SMU vs. Southern Cal

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THE MUSTANGS

Following the abrupt resignation of Larry Brown in July, Tim Jankovich was elevated from assistant to head coach and seamlessly continued SMU’s success.

The Mustangs, who missed the postseason last year because of NCAA sanctions, have prevailed in 26 of their last 27 games including nine in a row away from Moody Coliseum.

SMU is extremely disciplined, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.5, and very skilled offensively, shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 40.6 percent on 3-pointers.

THREE REASONS WHY THE MUSTANGS MADE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

Nice addition

After transferring from Duke and sitting out last season, versatile forward Semi Ojeleye emerged as the face of consistency, scoring more than 10 points in the last 26 games and leading the Mustangs with 18.9 points per game. He was selected the AAC’s most outstanding player of the conference tournament, player of the year and scholar-athlete of the year.

Size matters

All five starters are 6-foot-6 or taller, which makes it difficult for defenders to close out shooters who are getting plenty of space because of their height advantages. SMU ranks eighth nationally while shooting 40.6 percent beyond the arc, and it also crashes the boards, with a rebound margin of plus-nine that is third nationally.

Balancing act

Helped by stellar ball movement, each starter averages at least 9.9 points per game, and each has had an outing of 18 points or more this season. The Mustangs have had at least four players score in double figures in 24 of their 34 games. Ojeleye, Shake Milton and Sterling Brown have delivered performances of at least 27 points.

ONE REASON SMU WILL ADVANCE

TO THE SWEET SIXTEEN

Shut-down defense

If defense wins championships, SMU will be hard to top in the NCAA Tournament despite being underrated as a No. 6 seed. The Mustangs are surrendering fewer than 60 points per game, ranking third in scoring defense and seventh in field-goal defense (.384). Twenty-four of its last 27 opponents have scored 66 points or fewer.

ONE REASON THEY WON’T

Short bench

SMU relies almost entirely on a six-player rotation, making its season even more impressive. Four starters are averaging at least 32 minutes per game, led by Milton at 35.3 minutes. AAC sixth man of the year Ben Emelogu is the only reserve playing more than 15 minutes. With potentially tougher competition in the postseason, a lack of depth could become an issue.

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THE TROJANS

Under fourth-year coach Andy Enfield, USC has made strides — especially on offense — with field-goal shooting soaring above 45 percent in each of the past two seasons.

The Trojans have won at least 21 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2009. They went 21-13 last year and are 24-9 this season.

USC is a young team, with nine of its 14 players being freshmen or sophomores. Those underclassmen are accounting for 64.9 percent of the team’s minutes this season. The only seniors are Charles Buggs, a fifth-year transfer from Minnesota, and Samer Dhillon, who is a walk-on, and there are only two scholarship juniors.

THREE REASONS WHY THE TROJANS MADE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

Bennie Buckets

After missing 15 games with a knee injury, sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright has been a force to be reckoned with, averaging a team-high 17.2 points in Pac-12. His stellar free-throw shooting (92.6 percent) has helped USC survive more than its share of close games.

Comeback kids

On Wednesday night, the Trojans defeated Providence in the First Four despite falling behind by 17 points early in the second half. It was USC’s 13th comeback victory after trailing by at least 10 points, the most in the nation, making it hard to count this team out.

Sneaky thiefs

USC has had eight games with at least 10 steals and leads the Pac-12 with 7.2 steals per game. Freshman De’Anthony Melton is especially prone to pick-pocketing, having totaled 66 steals this year. When the Trojans win the turnover battle, they are 19-2 this season.

ONE REASON THEY WILL ADVANCE

TO THE SWEET SIXTEEN

Battle-tested

The Trojans played 18 regular-season games against opponents that were .500 or better and 18 against teams with at least 16 wins. The combined record of the six teams that beat USC is 144-54. Surviving the top-heavy Pac-12 should help prepare the Trojans for the postseason.

