SMU (12-4) at UCF (9-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 18, 12 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: CFE Arena (10,000) -- Orlando, Florida. Television: ESPNews. Home Record: SMU 8-0, UCF 8-3. Away Record: SMU 2-3, UCF 3-4. Neutral Record: SMU 2-1, UCF 0-0. Conference Record: SMU 2-2, UCF 4-2. Series Record: Series is tied, 3-3.
GAME NOTES: The SMU Mustangs will finally collide with a familiar foe in league action, as they take on the UCF Knights in an American Athletic Conference showdown at CFE Arena.
Both of these teams made the move to the brand new AAC this season, after competing against each other in Conference USA for the previous eight years. In that time, UCF won six of nine meetings, but it had three of those wins vacated due to NCAA sanctions.
SMU has had an uneven beginning to its run in the AAC, with a 2-2 mark. The Mustangs defeated South Florida at home on Wednesday, 71-54, for their second league win, which also improved them to 12-4 overall. With just three more wins they will match their total from all of last season. Up next is a non- league bout with Hofstra.
UCF has had less success in its first four conference clashes, losing all but one. The Knights are returning from a two-game road trip in which they dropped decisions to Connecticut (84-61) and Rutgers (85-75). Up next for the 9-6 squad is a trip to face 19th-ranked Cincinnati.
SMU beat USF on the interior to push itself to victory on Wednesday night. The Mustangs claimed a 42-24 edge in scoring in the paint, and also held a 37-31 advantage in rebounds. They shot 50.9 percent from the floor and received a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds from Markus Kennedy.
In the win, the Mustangs also showed off their defensive prowess by holding the Bulls to 32.1 percent shooting. Defensive pressure has been the key for Larry Brown's squad this season, as SMU is third in the nation in opponent field goal percentage (.363) and 21st in scoring defense (61.8 ppg). Heading up the offensive effort for the unit are Nic Moore (!3.2 ppg, 4.7 apg) and Kennedy (10.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg), who are the only double-digit scorers on the roster. Moore is also a skilled passer, ranking third in the league in assists, while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor.
UCF dug itself a hole against Rutgers and could never climb out, as it shot just 27.3 percent from the floor in the first half. The Knights connected on 36.1 percent from the floor for the game, although they did have a hefty edge on the glass (48-35).
Winning the battle on the boards is nothing new for the Knights, who lead the AAC and rank 15th nationally in rebounding (40.9 rpg). They are also the third-highest scoring team in the conference (77.3 ppg). Isaiah Sykes (16.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg 3.5 apg) is the unit's best scoring option. He showed off his ability to light up the scoreboard in the loss to Rutgers, pouring in a season-high 29 points, his fifth 20-point effort of the campaign. Three other players are averaging in double figures for the Knights, with Calvin Newell (13.1 ppg), Tristan Spurlock (11.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Kasey Wilson (10.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg) all getting into the mix.
Sykes is one of the best players in the AAC. However, the Mustangs are the better all-around team and they should be able to pull out a hard-fought road win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: SMU 72, UCF 68
01/18 10:20:55 ET