My fellow Bleacher Report contributor, Chad Hurshman, collaborated on this story
The latest installment of the wildly popular "Creature vs. Creature" series focuses on what promises to be an entertaining clash in the West Regional. The second-seeded Memphis Tigers, representing Conference USA, face the Missouri Tigers of the Big 12.
With the Connecticut Huskies still trying to get their legs under them after the recent loss of junior guard Jerome Dyson, many have viewed the Tigers of Memphis as more of a 1-B seed.
Meanwhile, the Missouri Tigers, after winning the Big 12 tourney title and earning an RPI of 10 and Ken Pomeroy ranking of 7, have to feel good about their chances, too.
Now, it is time to discuss the impending clash of Tigers from either side of the Mississippi River.
What does the Memphis-Missouri rivalry mean to you?
Leroy: That’s easy. First of all, the Missouri Tigers represent the Big 12. The last time we played a team from that league was a game that we won for 39:57. We owe that conference for 3 more seconds this time.
Second, Missouri’s campus is about 400 miles from the University of Memphis. That means these two sets of Tigers are in the same region. The Memphis Tigers are the 800-pound gorilla in this area.
Everyone else in our dominion—no matter what league they represent—plays second-fiddle to us. We intend to demonstrate that again Thursday night.
So really, in our eyes, there is no rivalry. If the Missouri Tigers or anyone else from around here makes three consecutive Elite Eights and a Championship Game, then maybe we can talk.
Chad: This could turn out to be the beginning of a rivalry. How could it not? Both Tigers, both Midwest, both have a deep history. If Memphis wants anything to do with us after the game Thursday, there could be a chance. I have a feeling that they will not be in the mood to pursue us.
After all, a rivalry between our schools has got to mean more to Memphis. We play Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and others every year during conference play. People talk about the Big East, but the Big 12 might be deeper. Don’t get me started on C-USA.
So Memphis has more to gain from a rivalry with us than vice versa. But we take on all comers.
Will your fans be motivated to make the journey to Arizona for the contest?
Leroy: Memphis fans are the best. We have a nice contingent of devoted, vocal fans who are ready, willing, and able to invade Glendale, Ariz. There will be plenty of Tiger signs and flashing blue, neon-colored shades on display.
The Memphis fans will be making noise: cheering good plays and heckling the officials on borderline calls. We have an attentive and knowledgeable fan base, and we appreciate the little things.
If one of our kids makes some threes, we will roar like crazy. Let him hit the floor scrapping for a loose ball, though, and he will get a standing ovation when he checks out of the game.
Chad: The Missouri fans are very hungry for a win. Tiger fans haven’t seen this type of play since the “Stormin” Norm Stewart days of old. With two tourney wins under our belts already, the season has been a success on every level.
While saying that, there is not a single Missouri fan that isn’t anticipating a third match-up with the rival Kansas Jayhawks. Since 1907, these two universities have done battle. One more would make for an epic year.
Don’t get me wrong; we are not looking past a very dangerous Memphis team. But our real measuring stick will be Kansas.
We need to focus, take care of business Thursday night, and if we keep on winning, we might have one last shot at redeeming ourselves against our long-time rival. Our fans will be there every step of the way, sporting the black and gold.
So who are the real Tigers here?
Leroy: Just like the so-called “rivalry”, we Memphis fans are not worried about that. There is one set of true Tigers, and they’re not in Auburn, Baton Rouge, Clemson, or Columbia, Mo. The true Tigers are in MEMPHIS.
Chad: I don’t mean to hurt anybody’s feelings or to keep harping on it, but the Missouri Tigers are the real thing. We prove it every time we lace up with Big 12 competition.
The guys from Memphis are a good team, but they don’t face the obstacles that we do.
I will enjoy the commentators trying to emphasize which school they are talking about when DeMarre Carroll is dunking on them. Memphis fans will be wondering if their school made a mistake in mascots and uniforms.
What are some of the keys to this game?
Leroy: I think we have four basic keys to focus on in this contest: experience, depth, dribble penetration, and size. Chad, can we agree on that?
Chad: That list seems reasonable to me. I'm prepared to provide some details, so let it ride.
Leroy: Okay, Experience. People love to toss around the idea that Memphis is somehow inexperienced. This is a fallacy to an extreme degree.
Memphis starts two seniors and two juniors to augment freshman Tyreke Evans, a Naismith candidate. The first guard off the bench is a junior, as is the first big man. The next guard is a sophomore who graduated from high school with the two senior stars.
Mizzou starts three seniors and two juniors, but how many deep NCAA Tournament runs have they made? Zero. Plus, there are underclassmen coming in behind the starters.
Chad: I knew you were trying to stack the deck by starting with experience! However, I do not think Missouri will be at a disadvantage.
