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WSU will face SMU in NIT second round

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The Mustangs advanced after beating Nicholls State on Wednesday.

AAC Basketball Tournament - Semifinals - Memphis v SMU Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The Washington State Cougars will play SMU in the second round of the NIT after the Mustangs dispatched the Nicholls State Colonels on Wednesday night at home, 68-58.

The game will tip off at 12 p.m. PT on Sunday and will be broadcast only on ESPN+, ESPN’s subscription-based streaming platform. You can sign up here if you don’t already have a subscription. (Since I have children and like to watch European soccer, I already have the bundle.)

The 1-seed Mustangs — also the top overall seed in the NIT bracket — raced out to an early lead against the Colonels, then gave back most of that lead, then pulled away in the final minute to post a double-digit final margin. Although the win probability never dropped below 89% (according to kenpom.com), it belies the discomfort SMU experienced throughout the second half, particularly when Nicholls pulled to within two with three minutes left. SMU finished on a 10-2 run.

SMU presents an interesting matchup for WSU in that the Mustangs are exceptionally small, ranking 305th in kenpom.com’s effective height metric; their biggest starter is 6-foot-5/215-pound Marcus Weathers, and their two legit bigs don’t play a whole lot, combining for just 24 minutes against Nicholls. Weathers certainly plays a lot bigger than his measured size, but the fact remains that the Cougars will have a huge height advantage on the interior.

This height disadvantage has very real consequences for the Mustangs: 12.5% of their 2-point attempts this season have been blocked, 13th worst in all of Division 1. This, of course, is great news for WSU, which blocks 12.9 percent of opponents 2s — 32nd best — and is coming off a 10-block/27% performance against Santa Clara.

Still, that doesn’t mean the Mustangs can’t be effective on offense. They finished 4th in the AAC in points per possession in conference play, thanks largely to Kendric Davis, who is a powerhouse. The 6-foot point guard is comfortable both inside and outside and draws a ton of fouls. His true shooting percentage, which combines 3s, 2s, and free throws ranks 158th nationally — pretty remarkable considering that metric generally favors big men who take high-percentage 2s.

The lack of height also results in the Mustangs having a really difficult time clearing the boards — they rank 248th in defensive rebounding percentage. Again, conversely, the Cougars are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, ranking 40th in offensive rebounding percentage. So, while SMU does an excellent job preventing opponents from making shots (10th in opponent effective field goal percentage), they’re going to have a real tough time keeping the Cougars from second-chance opportunities.

The Cougars will absolutely have their hands full, but it’s also a very winnable game. Kenpom.com predicts the Mustangs win about 60% of the time by a 72-69 margin. While 60% might seem like a lot, statistically, that’s little more than a coin flip. It should be a fun one!

Here’s the full bracket as it stands now — Tony Bennett revenge game is still on the table!

LINKS

Washington State to meet SMU in Dallas in second-round NIT matchup | Washington State University | khq.com
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