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The Big USF Vs. SMU Preview: Bulls Open Conference Play In Dallas

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USF begins American Athletic Conference play against the team they may have kept out of the NCAA Tournament last year.

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: THESOUTHFLORIDABULLS (6-7) vs. SMU Mustangs (9-3)

WHEN AND WHERE: 5 p.m. ET at Moody Coliseum in Dallas. The game is on ESPN2, so you can watch it out of the corner of your eye while getting ready for your New Year's Eve parties.

LINE: SMU by a whopping 17 points.

RATINGS:

Team RPI KenPom - Overall KenPom - Offense KenPom - Defense KenPom-Tempo
SMU 50 35 63 28 182
USF 229 211 166 264 122

NOTABLE PLAYERS:

SMU:

Name Position Year Height/Weight PPG RPG APG
Nic Moore G Jr. 5'9", 170 15.4 2.2 4.7
Keith Frazier G So. 6'5", 190 11.2 4.6 1.1
Ben Moore F So. 6'8", 185 9.3 6.8 2.6
Markus Kennedy F Jr. 6'9", 245 5.0 4.0 1.0
Yanick Moreira C Sr. 6'11", 220 12.6 6.8 0.8
Ryan Manuel G Sr. 6'4", 185 4.9 3.2 1.8
Cannen Cunningham C Sr. 6'10", 225 6.3 3.6 0.4

USF:

Name Position Year Height/Weight PPG RPG APG
Anthony Collins G Jr. 6'2", 185 9.8 2.6 6.0
Corey Allen Jr. G Sr. 6'2", 185 16.9 3.6 3.2
Nehemias Morillo G Jr. 6'4", 210 9.6 5.8 1.2
Chris Perry F So. 6'9", 225 12.8 7.5 0.4
Ruben Guerrero C Fr. 6'9", 225 5.2 3.2 0.3
Troy Holston Jr. G Fr. 6'3", 180 4.1 1.3 0.7
Bo Zeigler F Fr. 6'6", 215 5.2 4.4 0.3

KEYS TO THE GAME:

Both of last season's games between USF and SMU ended up being fateful. The Mustangs ran USF off the floor in their first meeting on January 15, scoring the first 13 points of the game and holding a double-digit lead for 36 of 40 minutes. The game was a disgrace and nowhere near as close as the 71-54 final score. The next day, Doug Woolard was relieved of his duties as USF's athletic director.

When SMU visited the Sun Dome for the return matchup on January 28, the Bulls circled the wagons and picked up by far their best win of last season. They upset the Mustangs 78-71 behind 21 points from Victor Rudd and 18 apiece from Chris Perry and Corey Allen Jr. USF shot 53% from the field and outrebounded SMU by five. It ended up being a costly defeat for the Mustangs -- they just missed the NCAA Tournament cut and many people pointed to this loss as the reason why they had to settle for an NIT bid.

The American is a much weaker league this season, and SMU stumbled early on in their big non-conference tests. They also suffered a big blow before the season began when blue-chip prospect Emmanuel Mudiay decided to play professionally in Europe instead of spending a year in college. (Although considering he went to Deion Sanders's embattled Prime Prep Academy, SMU may have dodged a compliance bullet there.)

Nic Moore is still the leader of the SMU team, averaging over 15 points a game. He was already a good shooter, but this year he's very close to being a 50-40-90 player (50.8% FG, 46.2% 3PT, 89.7% FT). He leads the team in assists, and although his turnovers have gone up a bit from last year, he is a tough matchup and maybe the best guard in the league.

SMU got a huge boost a couple of weeks ago when the NCAA ruled Markus Kennedy eligible to play. The 6'9", 245-pound forward was SMU's second-leading scorer, their leading rebounder, and their best inside presence by far. In Kennedy's absence, Yanick Moreira has filled in nicely. Today's game may be Kennedy's first start of the season, giving Larry Brown has a real one-two punch down low to attack USF's thin front line.

Keith Frazier will be another headache for USF to deal with. At 6'5" and 190 pounds, he's significantly bigger than Corey Allen Jr. or Anthony Collins, and while he has been a streaky scorer this year (five games with 16+ points, and five with 7 or less, including a 0 against Wyoming), he will not be easy for either of them to guard or keep off the glass.

The Mustangs lost potential resume-building games against Gonzaga, Indiana, and Arkansas, but all of them were without Kennedy in the lineup. His return makes SMU one of the favorites to win the American title and avoid putting their NCAA fate in the hands of the selection committee come March. Their campaign to do that begins today, and with USF's lack of depth and experience and SMU's abundance of both, it should be an easy win.