Memphis Basketball: Keys to the Tigers' 2012 NCAA Tournament Run
Looking for an athletic and exciting sleeper team to send to the Final Four?
Look no further than the Memphis Tigers.
Memphis plays a high-tempo game paced by a solid defense, aggressive transition attack and athletes more than capable of finishing in the paint.
And with one of the country's best players this year, Will Barton, pacing its offense, Memphis has the sort of star player who could lead them on a deep run in the NCAA tournament this year.
Just don't blink—you might miss the Tigers flying by their opponents.
Superstar Who Must Shine: Will Barton
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The success of Memphis begins and ends with the play of sophomore guard Will Barton, who has been spectacular this season.
You could simply look at his stat line and get a pretty good idea of what he brings to the table. Barton averaged 18.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game in the regular season and scored 20 or more points 15 times.
He was justifiably named Conference USA Player of the Year this year, and he's been one of the best players in the country, period. As Barton goes, so goes Memphis.
Role-Player Who Must Emerge: Wesley Witherspoon
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The senior swingman for the Tigers is capable of giving the squad a boost, though his consistency remains an issue.
At 6'9", Witherspoon has the ability to rebound, but he is also long and athletic enough to run the break. He has shown flashes of an ability to score effectively this season as well.
If Witherspoon plays well for the Tigers, he can give them valuable minutes at either forward spot, which in turn would make the Tigers a tough team to beat.
Offensive Strategy to Watch: Fast-Break Attack
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Memphis is long and athletic, and is at its best as a team when it pushes the tempo and scores in transition.
The Tigers' ability to push the pace and get easy buckets in the paint on the break is a huge reason why they have the nation's fifth-best field-goal percentage (.495).
If tournament opponents can slow the pace and force Memphis to beat them in the half court, they can stymie Memphis' offensive efficiency.
But if Memphis is able to get out and run, the Tigers are extremely dangerous.
Defensive Strategy to Watch: Contesting and Blocking Shots
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Let's spin this broken record one last time: Memphis is athletic and long.
Offensively, it makes the Tigers dangerous on the break and in the paint.
Defensively, it means they effectively contest and block shots.
The Tigers finished the regular season ninth in the nation in blocked shots per game (5.7) and 17th in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to a 38.8 percent shooting percentage.
Don't look for any easy buckets against the Tigers.
Biggest NCAA Tournament Hurdle: Michigan State
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I think Memphis will run past Saint Louis in its first-round game, but the Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans could be looming.
The fact that Michigan State rebounds so well (38.2 RPG, 26th in the nation) and shoots a high percentage from the field (.476, 24th in the nation) should slow the Tigers' transition game and force them to try winning a half-court game.
I'm not sure the Tigers can handle the Spartans if that happens.
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I really like the potential of this Memphis team, but even if they advance past a tough Saint Louis team in the second round, I don't see them beating Michigan State.
The Spartans simply have the ability to dictate the game be played in the half court, and I think that will be the determining factor.
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