NCAA Tournament Predictions: SMU vs. Providence or USC

Jarrey Foster,Sterling Brown_552087

during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the American Athletic Conference tournament finals, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.

6. SMU (30-4, 17-1/AAC)–For the second time in three years, the Mustangs are the AAC champs, capping off a three-game stretch in frigid Hartford with a 71-56 outclassing of Cincinnati on Sunday.

Larry Brown’s fingerprints are still all over this SMU squad, despite the fact that he was ousted after bringing sanctions upon the program last season. Tim Jankovic, former head coach at Illinois State, has done an outstanding job of keeping the culture and expectations in place, and the Ponies play the same way they did under Brown.

They’re tough, hard-nosed, they play great defense, and they move the ball extremely well. This squad utilizes everyone’s strengths on offense–including AAC Player of the Year Semi Ojeleye, who averages 19 points and 6.7 rebounds per.

Shake Milton (13.2 ppg, 4.5 apg) is a dangerous three-point shooter and attacks the rim well. Sterling Brown (13.2 ppg) is a terrific mid-range shooter, and Ben Moore (11.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg) can finish around the rim and is an excellent defender and rebounder.

This is a very well-rounded team, maybe the best in SMU history.

11. Providence (20-12, 10-8/Big East)– The Friars find themselves in the First Four after closing the season with six wins in seven games. This might be Ed Cooley’s best coaching job at PC, as he had to replace first-round pick Kris Dunn, and lost several recruits he had counted on to keep things rolling once Dunn left. They’re dancing for the fourth straight year, despite being predicted to finish ninth in the Big East in the preseason.

This team is led by a quartet of double-figure scorers, including 6-8 junior forward Rodney Bullock (15.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg). 6-7 junior Emmitt Holt (12.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg) is robust inside, and juniors Kyron Cartwright (11.7 ppg) and Jalen Lindsey (10.2 ppg) are capable scorers as well.

11. Southern California (24-9, 10-8/Pac-12)–The Trojans and Friars are matching up in the NCAAs for the second straight year, though this time it’s before the Round of 64. Providence edged SC, 70-69, on a Rodney Bullock layup off of an inbounds pass with 1.8 seconds left.

We think USC got a raw deal this year—how this team ended up in the play-in game while 19-14 Vanderbilt got a 9-seed is inconceivable–but this has the makings of another classic game.

The Trojans are deep, with four players averaging in double figures in scoring, led by Bennie Boatwright at 14.6 per. Juniors Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart will be keyed on by the Friars’ coaching staff.

Andy Enfield has successfully brought his “Dunk City” vibe to L.A., and has made the Trojans relevant again, with this their second straight tourney appearance.

PREDICTION: USC scores just enough points to get past Providence in the First Four, relying on their (Clyde Frazier voice) prodigious backcourt to get it done. Dunk City West comes up short against SMU though, which will bully the Trojans into taking tough shots and find easier ones of their own on offense.

We like the Mustangs to advance to the Round of 32, but we don’t think they’ll get past Baylor.

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