Game of the Day: SMU battles Memphis on ESPN3

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

With Louisville and Rutgers leaving the American Athletic Conference at the end of the season, we look at Southern Methodist in today's Game of the Day. The Mustangs could potentially be a power behind Connecticut in American women's basketball.

Southern Methodist Mustangs (15-10) at Memphis Tigers (11-15)

3 pm EST

FedEx Forum - Memphis, TN

TV: ESPN3 (Web Broadcast)

WBB State Preview Statistics

This year, the brand new American Athletic Conference should be sending two or three teams to the NCAA Tournament. Connecticut and Louisville are locks, and Rutgers is on the right side of the bubble (for now).

Next year, it will be quite different. Louisville is off to the ACC and Rutgers becomes a Big Ten school. There will be replacements, but East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa combined do not have the women's basketball pedigree of either of the departing schools. Louisville is 19-18 lifetime in NCAA tournament play, Rutgers is 35-23 - whereas the three new schools combined are 4-14.

A lot has been written about the fate of the American Conference. Will the strength of its football be able to challenge for major bowl games, and will the football money be enough to strengthen programs at all levels of the conference, including women's basketball? Or will Connecticut have to front-load its schedule with as much power conference games as possible with only lopsided conference victories to prepare itself for the challenge of post-season play?

A question left in the wayside is who will be the successor to Louisville for second place in the American? Southern Methodist is 6-8 in conference play, but if you remove Connecticut/Louisville/Rutgers from the schedule, that record improves to 6-4. Head coach Rhonda Rompola will be the most experienced coach in the American aside from Geno Auriemma - he became head coach at UConn in 1985 and Rompola became head coach of the Mustangs in 1991. She's won over 400 games in Dallas and has won conference tournaments in both the Mountain West and Conference USA (the American is her fourth conference). She has seven NCAA visits and it's not out of the question that her squad could join Connecticut as representatives of the American.

South Florida is most likely to be the American's WNIT choice, but the Mustangs could still beat Memphis, South Florida and Central Florida (forget Connecticut) to finish 9-9 in conference play. SMU is 15-3 against teams with an RPI below 100, and guess where Memphis is? (Hint: #136.)

Most of SMU's scoring is in the hands of senior guard Keena Mays, who is scoring 20.7 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game and 3.8 assists per game. Her 20.7 ppg is in the top 30 players in the NCAA. She's also their three point shooter (63-167, 37.7 percent), so for Memphis the key to the win is simple - stop the visitors by stopping Keena Mays.

Mays is coming off a career high game, 34 points against Houston. A win against Memphis would guarantee that SMU finishes no worse than sixth in-conference - and the teams that finish in the top six get automatic byes. It would be a great win for Rompola.

Memphis is 11-15 and 4-10 in conference. They got an ugly introduction to American play. After a 3-3 start, they were pounded by Connecticut 83-49 and then lost to Louisville 81-66. The Tigers are on a 5-game losing streak, and each of those losses were by double digits.

Rompola stated that Memphis is a very dangerous team, stating that Memphis is a team that can put up a lot of points and that they also have a great scorer in senior forward Nicole Dickson (15.5 ppg/7.0 rpg). Furthermore, SMU is coming off a seven game rest and there's always a concern with a long layoff.

Memphis head coach Melissa McFerrin is hoping her team can grow into the expectations of playing in a more prominent conference than Conference USA. They have a chance of beating SMU - it took two overtimes for SMU to beat Memphis in Dallas, 80-75. Three Memphis players fouled out in that game, and two players had four fouls.

"That was a heartbreaker game," McFerrin said, "so we're going to expect to come back and play really well. We know that this is a team we can beat. We're going to have to play well to do it."

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