UALR Gameday: Trojans desperate for victory as they host SMU

SMU (4-3) at UALR (2-5)
2 p.m. Sunday
Vegas: SMU by 1
It’s difficult to imagine UALR starting the same lineup it used to begin Tuesday’s loss to Northwestern State. The Trojans went with three 5-10 guards (D’Andre Williams, Chuck Guy and Eric Lawton) to try to handle the pressure Northwestern State brings.

While SMU figures to start a 5-10 point guard in Jeremiah Samarrippas, the Mustangs get bigger quickly across their lineup. Last time out, they started 6-3 London Giles, 6-6 Jalen Jones, 6-8 Robert Nyakundi and 6-9 Richmonds Vilde.

Nyakundi will be difficult to defend. He's 6-8 and averages 15 points but he’s not a traditional post player. In seven games, he’s taken 28 shots inside the three-point arc (54 percent) and 39 shots outside the three-point arc (49 percent). He’s also an 83 percent free throw shooter and pulls down 5.4 rebounds per game. He sounds a lot like what many think Neighbour will become for the Trojans. Nyakundi did have seven turnovers last game but it doesn’t appear he’s turnover prone. He’s only had eight in the other six games combined.

The only other big-time three-point threat is Rodney Clinkscales, a 6-1 guard. He’s averaging 42 percent, but is taking less than two per game. He was named the Mustangs' fourth team captain for this season on Sunday.

SMU shoots it pretty well as a team. They’re at 41.1 percent from the field, 34.6 percent from three-point range and 70.3 percent from the free throw line. Giles is their best guard, averaging 12 points per game.

Here’s the real issue. SMU Coach Matt Doherty likes to use the matchup zone defense. And UALR is shooting a struggling 27.8 percent from behind the three-point line (although they did shoot better on Tuesday at NSU). UALR is shooting 37 percent from the field (including those threes), but just 40.7 percent inside the arc. That’s got to improve.

The Trojans have also got to get tougher both offensively and defensively. We suspect that’s the reason freshman Michael Javes didn’t find his way off the bench in the second half on Tuesday. Javes has been encouraging at times, but has been most effective in the opening minutes of games. We had seen some signs of defensive toughness in recent games. But that went out the window on Tuesday. That has to return. But there also needs to be more toughness on the offensive end. Stronger, more confident moves to the basket produce two things: More baskets and more free throws.

No word about a potential lineup shakeup, but it appears one has to be on the horizon.

Keys to winning:
  • Getting Nyakundi in foul trouble would be a start. He’s the most prolific player SMU has. The Mustangs have other options, but none as potent as Nyakundi.
  • A breakout game from Neighbour. I don’t think anyone doubts the potential of Neighbour. He’s come on strong of late and has taken a number of shots that look good but haven’t gone in. He’s shooting just 39 percent from the field and is due for a big game.
  • Just one shooter, any shooter, needs to steup up. Whether it’s Guy, Eric Lawton, Taggart Lockhart or Ben Dillard, (Casey Wilmath, is he still injured?), somebody has got to start making some shots.
  • UALR has to win the turnover and rebound matchups. SMU hasn’t been a great rebounding team (most zone teams aren’t). UALR has to get second-chance opportunities. And the Trojans can’t afford to give away possessions with turnovers. UALR has been seemingly either really good or really bad in this statistic all year. Really good would really help a lot.
Vegas says:

Apparently, Vegas is not all that impressed with the Mustangs so far this season. They’ve got SMU by 1 point. It would seem like SMU would be favored by a little bit more. Then again, maybe they just went straight up with Sagarin.

Today’s predictions:
  • Jeff Sagarin (5-2): UALR 68, SMU 67
  • CBS Sports line (5-2): SMU 66, UALR 64
  • The Sports Network (5-2): UALR 58, SMU 54
  • Real Time RPI (4-3): UALR 71, SMU 63
  • Combined: UALR 65, SMU 63