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SMU upsets No. 21 UConn, likely securing the Mustangs an NCAA Tournament spot

SMU staged another upset, this time on the road, by beating UConn in Storrs, Ct. (Fred Beckham/AP) SMU staged another upset, this time on the road, by beating UConn in Storrs, Ct. on Sunday. (Fred Beckham/AP)

It is no longer fair to suggest that Southern Methodist is incapable of beating good teams away from home. That’s been the knock on the Mustangs for the past couple of months, but it’s going to be tougher to make that argument after SMU beat No. 21 UConn, 64-55, Sunday in Storrs, Ct.

Guards Nic Moore and Nick Russell scored 15 points apiece and forward Markus Kennedy added 13 points and seven rebounds as the Mustangs took a two-point lead into halftime and pulled away after the break. SMU held Huskies star guard Shabazz Napier and backcourt partner Ryan Boatright to a combined 8-of-28 shooting effort. UConn, who has scored an average of 1.11 points per possession in conference play, put up just 0.86 PPP and shot 29.6 percent from the field against the Mustangs.

“They've got a good group of guys over there, and they play hard and they play together,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said Sunday. “They were tough defensively, but you just have to move the basketball. We made them even tougher by staying on the first side. But they are tough defensively. They're long and aggressive. Nic Moore is a tough-headed point guard. And they go 10 deep. Everybody who comes off is long and athletic. They play hard and they know his system. And they trust each other."

Before Sunday, SMU had already beaten most of the American Athletic Conference’s top teams at home (including UConn on January 4). But they had taken a couple of bad losses and failed to beat anyone of note on the road. Just last week, for instance, SMU fell at last-place Temple. This win shows SMU can play well away from Moody Coliseum, where the Mustangs are undefeated this season. SMU will have one more chance to prove its road mettle when it face Memphis in Memphis on March 8 to close the regular season.

Even if it doesn’t win that game, SMU has already eased any skepticism the NCAA Tournament selection committee may have had about a team that seemingly couldn’t get anything done outside the comfort of its own gym. SMU now has a nice road W to tack on to a profile that includes an RPI of 45 and a 4-3 record against the top 50. The Mustangs also could improve their CV if they win at Memphis or handle Louisville at home three days earlier.

At this point, SMU seems likely to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1993. On Sunday, The Mustangs filled a big hole in their otherwise solid profile, and in the process picked up the program's first road win over a ranked team since 2003. They are pegged as a No. 10 seed in the latest version of the Bracket Matrix, a compilation of more than 60 bracket projections from across the Internet, and Sunday’s win only augments their case. If SMU can avoid losing to Central Florida at home next Saturday, it should feel confident about its chances heading into the AAC Tournament no matter whether it beats Louisville or Memphis.

No. 11 Creighton 72, Seton Hall 71

The march to 3,000 points continues. Two-time All-American forward Doug McDermott scored 29 points on 8-of-14 shooting Sunday to lead the Jays to a one-point win over Seton Hall and pass Alfredrick Hughes for 10th place on the NCAA Division I all-time scoring list. McDermott’s two missed free throws with under 30 seconds remaining kept the Pirates within striking distance, but forward Fuquan Edwin’s desperation three pointer at the buzzer was off target. McDermott now sits at 2,917 points. Creighton gets a week off before playing consecutive road games at Xavier and Georgetown and hosting Providence in its regular-season finale.

Florida State 71, Pittsburgh 66

All of Pitt’s losses before Sunday had come against teams ranked inside the top 50 of the RPI; the Seminoles have an RPI of 68. The Panthers are still in position to earn an at-large bid, but their margin of error has thinned considerably after losing their third consecutive game Sunday. Pitt’s non-conference schedule ranks 206th in the country and it has posted a 1-6 record against the RPI top 50. The lack of bad losses will help, but the best team the Panthers have beaten this season is Stanford. Pitt will play three of its final four games (at Boston College, at Notre Dame, North Carolina State, at Clemson) of the season on the road. Winning them won’t do much to help the Panthers’ resumé, but losing one or more could put them in dangerous territory.

Providence 87, Butler 81

The Friars have some work to do over the next couple of weeks to put themselves in position to earn an at-large bid, but they avoided a potentially big setback on Sunday by winning at Butler. Providence has an RPI of 63, just one win against the top 50 and a bad sub-100 loss to Seton Hall. A win at Butler won’t get coach Ed Cooley’s team into the field, but it was an important game the Friars – who had lost five of their last seven games coming in – could not afford to lose. Providence will play at Seton Hall next Friday before hosting Marquette and traveling to Creighton the following week to close out the regular season.

Utah 86, Arizona State 63

Pac-12 teams should not take road trips to Utah lightly. The Utes have lost just twice (against Oregon and Arizona) at the Jon M. Huntsman Center during conference play. On Sunday, they destroyed Arizona State behind 22 points and nine rebounds from junior guard Delon Wright. Senior forward Shaquielle Mckissic led the Sun Devils with 16 points while star point guard Jahii Carson scored just eight points on 3-of-13 shooting. Arizona State remains in good position to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, and it should be able to win at least one of its next two games: Stanford and Cal visit Tempe, Az., this week. The Sun Devils close the regular season with the two-game Oregon road swing.

Nebraska 76, Purdue 57

The key for Nebraska over the next couple of weeks is to avoid bad losses if it wants to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1998. The Huskers (16-10, 8-6 Big Ten) have played themselves into contention for an at-large bid, but they need to take care of business against the mediocre Big Ten teams left on their schedule. They handled Purdue on Sunday thanks to another excellent performance from sophomore guard Terran Petteway, who shot 10-of-19 from the field for 29 points. Next up for the Huskers is a road game against Illinois, followed by a home meeting with Northwestern and a trip to Indiana. Nebraska’s last game, a home date with Wisconsin, could be crucial. That could be the huge win that tips the balance for Tim Miles' team.

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