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The Layup Line: Southern Methodist

Fresh off receiving a vote in last week's AP poll, the SMU Mustangs gallop into Cincinnati to open AAC play. Pop the top on that leftover New Year's bubbly, everybody; time to celebrate this new conference.

Cooper Neill

Are you ready for a special New Year's Eve edition of everyone's favorite pre-game article? This one requires crowd participation, though. Your assignment over the next 36 hours:

  1. Read the rest this post (obviously)
  2. Safely ring in the new year
  3. Shake off that hangover before 6pm on Wednesday

Why? Well, the Bearcats face a dangerously tough SMU squad in their conference opener. Most folks unanimously pegged the top four of the American - Louisville, UConn, Memphis, and UC - but the SMU Mustangs (10-2) are knocking at the door of the AAC's upper echelon.

  • Game: Wednesday, January 1 @ 6:00pm ET
  • Location: Fifth Third Arena/Shoemaker Center; Cincinnati, OH
  • TV/Radio: ESPNU; 700WLW

In just his second year at SMU, Larry Brown has the Mustangs out to yet another hot start. Last year, Southern Methodist began with an 8-1 mark; this year they're 10-2. The bad news for Mustang fans, though, is that they finished 15-17 last year. And of their 10 wins so far in 2013, they've come against teams that have an average RPI ranking of 200+.

Still, SMU does a lot of things well. Well enough that I'm contemplating picking them to beat the Bearcats on Wednesday. Here's what I mean:

Category Statistic NCAA Rank
Off FG% 50.9 #7
Assists 16.2 #29
Rebound Margin +9.6 #13
Def FG% 35.7 #2
Scoring Def 61.1 #17

(as of December 30, 2013)

Yes, these stats are a factor of the Mustangs' weak schedule, but Larry Brown has won a ton of games in his lifetime; he's a damn good coach, and SMU is a pretty good team this year.

They're led in scoring by 5'9" redshirt sophomore Nic Moore (#11). Short dude, but big scorer - 13.8 a game. I know what you're thinking, though: 5'9"??? The Bearcats length & athleticism should cause him problems. Unfortunately for the Bearcats, he's hitting 55% of his 3-pointers this year - and he leads the Mustangs in attempts.

Two other 'Stangs to look out for are what I'm deeming the "Bash Brothers": 6'11" Yanick Moreira (#35) and 6'9" Markus Kennedy (#5). I'm only calling them that because they both man the paint and lead the team in rebounds. Oh - and I just finished watching Mighty Ducks, so it seemed fitting...

Anyway, Moreira will start for Larry Brown, but he's not the thickest of guys - listed at 220 pounds in the media guide. Still, he averages 10 points and 6 rebounds a game. Kennedy comes off the bench and averages 10 points and 5 rebounds a game.

One last note before I get to Wednesday's keys to victory: the Mustangs are balanced. 6 guys average 6 or more points a game and 10 guys average double digit minutes a game. See what I mean when I say I'm contemplating an SMU victory?

What the 'Cats have to do to win:

  • Play Defense in the Paint. The Mustangs have outscored all 12 of their opponents in the paint. Cincinnati doesn't have to outscore them there, but they better deny the ball and come up with a few blocked shots in the process. SMU hasn't played anyone with the shot-blocking prowess of Cincinnati yet.
  • Rebound. This'll be a key more often than not, but ESPECIALLY against SMU. They outrebound opponents by 9.6 a game while the Bearcats have a +7.8 margin. Something has to give. Again, the 'Cats don't need to outrebound SMU - they just need to keep the margin as close to 0 as possible.
  • Guard the 3 Point Line. If the Mustangs are limited to no more than 5 made three-pointers, I'll feel good about the Bearcats' chances for victory.

My prediction: Look, this one's tough; I've already missed 2 games this season, and I don't wanna start the New Year on a missed prediction. I think the fact that this game's at home will help the Bearcats significantly. The Mustangs play in front of 3,000 at home, and they'll easily be twice that at Fifth Third - I'm just not sure how rowdy everyone will be. My gut says the 'Cats in an ugly one: 59-55.