Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - With wins in four straight games, the 23rd-ranked SMU Mustangs ride into the Liacouras Center for an American Athletic Conference clash with the Temple Owls.
In just his second season as head coach, Larry Brown has pushed SMU into the national spotlight, as the Mustangs are nationally ranked for the first time since 1985. They are a sparkling 20-5 overall and well within range of first- place Cincinnati in the AAC standings (9-3). A visit to in-state rival Houston is next on the docket.
On the other side, perennial NCAA Tournament participant Temple is having quite an off year. The Owls are just 6-17 overall, with one win in 10 tries against the rest of the conference. They have lost four straight, including an ugly 82-58 rout against 13th-ranked Louisville on Friday night. They finish this difficult homestand with a bout against 24th-ranked Connecticut on Thursday.
In the first meeting between these teams as conference foes on Feb. 2, SMU ran away with a 75-52 victory, tying the all-time series at 2-2.
SMU was also in action on Friday night, earning a 77-65 road win over Rutgers. Nic Moore scored a game-high 21 points and Nick Russell added 16 in the contest, as the Mustangs shot 49 percent from the floor, including an 8-of-18 effort from 3-point range.
The Mustangs' game plan is simple; play tough defense and don't settle for bad shots on offense. They have executed both to near-perfection this season, limiting foes to 61.2 ppg and 36.9 percent shooting, the second-best mark in the country. Then, on offense, they sink an AAC-leading 49.5 percent of their shots from the floor. Moore (14 ppg, 4.7 apg) is the playmaker for the unit, leading in scoring and assists, while draining 48.9 percent from the field. MarKus Kennedy (11.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg) provides some punch on the interior and Russell (8.9 ppg, 3.3 apg) helps out on the wings.
Temple was clearly the inferior team in Friday's matchup with Louisville. The Owls only connected on 37.3 percent of their shots from the field on their home floor. They were also outscored, 42-26, in the paint. Will Cummings scored 16 points to pace the losing effort.
Fran Dunphy's team really hasn't done too badly on offense this season, netting a respectable 74.3 ppg. However, the Owls have been uncharacteristically weak on defense, allowing 78 ppg and 46.7 percent shooting to the opposition. Dunphy, as always, relies on a small rotation, with Dalton Pepper (17 ppg), Cummings (16.3 ppg, 4.2 apg), Quenton DeCosey (14.9 ppg) and Anthony Lee (14 ppg, 8.9 rpg) getting the bulk of the minutes and the chances to produce. Pepper is fourth in the AAC in scoring and Cummings is fifth. However, Pepper tallied only seven points against the Cardinals. Lee tops the league on the boards, but he managed all of three rebounds on Friday.