearly perfect start from the free throw line (19-of-21). Neighbour (11.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and White (10.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) also contribute on a consistent basis.
UALR has been impressive in spurts but ultimately it has been too inconsistent to count on from a game-to-game basis, which has not been a problem for SMU. Brown appears to have his team on the fast track to a quick turnaround in 2012-13, and it'll continue that success by advancing to the championship game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: SMU 75, Arkansas-Little Rock 62
11/24 10:33:13 ET