The Missouri Tigers have not been this far in the NCAA Tournament for a while. But will this lack of experience in the Big Dance be their undoing? The players have been well prepared by an unrelenting and unselfish Mike Anderson.
There is no doubt that Missouri has the talent to beat any team in the country on any given day. After the turmoil that has come and gone in the last two years, Mizzou is as tight a team as you will find in the tournament.
Playing with skills and integrity, Anderson has collected a group of kids that want to join in with his game philosophy. Some transferred, some recruited, but all bought in.
Leroy: Okay, well what about Depth? Memphis is deep. It has been pointed out that everybody seems to be the same player: long, athletic, fast, tenacious. The team is a legitimate nine-man rotation: five on the wings, four on the block.
Coach Calipari is always running in someone fresh, often yanking a poor performer seconds after he hits the floor, if he makes a series of errors, or if he fails to do what he was primarily sent into the game to do.
Additionally, J.T. Tiller, one of the Missouri starters, has a broken wrist. How will this impact on his ability to play at a high level against the real Tigers, from Memphis?
Chad: Thanks for the concern about one of our stars' health, but Tiller played just fine against Marquette. If anything, the bum wrist caused the player to look to distribute rather than score, and I like the way it boosted the offense.
A physical, fast-paced action will give Missouri the upper hand. The guard play has been very strong with ball control. We force turnovers and score off of them.
Tout Memphis and their nine-man line-up all you like; our bench features shooters and an 11-man rotation that promises fresh legs at any time during the game.
Leroy: Okay, well what about Dribble Penetration? Memphis famously runs the Memphis Attack, as John Calipari’s hybrid offense is called. It is based on the theory that the team cycles through a series of dribble-drives until the defense either gives up a shot at the rim or a wide-open three-pointer.
Marquette ravaged Missouri in the second half of their 83-79 second-round triumph. Mizzou players claim that they have learned from the mistakes that they made during the contest.
Tyreke Evans drove at will vs. Maryland. He basically got to the rim anytime that he liked. This is nothing new. He has been doing it all season.
If Missouri had trouble with Marquette, imagine what could happen against Memphis.
Chad: I have heard a lot of talk about how well Marquette drove against Missouri. I'm just not buying it.
Marquette was pretty much toast until halfway through the second half. At that point, we suffered some foul trouble to key contributors that caused Coach Anderson to order the guys to play softer defense. A run was inevitable.
Bottom line is this: when the game was on the line, Mizzou made the critical stops. We showed grit and heart. The same attributes, along with closer attention to good defensive fundamentals, will help us to defend Memphis.
Leroy: What about Size? With being so many interchangeable parts—no one under 6’1”, no one over 6’10”, with every single contributor having quick hands and feet—few teams are prepared for the defensive switches Calipari’s team can pull out.
I have seen Pierre Henderson-Niles, the burly, 6’8”, 295-pound post man, mark point guards and force turnovers from them. His footwork and hands are remarkable for his size.
If Missouri cannot neutralize Memphis’ advantage in size and length, it’s game over.
Chad: I think the size issue is a moot point. Missouri is not a bunch of pee wees on the floor. We might not be quite as tall or long at every position but they don't make us look tiny, either.
Tyreke Evans is a 6’6” freshman guard who leads their team in scoring. If he is on his game, it will be hard to stop him. The rest of their backcourt plays tall as well. Some might call that an advantage.
I call it more opportunity for steals.
Okay, guys, care to say something nice about the opposition?
Leroy: Missouri is a fantastic team. In fact, if you see this article, you will find that I specifically mentioned them as a team that I did not want to face in the NCAA Tournament. Missouri is very much like looking in the mirror for Memphis.
I have great respect for their program and especially for Mike Anderson. He paid his dues for some 20 years under Nolan Richardson before landing his first head coaching job at UAB. I wish him the best any other time they play, but I will feel no mercy for them Thursday night.
Chad: Memphis is an incredibly talented team. I see some of the records that they have set; it's just amazing.
Memphis has not lost in quite a while (27-game win streak). I’m sure this is not the way they wanted to go. John Calipari has worked so hard this year to not go to the Elite Eight. I wish him the best next year.
Okay, it's time for your predictions.
Leroy: Memphis comes out and slices through the Missouri press like a warm knife through butter. Stunned, Mike Anderson re-thinks this whole "Fastest 40 Minutes" concept and actually slows the pace and cuts into the lead.
Memphis has some nervous moments midway through the second half but then turns on the afterburners to pull away.
Memphis 79, Missouri 67
Chad: The pace is brisk throughout. Missouri rips steals from the taller Memphis guards and cashes in fast breaks at will. Memphis uses its own athleticism to keep the contest close all night.
It turns into a back-and-forth affair that is tied with two minutes remaining. The Missouri Tigers win the battle of free throws down the stretch to come out on top.
Missouri 85, Memphis 81