Blueprint For Memphis to Win the Battle of the Tigers

Leroy Watson Jr.Senior Writer IMarch 25, 2009

The Memphis Tigers ought to come with a warning label attached. Something like this:

Warning: Being a fan of the Memphis Tigers may not be suitable for your health. Persons with heart trouble, lack of patience, or thin skin need not apply.

Heart patients probably wouldn’t have survived the six point deficit with 10:02 remaining against Cal State Northridge.

The thin-skinned might have considered hara-kiri with all the pundits jumping off the "Memphis-Is-Final-Four-Bound" bandwagon.

After a dominating performance in an 89-70 defeat of Maryland, suddenly, there was precious little space on the bandwagon again.

This leads to a series of logical questions: which NCAA tournament showing represents the “real” Memphis Tigers?

Which Memphis Tiger team will show up to take on Missouri this Thursday evening?

What must Memphis do if they want to proceed to their fourth Elite Eight appearance in as many years?

We will attempt to answer these questions one at a time.


Which NCAA tournament showing represents the “real” Memphis Tigers?

In a word: BOTH.

No basketball team—college or professional—performs the exact same way all the time. Memphis is no different.

In general, Memphis is a long, tenacious defensive team with an above-average offense and a tremendous transition game.

At times, however, the offense stalls like a car in 10 inches of mud: the wheels keep spinning, but they’re getting nowhere fast.

Defense will have to take this Memphis team all the way.


Which Memphis Tiger team will show up to take on Missouri this Thursday evening?

That’s hard to say. We know the Tigers of Memphis defend as well as anybody else in the country; that’s a given.

If they make 10-of-19 from behind the arc again, forget it. Missouri will have no chance.

Memphis’ three-point shooting percentage has risen steadily from the 28 percent range in December to the current 32.9 percent mark, which is still far from earth-shaking.

However, Roburt Sallie and Doneal Mack have heated up. Each has a history as a good shooter, and both young men could easily keep up their blistering pace.

What must Memphis do if they want to proceed to their fourth Elite Eight appearance in as many years?

• Memphis must get Robert Dozier untracked early in the game. Tyreke Evans will get his shot attempts; the ball is always in his hands, after all.

Dozier, however, tends to defer far too much to him teammates at times. There are very few players in the country who can match his unique size and skillset.

Dozier needs to take full advantage of that, while simultaneously making DeMarre Carroll work hard on the defensive end of the floor and perhaps picking up some quick fouls.

• Tyreke Evans needs to do what he does best—penetrate relentlessly—while maintaining control and composure. No one in the country has the answer for Evans; when he performs poorly, it’s usually because he has taken himself out of the game.

If Tyreke commits a player control (charging) foul, gets loose with some passes, or commits senseless turnovers, he will come out of the game until Coach Calipari believes the young man is ready to make positive contributions.

• Look for Memphis to spring their 3-2 zone on the Tigers from Mizzou at some point.

John Calipari has always been loathe to implement a zone into his defensive package. He orders his big men to switch onto guards and to stay there. He recruits tall, long guards so that they can hold up their end of a switch and mark a big man.

However, Memphis has precious little depth in the post. To protect Dozier and Shawn Taggart from foul trouble, Calipari has asked Pierre Henderson-Niles and Wesley Witherspoon to play bigger minutes in the frontcourt.

Witherspoon is 6’8” but lanky. He has no business down low. That’s when Coach Cal came up with his second brilliant idea of the season (along with moving Evans to the point): institute a 3-2 zone with Witherspoon at the top. The results have been amazing.

One final note:

While the three-point shooting was impressive against the Terps, Memphis does not need to fall in love with threes. Coach Calipari’s team typically performs best when they take between 15 and 20 three point attempts per contest.

In 36 contests this season, Memphis took that many treys 20 times. They won 19 of them.

Balance is the key. Of course, converting 40% from downtown never hurts.

Speaking of which, Roburt Sallie’s three-point explosion—10-out-of-15 on the way to a career-high 35 points versus CSUN—not only saved the Tigers’ season.

It had another important effect: the awakening of Doneal Mack.

After the game, some Memphis fans began clamoring for Sallie to take Mack’s place in the starting line-up. Though Mack has become yet another defensive stopper for Memphis, his scoring average had been going in the wrong direction for weeks.

Mack’s biggest problem is simple: he has a proclivity to ‘style-and-profile.’ Rather than square his shoulders, elevate, shoot, and follow-through, he will at times go into a shoulder-lean while kicking his left leg out to the side during his motion and follow-through.

Sallie’s eruption forced Mack to confront his slipshod habits, lest he lose precious playing time to his suddenly white-hot teammate.

So, as much as Sallie did to save the CSUN game, perhaps he has ultimately done even more to bring an NCAA title to Memphis.