This could've been a 7-10 game in the NCAA Tournament.
SMU (arguably) had the resume to be in the field and LSU certainly had the talent to be among the 68 teams. Instead, it's a juicy second-round NIT matchup in Dallas as both programs look to use a deep run as a springboard for renewed success.
It's also a sort-of Homecoming on multiple fronts. Johnny Jones spent a decade at North Texas in the greater Dallas area, while freshman Jordan Mickey was a four-star standout at Prime Prep and Grace Prep in high school. The area continually pumps out a handful of top 100 recruits each year, and Jones has mined his connection to the region again with 2014 7-footer Elmer Robinson. A win here could help LSU keep a strong reach in the Dallas-Forth Worth area.
On the floor, it should be a doozy. The cozy Moody Coliseum is already sold out. General admission seating should make for a raucous crowd. SMU is the only Dallas-area team still playing ball. Larry Brown has really infused the Mustang program with life. Yes, they're disappointed to be out of the NCAAs, but they're pumped up here about another home game (Side Note: I am in Dallas for this game. Can't wait).
The teams aren't very similar in style, with SMU relying heavily on guard play. The diminutive Nic Moore is their leading scorer, while 6-4 Nick Russell (formerly at Kansas State) dishes out the assists. Expect the Mustangs to spread LSU out and try to open up the elbow and short corner if LSU comes out in a zone. If the game becomes fast-paced or foul-plagued, SMU can run out at least 10 guys. The Tigers need to go against their instincts and slow it down.
That would also play to LSU's interior advantage. I feel like a broken record writing this, but with Johnny O'Bryant III, Jarell Martin and Mickey inside, the Tigers have superior paint talent almost every time they take the floor. SMU will counter with the hefty Markus Kennedy, but there's just no reason to shoot 20+ 3-pointers. Obviously, Brown is a great coach and might adjust a defense to stop JOB III and co., but punishing SMU around the rim should be LSU's first option.
Ultimately, the game might come down to LSU's poise. The San Francisco triumph was nice and absolutely the best road win of the season. The Tigers still played a half-and-half game. They were great for 20 minutes and iffy for the other 20. That ratio needs to go to at least 30-10 with a packed house. SMU is just as good as teams like Memphis, UMass, St. Joseph's and Tennessee. LSU went 1-3 against those NCAA teams.
Is this program ready to consistently beat teams like that? A win in Dallas on Monday night would be something to be proud of. Jones' second season hasn't gone according to plan. A victory in his former stomping grounds could start to change that from a negative perception to a good thing.