Tuesday, January 19, 2016

SMU vs. UH

1) This game was an advertisement for college basketball

I go to most of the Mavs games at the AAC and you can't even compare the atmosphere for your average regular season game in the NBA and what was happening at Moody Coliseum on Tuesday. The gym was jam-packed, the fans were right on the court and you could feel the electricity in the air from the jump. Grown men were dog-cussing the referees right to their face - it was pretty nuts. I'm not sure SMU wins that game without the energy their home crowd gave them because that place was rocking tonight and it really lifted a team that came out a little flat and didn't match UH's energy early.

To be sure, there are some fairly unique circumstances to what's going on at SMU but it's a real treat to watch games that "really" matter where the teams are desperate to win. That's what people mean when they say college kids "want it more" - SMU is playing for history while UH knew that a win at SMU would go a long way towards getting them into the NCAA Tournament and possibly validating their entire careers and making these guys a lot of money when it comes to their pro future. These individual regular season games just mean a lot more at the NCAA level and when you have teams that can actually play (which doesn't always happen obviously) the end result is a magnificent product. If you are a basketball in the Metroplex, you owe it to yourself to catch a game at Moody. If you are a college basketball fan at all, I'd recommend tuning in to these games. It has been a hell of a ride already.

2) UH was the aggressor for most of the night

UH is a big and physical team with high-level athletes at almost every position and they made the most out of their athletic advantage on Tuesday. They came into the game looking to be physical with SMU and it was almost enough to pull off the upset - they were up for most of the night and they controlled the tempo of the game for most of it. You can just tell how they were playing from these two numbers - 23 offensive rebounds and 21 personal fouls. With SMU down to 7 scholarship players and no one on their front-line above 6'9, that's definitely the formula for attacking them going forward. Not only can they be pounded on the offensive glass but doing that also keeps them out of transition, where they are absolutely deadly.

3) Nic Moore was the difference

"I love the Moore kid. He's a guy who really should be appreciated. He really knows how to play the game." - Kelvin Sampson

Games like this are where you really see the value of having a senior PG. Moore kept SMU within striking distance all night and he took over the game in the final minutes. He's a great shooter, a great ball-handler and a great passer and he can score from anywhere on the floor at any time in the clock. He puts pressure on the opposing defense constantly and he's about as good a player as anyone whose 5'9 175 can possibly be. He's already won the American Conference Player of the Year Award once and he looks almost certain to repeat. He's one of the great NCAA PG's in the country and it's a real shame that he won't get a chance to show what he can do in the NCAA Tourney because he's the type of player who could easily get on a roll in March and become a national star.

Just watch how smooth and easy he makes the game look. It's a highlight tape but it's not at all deceptive. He always looks like this:

The obvious question when watching him dominate at the NCAA level is whether he could translate it to the NBA. Moore has definitely maxed out his physical abilities but I'm not quite sure he's as fast as JJ Barea and Isaiah Thomas. He had a lot of trouble with Bryce Alford in their loss to UCLA in last year's Tourney and I'd want to see him matched up 1-on-1 with an elite PG this season to have a better idea. Unfortunately, there really aren't any other NBA prospects at the position in the AAC this season. The closest is probably Sterling Gibbs at UConn and Troy Caupain at Cincy. Moore's probably going to have to play his way onto a roster at summer league and that will be a fun storyline to track in Vegas.

4) Damyean Dotson looks like an NBA player

Dotson, who spent his first two seasons at Oregon, was the best player on the floor for UH and he definitely looked the part of an NBA player. He had 16 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists on 12 shots and he bailed out the UH offense a lot by generating shots off the dribble at the end of the clock. At 6'5 210 with a 6'8 wingspan, he has prototype size for a SG, he's lightning quick and he can shoot off the dribble. I'll have much more on him in a film breakdown later in the week.

5) UH is becoming Transfer U under Kelvin Sampson

Sampson has made the program respectable by taking chances on guys like Dotson (who was dismissed from Oregon as part of a sexual assault investigation) and Devonta Pollard (a McDonald's All-American who left Mississippi State after being involved in a federal crime that defies description - Google it because I can't do justice to it). There's also LJ Rose, a big-time recruit who washed out at Baylor and is out for the season with an injured foot. The result is they have the athleticism and talent of a high-major program and they should be able to compete with most teams on the country on a given night. They beat LSU at home and they pushed SMU to the limit at Moody. They get SMU at home on Feb. 1 and they will have a chance to end SMU's unbeaten season.

6) UH has the talent to be an NCAA Tournament team

They have a lot of length and athleticism upfront with Danrad "Chicken" Knowles (6'10 200) and Bertrand Nkali (6'8 240), they have four guys who can shoot 3's at 34% or higher, including two who are above 40%, and they have a great 1-on-1 scorer in Dotson. Kelvin Sampson has the program going in the right direction - he was 13-19 in Year 1 and they are 13-5 in Year 2 - and he has everyone coming back next season except Pollard. UH should have a real chance at making the Tourney next season.

They have the chops to make it this year but Sampson didn't really schedule that well in non-conference, which is a must when you are playing in a conference like the AAC. They have wins over LSU and Wyoming and losses to Rhode Island and Grand Canyon and none of the other teams they played in November and December are notable at all. They are likely an NIT team this season and they should be able to build momentum for next season with a post-season run. They remind me a bit of where SMU was in Year 2 under Larry Brown, when a weak non-conference schedule kept them out of the Tourney and they wound up making it all the way to the NIT championship game.

7) The Moment

This is a subjective thing but it was pretty obvious that the pressure of the undefeated season is starting to get to some of the SMU players. Some guys thrive in the moment and some guys shrink a bit and it has been fascinating to watch as the moment starts to get bigger and bigger for them as the year goes on. The two guys who play bigger when the spotlight is on them are Nic Moore and Sterling Brown and they kind of took over the game in the last few minutes. I'm not trying to call these other guys out but Markus Kennedy looked a bit overwhelmed tonight while this is the first time all season that Shake Milton looked like a freshman. Nevertheless, the two did combine for the game-clinching assist in the final minute and it was the kind of play where you could see a freshman like Milton growing up in front of your eyes. That's one of the cool things about watching college basketball.

As Larry Brown said in the post-game press conference, if you ask most players what the most fun they ever had was playing basketball they will say high school or college. He said that before the game Dean Smith would always write on the chalkboard something along the lines of "Play Smart. Play Together. Have Fun" (Though Brown said he would ask Smith to add Play Defense and Rebound as well). These guys are really having fun out there and it is really fun to watch. The older I get and the more responsibilities start to pile on my life, the more I appreciate that type of thing. 

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