The surging No. 6-seeded SMU Mustangs (27-6) face the No. 11-seeded UCLA Bruins (20-13) in a second round South region NCAA tournament matchup at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville on Thursday, with SMU's head coach a major topic of interest.
Larry Brown is making his return to the NCAA tournament after leading the Kansas Jayhawks to a title in 1988. The Mustangs have won four straight since falling to Connecticut on March 1, and Brown has high hopes for his team.
"At my age, I enjoy every day. I don't think about the NCAA personally," the 74-year-old said. "I think about our seniors, and what they've been through and now they get this opportunity.”
The Mustangs are led by junior guard Nic Moore, who leads the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game, along with 5.2 assists. Junior forward Markus Kennedy is the force in the post, averaging 11.7 points and 6.1 rebounds.
Brown is in his 40th year as a coach and is the only coach to lead a team to an NCAA championship and an NBA championship (2004 Detroit Pistons). He also coached the 1980 Bruins to the championship game. The Bruins have had six coaches since Brown left in 1981, and his name would often pop up when the Bruins had a vacancy.
The 2014-2015 version of the Bruins has struggled a bit to get on track. The squad lost five straight in late December through early January and have been off-and-on since. Coach Steve Alford thinks the team is perhaps a bit underrated heading into the game.
"I think our guys have done enough,” he said to the AP. “We were in a very good league. We finished fourth in that league. ... I think the problem is everybody saw us play Kentucky (an 83-44 loss) and that was in December, where we scored 7 points in the half. We're a much better team now."
The Bruins will need to outplay an organized SMU defense that is tough to beat (59.8 points allowed per game). UCLA will likely rely on senior guard Norman Powell (16.4 ppg) and sophomore guard Bryce Alford (15.1 ppg, 5 apg). Powell scored 21 in the Bruins last game, a loss to Arizona, and has averaged 19.8 over his last five games.
Las Vegas oddsmakers seem to think it will be a close game, with SMU as 4.5-point favorites, according to bovada.lv.
Start Time: 3:10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Tru TV
Live Stream: Watch online at March Madness Live
Prediction: SMU will clamp down on defense to neutralize the UCLA offense. The Mustangs' offense should score just enough to escape.
SMU over UCLA, 69-65