(6) SMU Mustangs (-3.5) vs. (11) UCLA Bruins
The No. 6 SMU Mustangs (27-6, 15-3 American) will kick off their March Madness schedule on Thursday against the No. 11 UCLA Bruins (20-13, 11-7 Pac-12) in South Region action (3:10 p.m. at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville).
The Mustangs come in as one of the hotter teams in the nation, winning 17 of their last 19 games. They also took home the AAC crown thanks to a 62-54 win over reigning tourney champs, UConn. SMU was led by junior guard Markus Kennedy, who came off the bench to score 15 points and pull down six boards.
The conference title ensure the Mustangs that there would be no repeat of last year, when almost everyone except the Selection Committee had SMU penciled into the 68-team field.
“Sunday last year at this time was about as disappointing as it could get based on the body of work these kids did,” said the Mustangs’ Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. “But fortunately we’ve got another opportunity and didn’t have to get anybody to decide whether we’re worthy or not.”
UCLA had a four-game winning streak snapped by Arizona in the PAC-12 tournament, falling 70-64 to the Wildcats. The Bruins defense had no answer for Arizona forward Brandon Ashley, who scored a career-high 24 points.
This year’s UCLA team proved much more fortunate that last year’s SMU squad. Most experts had UCLA on the outside looking in for the 2015 bracket, but the Selection Committee evidently saw enough from the Bruins, who finished fourth in the Pac-12, to not only put them in the field, but also allow them to bypass the First Four.
Despite having numerous detractors nationwide, UCLA coach Steve Alford remained confident heading into Selection Sunday.
“I like our chances,” said Alford before the bracket was revealed. “We’re like a lot of people going to sit and wait. I’ve been doing this a long time watching throughout the country that there’s 31 better at-large teams than what we are.”
In the trends, the Bruins are 4-0 ATS in their last four following a loss and 7-2 ATS in their last nine games, overall. The Mustangs, meanwhile, are 6-2-1 ATS in their last nine games following an ATS win and 15-7-3 ATS in their last 25 games overall.
(Photo credit: John McStravick (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo may appear cropped.)