It doesn’t happen often in the early rounds but the 2017 NCAA Tournament has delivered a rare treat for hoops aficionados this year as SMU and USC are all set for a rematch from earlier in the season. The two squads feature some of the more intriguing talents in the country and it’s no stretch to think the winner of their contest on Friday will be a potential bracket-buster down the road.
The Trojans won the first meeting between the pair 78-73 all the way back in November thanks to breakout games from Bennie Boatwright and De’Anthony Melton. The former had another impressive outing on Wednesday in the team’s First Four game, when USC stormed back from a 15-point halftime deficit to beat Providence. SMU likely sat watching that game down in Tulsa and are no doubt delighted to get a second crack to avenge one of just four losses all season.
Both teams may have some gripes about seeding but the end result is a delight for those watching at home as this could be one of the more fun First Round games in the entire Tournament.
East Region: No. 11 USC (25-9) vs. No. 6. SMU (30-4)
When: 3:10 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: Bank of Oklahoma Center (Tulsa, Okla.)
Line: SMU -6
Keys for USC
The Trojans are lucky to be in this game, as they owe a good chunk of their resume to that win over the Mustangs and needed a miraculous comeback in Dayton to play their way in. That second-half run showed some impressive signs of life for Andy Enfield’s team after entering March on a bit of a slump. End of game situations have proven tricky for this squad and need to be avoided but there’s enough firepower between Boatright, Chimezie Metu and Jordan McLaughlin to hang with any team in the bracket.
Keys for SMU
A record-breaking season for the Mustangs culminated in an American Athletic Conference title and a banner year on the Hilltop but the team isn’t about to stop there. Head coach Tim Jankovich has developed an impressive roster that may lack depth but makes up for it in length. A short bench can actually be a good thing come March and it helps that the team is able to get scoring from just about every spot on the floor. Foul trouble may be an issue if things get going up-and-down too much but this is a team that could go a long way in the tourney if star Semi Ojeleye and company rise to the occasion.
This is going to be a tricky one to peg given the number of factors that each team has going for it coming in. SMU is the better team on paper but hasn’t really been tested as well as many expected this season, leading in part to the Mustangs’ low seed despite a phenomenal record. USC on the other hand, should have plenty of momentum from already capturing a win in the Tournament and seems to have the rest of the team back on the same page. If the Trojans have a chance to open this one up and control the pace, they’ve got a great shot at taking home another victory. In the end though, the Mustangs grind this one out and take advantage of their style to get a little revenge from earlier in the year.
Prediction: SMU 67, USC 62
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.