ONE REASON THEY WON’T

Difficult road

Two days removed from its impressive win against Providence, USC has to play one of the hottest teams in the country, an SMU team that has prevailed in 16 consecutive games. Should the Trojans manage to knock off SMU for a second time this season, their likely second-round opponent will be No. 3 seed Baylor.

— Kelly Hines, Tulsa World

Baylor vs. New Mexico State

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THE BEARS

A fairly short trip to Tulsa was Baylor’s reward for a season in which the Bears reached a No. 1 ranking and finished as a top-10 team. BU’s 10-7 finish to the season put a damper on what might have otherwise been the best regular season in school history, but the Bears still hope to have plenty of firepower left for the tournament.

Junior forward Johnathan Motley (17.3 points, 9.9 rebounds) was as good as any player in the Big 12 and a driving force that could pay dividends in late March.

BU has lost opening rounds as a top-five seed in back-to-back years. That has never happened to any tournament team three years in a row, so Baylor hopes to change its tournament fortunes this year.

THREE REASONS WHY THE BEARS MADE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

Motley always comes to play

Johnathan Motley’s best scoring performance of the year came when he dropped 32 against Texas in January. But Motley gives a similar effort every time out. He’s been held to single-digit points only twice this season, and he rebounds with just as much ferocity. At 6-10, 230, Motley is a matchup nightmare for any opponent.

Deep rotation

Baylor has nine players who average at least 12 minutes per game. In March, depth tends to matter, and the Bears have plenty. Point guard Manu Lecomte averages 12.4 points and 3.9 assists, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. is a rebounding force and Jake Lindsey is a three-point sharpshooter off the bench.

Scott Drew (seriously)

Often a target for criticism, Scott Drew is Baylor’s all-time leader in wins. This season, he assembled a well-rounded roster and has managed it well as ever. Drew was in consideration for National Coach of the Year for much of the season, and if he can stage a tournament run, it will be tough to mock Drew this time around.

ONE REASON THEY WILL ADVANCE

TO THE SWEET SIXTEEN

Baylor has the depth and star power to play with anyone. And keep in mind the Bears will be playing with something to prove, as well. Baylor hopes to correct its recent tournament history and also serve as a rallying point for a school under heavy scrutiny for the sexual assault scandal that stemmed from the Baylor football program.

ONE REASON THEY WON’T

S-M-U. Assuming Baylor gets past New Mexico State, it might have a tough second-round matchup with SMU, a Texas foe and a trendy pick to go deep in the tournament.

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THE AGGIES

New Mexico State’s young roster was not intimidated this season, as four players averaged double-digits and the Aggies often played their best in big moments. As the team’s lone senior, Ian Baker leads the way with 16.6 points per game, while Braxton Huggins (13.6) and Sidy N’Dir (13.7) are also capable guards on what can be a high-scoring team.

THREE REASONS WHY THE AGGIES MADE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

Young energy

Coach Paul Weir is in his first season, and the Aggies have gotten used to upsets already. An early season win against Arizona State set the tone for the year, and NMSU’s run in the WAC Tournament was about heart as much as anything.

Balanced play

The Aggies have put big numbers on the scoreboard several times this season, but this isn’t a run-and-gun team. The Aggies are well-rounded, and their biggest asset might come in the form of 39.8 rebounds per game (led by 9.0 from Eli Chuha), which ranks 17th nationally

Ian Baker

Baker was the WAC Player of the Year after averaging 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists. The do-it-all guard played major minutes all year (more than 34 per game) and served as the heart and soul of this team.

ONE REASON THEY WILL ADVANCE TO THE SWEET SIXTEEN

NMSU has a tough road, but the outside-inside duo of Baker and Eli Chuha could have the skill to turn into tournament Cinderellas.

ONE REASON THEY WON’T

NMSU has played Baylor in Waco back-to-back years and lost (66-55 in 205-15 and 85-70 in 2015-16). This year’s Baylor team is better than either of those, and the Aggies will need some good fortune to escape the first round.

— Cody Stavenhagen, Tulsa World

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