The Memphis Tigers are one of the hottest teams in the country. At the moment, their record is 29-3, and they have won 23 consecutive basketball games. However, everyone will judge them by how well they perform at the Big Dance.
With that in mind, the following article will take a look at five teams that could give the Tigers the most trouble in this year’s tournament...and what they would have to do in order to pass these stern tests should the matchups arise. All statistics are pre-conference tournament numbers.
Brigham Young, Mountain West Conference, 24-6 overall, 12-4 MWC
According to the Pomeroy ratings, BYU harbors the 14th most efficient defense and 25th most efficient offense in the nation. Their RPI currently stands at 21.
The Cougars have good balance between offense and defense. Their three leading scorers average 17.1, 16.1, and 16.0 points per game, respectively.
One of the things that would make them a true threat to Memphis is their size. They have a 6’11”, 235-pound post man and wing players that are 6’7”, 6’6”, and 6’3”. On the perimeter, they have the size to contend with the Tigers.
This is a game where the Tigers would need to press and run as much as possible. BYU could not run with Memphis and expect to win.
Kansas, Big 12 Conference, 25-6 overall, 14-2 Big 12
The Jayhawks, before losing in the Big 12 tournament, entered the postseason on a roll, winning 14 of 16. Bill Self worked hard to get his young team (starting a junior, three sophomores, and a freshman) performing up to his standards.
Junior point guard Sherron Collins has experienced the defensive pressure of the Tigers and would most likely be prepared to deal with the nation’s top defense.
Though Collins is a bit on the short side (just 5’11”), he is quick, slippery, and a former McDonald’s All-American who has paid his dues.
The Jayhawks have the requisite athleticism to withstand the Tigers’ swarming defense. Though the starting lineup is smallish—besides, that is, 6’11”, 245-pound center Cole Aldrich—the ‘Hawks are good ball handlers, and bring good size (6’9” Markieff Morris, as well as three other players between 6’5” and 6’7”) off the bench.
Memphis would have to take care of the ball and contain the high-octane Jayhawks offense, which shoots 48.1 percent overall and 38.3 percent from behind the arc for the season. In other words, keep doing what they do best.
Missouri, Big 12 Conference, 25-6 overall, 12-4 Big 12
The Missouri Tigers have only two scorers in double figure points per game, but five more between six and nine, on their way to an impressive 81.8 points per game as a team. They are 18th in the country in offensive and 17th in defensive efficiency, according to the Pomeroy ratings.
Mizzou is one of the few teams that can match Memphis inch for inch, both in the starting lineup and on the bench. Additionally, they only cough up 12.5 turnovers a night.
Their star, DeMarre Carroll, is a dynamic, multi-talented forward who has taken a dramatic step forward as a senior. He shot a scintillating 56.7 percent from the floor and a vastly improved 39.4 percent (13 of 33) from beyond the three-point line.
The Tigers’ Robert Dozier, a slightly longer but thinner clone of Carroll, would have to find a way to cancel out his opposite number. Either he would have to depress DeMarre’s scoring or simply fill up the basket more.
This would be a game the Tigers would probably want to grind out, as Mizzou is more accomplished on offense.
West Virginia, Big East Conference, 22-10 overall, 10-8 Big East
West Virginia and Memphis are virtually mirror images of one another. Nearly everyone on Bob Huggins’ roster seems to be between 6’6” and 6’9”, and the Mountaineers get after it on defense, ranking eighth in the country in the Pomeroy ratings.
Huggins also has drilled into his team's collective consciousness the importance of ball control, committing a mere 11.9 turnovers per game.
Like the Tigers, however, West Virginia is relatively challenged on offense, in comparison to the elite offensive teams of the day.
The Mountaineers appear to be a team that would have difficulty contending with the Tigers' intriguing new wrinkle: the 3-2 zone. Though John Calipari prefers to use it for only a few minutes per contest, he might want to consider using it as the base defense against West Virginia. It might be easier to contain the Mountaineers' wing players in the stifling Tigers zone.
North Carolina, Atlantic Coast Conference, 27-3 overall, 13-3 ACC
Is there anyone who really wants to tangle with the Tar Heels this March?
I discussed this in a previous article: The Tar Heels and Tigers are polar opposites. UNC has the most efficient offensive team in the country; Memphis has the most efficient defense.
North Carolina has a savvy, lightning-quick floor general in senior Ty Lawson; Memphis has entrusted lead guard duties to silky smooth freshman sensation Tyreke Evans.
As I concluded previously, it would be imperative for Memphis to contain Lawson. Walk the ball up, shorten the game, and engage in a grind-it-out affair. Don’t let pride cause you to get into a running game with Carolina that you will undoubtedly lose.