Since it doesn’t involve freshmen destined to be top five picks and since it’s not being dubbed the single greatest basketball event ever held outside the month of March, but Tuesday night will feature one of the most intriguing matchups of the young season.
The No. 11 Memphis Tigers are headed to Stillwater to take on No. 7 Oklahoma State.
In and of itself, that’s enough for me to tell each and every one of you college basketball fans that you need to tune in. When two top ten (well, top 11, but close enough) teams take the court, you watch. It’s that simple.
But there’s so much more going on here, enough that I’d say there is just as much intrigue and just as many storylines heading into this game as there were for either of the matchups in the Champions Classic.
Let’s start with Memphis, who will be playing their first meaningful game with Michael Dixon as a member of their team. If you’ve forgotten, Dixon was suspended from Missouri before playing a game last season as a result of a couple of accusations of sexual assault. He was never charged, however, and Pastner brought him in for his senior season. When the NCAA granted him a waiver, Memphis was given a gift: one of the best all-around guards in the country.
Dixon brings a level of toughness and a brand of leadership that Pastner’s back court really hasn’t had before. And with Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford joining him, the Tigers all of a sudden have one of the most formidable back courts in the country. Add in the likes of Shaq Goodwin, Austin Nichols, and the rest of Pastner’s latest loaded recruiting class, and there is as much hype and potential on this Memphis roster as there as ever been.
Which is what makes this game so important.
For as many games as Pastner has won, for as many talented recruits as he has brought in, Pastner really doesn’t have anything to show for it. He’s won one NCAA tournament game. That came against St. Mary’s in the Round of 64, when the Gaels had to win a play-in just to get that far. At the time, the Gaels were ranked 25th in the Coaches Poll — and unranked in the AP poll — so not only is Pastner’s only NCAA tournament win, but it would also count as his only win against a ranked team.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that Memphis has won a lot of games during Pastner’s tenure, but they’ve yet to do anything of substance. They’ve yet to make a statement. They’ve yet to have that win that makes you say, ‘Damn, maybe this team is better than I thought.’
Methinks going into Gallagher-Iba and beating the Pokes would suffice.
But that’s not going to be an easy thing to do.
Let’s gloss over, for a second, the fact that Oklahoma State is a top ten team and a legitimate contender for the Big 12 title this season. You don’t need me up on my high-horse trying to tell you that Travis Ford’s club is really talented this season, and that winning on a really talented team’s home court is not an easy thing to do.
What I may need to do is remind you that Oklahoma State has a kid on their roster named Marcus Smart, a guy that could have been the No. 1 pick in the draft had he left as a freshman. A kid that is as competitive as anyone in the country. A kid that is coming off of an all-american season and has been completely overlooked in regards to the Player of the Year race and the conversation for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
This is his moment.
This is his chance to prove to the nation — to show the folks that have been discussing Andrew Wiggins vs. Jabari Parker and Julius Randle vs. Aaron Gordon — that they’ve overlooked someone.
He’ll be ready to play. You better believe that.
Put it all together, and what you get is a game in mid-November between two of the top 11 teams in the country where both programs have quite a bit to play for.
That’s not something that happens often.