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Men’s basketball scouting report: SMU

By Kevin Bowman

March 17, 2015 2:16 p.m.

After Friday’s near-upset of Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals, UCLA lamented its small mistakes in the game, surely wanting another crack at its conference rival.

The Bruins won’t get that this year, but they’ll get the next best thing.

In coach Steve Alford’s eyes, the Bruins will be playing the Wildcats’ twin – Southern Methodist University – in the NCAA tournament.

“If you’re looking for a team to compare (SMU) to in our league, of how they play, how they look, it’s Arizona,” Alford said. “They only average maybe four 3s a game, but they shoot 48, 49 percent from the field, they get a lot of paint scores – that’s Arizona. They run in transition – that’s Arizona. They are a tremendous rebounding team – that’s Arizona.”

A glance at SMU’s roster is enough to see that Alford’s not making too much of a stretch with his comparison. The Mustangs have four rotation players that are 6 feet 8 inches or taller and structure their game from the inside out.

SMU has a stringent interior defense with its size inside, which could make things tough for junior forward/center Tony Parker and freshman forward Kevon Looney. They key, then, will be the Bruins’ guards hitting shots.

The Mustangs’ post offense provides just as big of a challenge for the Bruins, with Parker pointing to their length, constant movement and depth as the biggest strengths of the Mustangs’ frontcourt.

“Not many teams bring off a really dominant big off the bench, and they do that,” Parker said, referencing SMU forward Markus Kennedy, who is second on the team in scoring and rebounding with 11.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. “They bring a real good veteran big off the bench, and that really helps them out a lot.”

While the Mustangs’ bigs define the team, a much smaller player is their leader. That would be 5-foot-9-inch guard Nic Moore, the team’s leading scorer averaging 14.2 points and 5.2 assists per game. Moore is also the only player on the roster to hit more than 25 3-pointers this season, draining 71 at a 40.8 percent clip.

For senior guard Norman Powell, who will likely be guarding Moore, the key is to exploit the size differential and not let Moore out-quick him.

“He leads his team well, he can shoot the 3, he’s crafty with the ball,” Powell said. “So it’s all about staying in front of him and containing him because he’s a big part of what they do.”

The masked man

To deal with SMU’s size, a big key for the Bruins will be the play of its frontcourt in Parker and Looney.

After taking an elbow to the face against USC on Thursday and leaving the game for the hospital, Looney played in Friday’s game against Arizona sporting a face mask to prevent further injury. The mask, which had straps wrapping around the sides and top of his head, was a bit of a distraction for Looney, who finished the game with just five points and four rebounds.

Looney said after the game that the mask – which he first tried on just 90 minutes before tip-off – restricted his peripheral vision. He should have no such problem against SMU.

Looney was fitted for a new mask, one that Powell said doesn’t block his vision as much and has worked particularly well for a certain Bruin alumnus.

“He’s got the Westbrook mask,” Alford said. “Now we’ve got him in a UCLA mask, so he’s a lot more comfortable this week.”

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook has been forced to wear a mask for his own facial injury over the past few games and seems to have had no limitations with that particular model. Since donning the mask on March 4, Westbrook has averaged a triple double, with 33.6 points, 10.1 assists and 10.3 rebounds per game.

Judging from what Alford has seen in practice, Looney’s new mask may help the freshman out just as much.

“I even asked him last night if he wanted to get some extra shots up with the mask on, just kinda messing with him,” Alford said. “He took one shot from the corner, made it and walked off and said, ‘Coach, it doesn’t matter, mask or no mask.'”

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Kevin Bowman | Alumnus
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