<
>

W2W4: SMU vs. Minnesota

4/3/2014

Here's what to watch for when Southern Methodist (27-9, 12-6 AAC) plays Minnesota (24-13, 8-10 Big Ten) on Thursday in the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m., and you can watch the game on ESPN.

ONE FOR THE AGES ... The two head coaches are the star attractions in this matchup. It'll be the oldest coach in Division I, Hall of Famer Larry Brown of SMU, versus one of the youngest coaches in Div. I, Richard Pitino of Minnesota -- the son of Hall of Famer Rick Pitino.

Brown is 73 years old, although he certainly doesn't look it. Pitino is 31, and looks every bit of it and no more.

Both have New York roots. Brown was born in Brooklyn and returned to New York to coach the Knicks in 2005-06. Pitino spent part of his youth in New York -- his father coached the Knicks from 1987-89. The elder Pitino attended the semifinals Tuesday and almost certainly will be sitting behind the Minnesota bench again Thursday.

AS FOR THE PLAYERS ... It's a pretty even matchup -- these are two of the four No. 1 seeds in this tournament. SMU overcame a 13-point, second-half deficit to defeat Clemson 65-59 in Tuesday's first semifinal. Minnesota survived a second-half comeback to beat Florida State 67-64 in overtime in the second semifinal.

You should see strong guard play in this game. SMU's leading scorer is sophomore point man Nic Moore (13.5 ppg, 4.8 apg). Minnesota has three guards who average in double figures -- junior Andre Hollins (13.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg), senior Austin Hollins (12.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and junior DeAndre Mathieu (12 ppg, 4.1 apg).

But the X-factor is SMU sophomore forward Markus Kennedy (12.4 ppg, 7 rpg). A transfer from Villanova, Kennedy was dominant in the semifinals, with 21 points and nine rebounds against Clemson. Minnesota must try to limit his touches inside.

SPEAKING OF DEFENSE ... SMU is one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranked seventh in Division I in defensive field goal percentage (38.3). Minnesota isn't as good but is still ranked among the top third of Div. I teams in that category, currently 112th (42.4).

That being said, both teams can create havoc on that end. SMU was 42nd in steals per game in the regular season (7.5), and Minnesota was close behind at 45th (7.4).

You'll probably see some full-court pressure, particularly from Minnesota. Taking care of the ball will be critical in this game.