No. 20 Memphis did not play particularly well in its first meeting with No. 24 UConn, with DeAndre Daniels scoring 31 points and the Huskies grabbing 52% of its missed shots in their 83-73 win. With that game as a reference point, two of the objectives for Memphis were clear entering the rematch with both involving their big men: limit Daniels’ looks, especially in pick-and-pop situations, and do a much better job on the boards.
The Tigers did both on Saturday afternoon, limiting Daniels to just eight points on 2-for-8 shooting and limiting UConn to just seven offensive and 23 total rebounds. But it still wasn’t enough, as Shabazz Napier scored a career-high 34 points and Ryan Boatright added 21 in leading the Huskies to the 86-81 overtime win.
So what was the problem for Memphis on Saturday? The free throw line. UConn was able to attempt 36 shots from the charity stripe, making 29, while Memphis finished the game 6-for-9. Regardless of how well a team shoots from the field or from three, making up that kind of difference is extremely difficult.
Josh Pastner’s team shot 54% from the field and 7-for-15 from beyond the arc, with all four of their talented guards scoring in double figures. Joe Jackson was excellent, scoring 24 points (10-for-17 FG) and dishing out seven assists with just two turnovers, and Geron Johnson snapped out of his two-game slump (4-for-13 FG) by making seven of his ten shots from the field. Johnson finished the game with 15 points to go along with eight rebounds, leading the way on the glass for the Tigers.
There will be lessons to be learned from this result, including how hard the Memphis big men hedge on ball screens, with an eye towards a possible third meeting in the American Athletic Conference tournament. But it’s hard to find much fault with the way in which Memphis played in Hartford, other than the struggles in getting to the foul line.
In conference play Memphis ranks fifth in the American in free throw rate, which comes as a bit of a surprise given how good their guards can be at attacking off the dribble. Moving forward, the Tigers will need to improve their standing in this area if they’re to fully take advantage of their offensive talent.
It’s a topic that has become all too common for hoops fans in the city of Memphis.
The Tigers entered the season with all kinds of hype and promise, finding themselves ranked in the top 15 based on the immense talent on their roster. And in their first marquee matchup of the season … they don’t show up to play.
On Tuesday night, the team with arguably the nation’s most talented back court got eviscerated by Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, getting smacked around as the No. 7 Cowboys took a sledgehammer to the Tigers, winning 101-80 in a game that certainly wasn’t as competitive as the final score would indicate.
It was embarrassing.
But it wasn’t unexpected, unfortunately. That’s what happens when you’re Josh Pastner and you’ve developed a reputation for the complete inability to win a big game. He’s now 0-13 against teams ranked in the AP top 25. He did win a game against St. Mary’s in the NCAA tournament last season — the Gaels were 48 hours removed from playing in the play-in game in a different city — and Randy Bennett’s club was ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll at the time, so in fairness, Pastner has beaten a top 25 team in his head coaching career. Barely.
It was also his first career NCAA tournament victory.
No. 11 Memphis was supposed to be different this season. They have four talented seniors in their back court with the addition of Michael Dixon, and those four were supposed to provide the leadership necessary to buck this trend of losing when the lights are the brightest. They were going to be able to spread the floor and create mismatches and rely on their bevy of offensive talent to be able to breakdown defenses and win games. Dixon, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson were going to give opposing back courts fits as they tried to handle the ball and run offense. There was going to be a mental toughness spurred on by the addition of Dixon, a bulldog of a lead guard that has been through enough ups-and-downs in his career to realize that no game can be taken for granted.
Instead, it was the same old stuff from the Tigers. That spread offense was a disaster, as Pastner’s team looked like they were running AAU sets offensively. Instead of having any kind of flow or movement on that end of the floor, the Tigers seemed content to simply swing the ball around the perimeter until one of their wings decided to try to beat their man one-on-one.
How’d that work out? Their vaunted back court combined to go 8-for-34 from the floor with ten turnovers. Dixon and Johnson were especially bad, finishing 2-for-20 combined. As a team, the Tigers were 2-for-24 on shots outside the paint.
As bad as they were on that end, Memphis was worse defensively, allowing Smart to basically do whatever he wanted to.
At some point, that’s forgivable. Everyone has off-nights, and when one of the best players in the country gets into the kind of rhythm that Smart was in last night — he scored 24 points in the first 12 minutes of the game — that’s tough to deal with.
What’s unforgivable is the fact that Memphis rolled over and took it.
I don’t know if it’s right to say they quit last night. I think the more accurate description is that they were resigned to their fate, like the culture of the Memphis locker is the expectation of a loss. They took their beating without really fighting back. That’s a bad sign for a team playing in a league that now includes Louisville and UConn and Cincinnati.
