After winning the first NIT play of this season yesterday with Belmont covering, it’s time to go back to the well in another Elite Eight matchup, this time from Region 1. The 1-seeded SMU Mustangs will host California. Richard Solomon will likely be out for the Golden Bears but the big man hasn’t been playing for Cal anyway. The Bears come to to Texas as the 2-seed coming off of a home win against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The ‘Stangs are trading as an 8.5-point favorite.
SMU has been on a tear in the two-game NIT stretch since its snubbing by the selection committee two Sundays ago. It took down UC Irvine and LSU by double-digits in the Round of 32 and 16. And it comes into this game against a Cal team that doesn’t typically travel well. But Mike Montgomery’s team is strong, with talent that is beginning to blossom and come together once Richard Solomon’s chances of returning this season become bleaker.
The story in the Bears Sweet 16 win over Arkansas was the smooth shooting of freshman star Jabari Bird. While Bird doesn’t get the same type of love that the top of his freshman class does, he is a sneaky good player that will become a top-level NBA prospect in the coming year or two. I don’t think Cal misses Solomon a whole lot in this spot either. Obviously it’s never good to lose a player of Solomon’s caliber, but David Kravish should be able to body up Markus Kennedy, who is really the only scoring threat the Mustangs have down low. On offense, Cal will be able to spread SMU, which is what the Mustangs are vulnerable too. They do such a good job of helping on defense, which is exponentially tougher the better the opponent can shoot from outside. I think Cal makes this a very tight game with outside shooting and talented offensive players that can spread the floor.
Free Pick: California +8.5