Thursday’s game against SMU is arguably the biggest game of the season for UConn. The Mustangs were the last-standing undefeated team in the country until a loss at Temple on Jan. 24. Since then, SMU has lost two more times and currently holds a 21-3 record and second place in the American Athletic Conference standings.
SMU can’t participate in any postseason play, so they have six games left in their season. Thursday’s game with UConn is one of two matchups left between the two schools.
I talked with Brian O’Donnell, the Associate Sports Editor at the SMU Campus Weekly, to get to know this SMU team better prior to Thursday’s game.
Here is what he had to say:
Matt Zampini: What makes Nic Moore so good and do you see him having a career at the next level? NBA or overseas?
Brian O’Donnell: He is the heart and soul of the team. Part of what makes him so good is his ability to take on the scoring load while not being selfish. He continues to distribute and move the ball and is patient enough to know when to shoot. Coach Brown has talked all year about taking good shots and I am hard pressed to think of any bad shots that Nic has taken this season. He just seems to take his game to another level in the clutch, always making big shots and never afraid to be the one with the ball in his hands when the clock is winding down. Despite his talent, I think his height will keep him from making the NBA. I could see him having a long career overseas if that is something he wants to do.
Zampini: How big of a loss was Keith Frazier for this team and how is the team different now?
O’Donnell: I think Keith’s departure was a blessing and a curse for the team. Obviously, losing someone that talented, especially when you only have seven other scholarship players, hurts your depth and offensive firepower. However, he was very much a distraction. It seemed like there was always a question of, will Keith be eligible? Towards the end of his time here, there was always something about him being unhappy with is minutes or not showing up to play. Though his absence hurts on both sides of the ball, I think the team became more focused and has played just as well without him.
Zampini: Who is a player that the Mustangs have that flies under the radar?
O’Donnell: I think Ben Moore is a huge asset to this team. He has been incredibly efficient on offense and has developed a useful mid-range game. He doesn’t have the size that a lot of forwards have but he runs the floor and defends well in the post. His contributions usually go unnoticed because of Nic’s scoring and clutch play, but he is just as valuable to this team.
Zampini: Does the success of SMU this season surprise you based on the fact they knew they wouldn’t be able play in the postseason?
O’Donnell: I am not surprised that the team has played this well. Their saying is ‘Family Over Everything’ and I think this season is a good indication that they have bought into that. The underclassmen have talked about playing for the seniors and making sure that they go out on top. The seniors have maintained their focus and seem determined to win the AAC regular season title.
Zampini: What chance do you give the Mustangs to win the regular season AAC championship?
O’Donnell: I think SMU is objectively the most talented team in the AAC this season. The Mustangs’ lack of depth and inconsistent play has put them in jeopardy of losing the AAC title as of late. However, I expect them to play hard and refocus on the fact that every game is their postseason game and ultimately win the championship.
Zampini: What is your prediction for this game?
O’Donnell: I think this game has developed into a rivalry in the last few years. College GameDay came to SMU for last year’s game and the two teams met in the AAC title game. I think they both circle it on their calendars and bring their A games. I expect it to be a close game but Nic Moore will prove his worth in crunch time and seal the win for SMU.