Memphis-Kansas: Tigers Make a Statement Despite Losing To Jayhawks

Stephen ClayContributor INovember 18, 2009

It was not supposed to be this way.

The Kansas Jayhawks were a 12.5-point favorite over the Memphis Tigers. The Jayhawks had everything in their favor: No. 1 ranking in the country, two first team All-Americans in Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, and incredible depth.

Memphis came into the game with a first-time head coach in Josh Pastner and a skeleton crew of eight scholarship players.

It didn't matter. It's all paper talk.

That is the beauty of college basketball as Kansas escaped with a hard-fought (and lucky) victory, 57-55.

The Tigers (1-1) kept the game within striking distance from start to finish, as both squads had a hard time getting anything going against some aggressive defensive play. It became clear early that the size and depth of Kansas (2-0) would be a problem, but Pastner was able to maximize the effort of his team to make a statement to the college basketball world.

We are not going anywhere.

Memphis had plenty of opportunities to get over the hump, but poor three-point shooting prevented them from getting the lead. Despite that shortcoming, Pastner can look at his first big challenge and smile about his team's effort.

The Good

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Elliot Williams

He finished up with 21 points and six rebounds. It was clear he will be the player to lead this team. His ability to take his defender off the dribble and attack the rim was very impressive. If he can develop some consistency with his jump shot, he will be a devastating offensive player. His defensive effort remains strong due to his quickness and willingness to get up on someone without fear.

Doneal Mack

While he missed some key free throws down the stretch, he hit some big shots and played with more confidence than he has shown in a few years.

Willie Kemp

Kemp played under control. He only committed two turnovers and hit some big free throws toward the end of the game. He definitely played with more comfort than he did during the John Calipari regime.

Will Coleman

His game was more good than bad; it clearly could have been better, but he fought valiantly against a dominant player in Aldrich. He made some plays that showed his lack of experience playing competitive basketball, but Coleman should progress his game throughout the season as he becomes more familiar with his teammates, especially on the defensive end.

The Bad

Wesley Witherspoon

He was nonexistent. His performance (or lack thereof) probably was the difference between a win and a loss in the game. He seemed to be distracted and played with a deer-in-the-headlights look. He also played like he does not want to be a power forward.

Roburt Sallie

Sallie has got to hit three-point shots. His ability to do that makes it so much easier for Williams and his other teammates. Without much of an inside/outside game, his struggles from deep made him a non-factor.

The Ugly

Three-point shooting

6-of-25 from behind the stripe. Not much to say. Just plain bad. Kansas seemed to spread out the perimeter players and were able to get around most of the screens, pressuring many of the three-point attempts. Sallie has got to get it done from three.

Free throws

11-of-16 from the charity stripe, including two big misses by Mack after getting fouled on a three-point attempt. In a game this tight and field goals hard to come by, securing a few more points would have made a difference.

What does this one game mean to Memphis?

For starters, it shows this team could be pretty good. Assuming they stay healthy, this is a team that should be ranked when the polls come out next Monday. It also says it will be harder than many thought to get their hands off of the CUSA conference title.

It shows prospective recruits that it is okay to play for Pastner. While getting a strong 2010 class helps, nothing does the trick like seeing it for yourself, especially on national television against the No. 1 team in the country. Game on for 2011 and 2012 recruiting of the nation's top prospects.

It gives Pastner and his team confidence. The questions of how Pastner and his staff would prepare and coach, how the team can blend together under a new system and new circumstances, were all valid.

This game says everything will be okay. Can we play this game again?

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Email Stephen at claystephent@gmail.com


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