So what’s the answer?
I don’t know, but one thing that’s clear is that the people of Memphis are tired of asking the same question, over and over, year after year.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
Basketball has five positions, but the way that the sport has grown, particularly at the collegiate level, has produced hybrid players, unusual roster makeups and far too many teams with players that don’t fit into a typical positional category. Few teams actually field a traditional starting five, which is why CBT decided to make our positional rankings reflect that.
Off-guards are the term that we will be using for players that unquestionably play in the back court, yet spend most of their time off the ball. Some of these guys are spot up shooters, some of them are slashers and some of them are combo-guards that just so happens to share a back court with a a ball-dominating lead guard. Whatever the case, the bottom line is that they are all guards that play off the ball. Hence, off guards. Simple, right?
Here is our top 20:
1. Russ Smith (Louisville): Smith went from a wildly entertaining, wildly inefficient player as a sophomore to a guy that won KenPom’s Efficiency Player of the Year award as a junior. He’s a perfect fit for the system that Rick Pitino employs. He’s a terror as an on-ball defender and he’s impossible to keep out of the lane or to stop in transition. When he plays with a modicum of shot selection, he’s an all-american.
2. Gary Harris (Michigan State): We’ve written about it all summer long: the nation as yet to see the “real” Gary Harris, as he was a shell of himself as a freshman while battling a shoulder injury. Harris is more explosive than he gets credit for and could end up being the best player on title-contending Michigan State this season.
3. Tyler Haws (BYU): Haws came off of a two-year Mormon mission without missing a beat, averaging 21.7 points as a sophomore. The Cougars aren’t going to slow down their pace of play at all this season, so it should be fun to see what Haws can do with an offseason to work on more than just getting back into shape. He’s the best player in the country at moving without the ball.
4. Joe Harris (Virginia): Harris is the most underrated player in the ACC, having averaged 16.3 points as a junior for a Virginia team that played at as slow of a pace as anyone in the country. At 6-foot-6, Harris’ shooting ability makes him a nightmare to defend.
5. Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke): Due to the fact that he will be playing on a team that has plenty of perimeter depth and two other potential lottery picks (Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood), Sulaimon may not put up huge numbers this season. But don’t sleep on his talent.
6. Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): The biggest issue with Kilpatrick heading into this season isn’t his ability to score; he averaged 17.0 points as a junior. It’s that he may not have much help in that department with this Cincy roster.
7. P.J. Hairston (North Carolina): It’s unclear when we will actually see Hairston take the court this season, but what’s undeniable is that the junior is a major talent. We’re going to go ahead and assume that whatever punishment he receives is minimal enough that it won’t hurt his season.
8. Jordan McRae (Tennessee): McRae is the leading scorer and the No. 1 perimeter threat for a Tennessee team that should be the third best team in the SEC. The senior averaged 15.7 points a season ago.
9. Aaron Harrison (Kentucky): The unheralded Harrison, Aaron has been drawing rave reviews from people that have watched Kentucky practice and play early on this season. His ability to shoot from the perimeter will be key to providing space inside for Kentucky’s massive front line.
10. Markel Brown (Oklahoma State): For all the hype that Marcus Smart gets, there were plenty of times last season where Brown carried the Pokes. The 15.3 points he averaged went a long way towards proving he’s more than just a dunker.
TEN MORE NAMES TO KNOW
11. Nik Stauskas (Michigan): One of the nation’s most lethal shooters, expect Stauskas to showcase his athleticism and driving ability more this year.
12. Wayne Selden (Kansas): Selden is a big, physical guard that attacks the rim. The freshman will be a perfect compliment to Andrew Wiggins on the wing.
13. C.J. Wilcox (Washington): He’s doesn’t get much publicity playing for a mediocre Washington team, but Wilcox can flat-out score.
14. Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss): We love Marshall. He’s entertaining and loves to shoot. But there’s more to basketball than being a gunner that averages 20.1 points.
15. Jordan Adams (UCLA): With all the hype surrounding Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, not many people noticed the outstanding season Adams had.
16. Travis Bader (Oakland): Bader may be the only guy that can get up as many threes in a game as Marshall Henderson. He’s 101 away from J.J. Redick’s career record.
17. Danuel House (Houston): The former top 25 recruit averaged 12.4 points as a freshman and will take over a bigger role with Joseph Young gone this year.
18. Keith Frazier (SMU): The McDonald’s all-american will be SMU’s go-to scorer this season.
19. Geron Johnson (Memphis): Johnson was a risky addition for Pastner, but he’s a talented athlete and a tenacious defender.
20. Nick Johnson (Arizona): Johnson was a highly-regarded recruit that hasn’t quite lived up to his hype just yet. Arizona will need him to be an effective perimeter scorer.