Memphis, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - The quarterfinals of the inaugural American Athletic Conference begins with an All-Lone Star State affair, as the third- seeded SMU Mustangs take on the sixth-seeded Houston Cougars at FedExForum.
Larry Brown has done quite a job as SMU's head coach, as the team improved from 15-17 in his first season to an impressive 23-8 this year, which pushed it into the national rankings for the first time since 1985. The Mustangs have obviously never competed in this tournament before, having come over to help form the AAC from Conference USA. In the last seven seasons, they were knocked out of the first round of the conference tournament.
Houston also made the transition to the AAC from C-USA, but the move did not correspond with a jump in success like it did for SMU. The Cougars did win four of their final five games of the season, but still ended up at 16-15 overall and 8-10 against the rest of the conference. Houston won the C-USA Tournament in 2010, but went just 1-3 in the event in the years since.
SMU swept the season series with Houston this year, ending a three-game win streak for the Cougars. Houston leads the all-time series, 46-27, with the winner of this bout taking on either Rutgers or Louisville next.
The Cougars carried a four-game win streak into their regular-season finale against UCF, but it was quickly washed away in a 104-83 rout to the Knights. The Cougars were outscored 33-21 from 3-point range, and allowed UCF to connect on 54.5 percent of its total shots in the game.
TaShawn Thomas (15.5 ppg, 8 rpg, 2.6 bpg) is normally the force that powers the Cougars, but he was subdued against UCF, finishing with only eight points and four rebounds. Thomas also scored only eight points in Houston's previous contest, but he had been held out of double figures in just one other game all year. Lending scoring support are Danuel House (13.8 ppg) and Jherrod Stiggers, who combined for 40 points on 15-of-26 shooting in the loss to UCF. L.J. Rose (8.7 ppg, 5.6 apg) is also an important part of the offensive attack, as he leads the AAC in assists.
SMU brings a two-game losing streak into the postseason, having fallen to Memphis in the regular-season finale, 67-58. The Mustangs were paced by 16 points from Nic Moore, but they connected on only 40 percent of their shots from the floor, and just 5-of-8 at the free-throw line.
Moore (13.9 ppg, 4.7 apg) has been the lynchpin for the Mustangs' revival this season, earning himself All-AAC First-Team honors. Despite his stature (5- foot-9), Moore leads the team in scoring, shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and 45.7 percent from 3-point range. He is also fourth in the league in assists. Markus Kennedy (12 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.3 rpg) is another important piece to the puzzle, leading the team on the glass, while providing a solid second option to Moore. Nick Russell (9.6 ppg, 3.3 apg) cannot be ignored either.