Dec 18, 2013, 9:26 AM EDT
NEW YORK — I’m staying with a couple of college buddies here in New York while I cover the Jimmy V Classic and the Duke-UCLA game. This morning, I was chatting with one of them — I’ll call him Rizzo — about the game last night. He’s a big sports fan and watches his fair share of college hoops, although his reason for watching the games has a lot more to do with betting lines than it does a full-blown love for the game.
Hey, whatever gets the people into college basketball, right?
Anyway, Rizzo’s reaction to the game last night: “I’d never pick Memphis in a big game.” Not in the tournament, not against a ranked team, not when they play on national television, and Rizzo is far from alone in echoing that sentiment.
Fair or not, the public perception of the Tigers is that they can’t win the big one, that Josh Pastner is not the kind of coach that can lead his guys through adversity when the lights are shining the brightest. A revenge win over Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic didn’t do much to change his mind.
Now, I’m not here to quibble with you about the narrative. Not today. And I’m not here to try to explain to you that everything Pastner has done with the program outside of hoops — keeping his players out of trouble, graduating players, etc. — has been somewhere between commendable and remarkable.
What I’m here to tell you is that this Memphis team is different. This team will beat some big names in American play and they’ll win some games in the NCAA tournament. I truly believe that for one reason: the Tigers didn’t quit on Tuesday night.
It sounds simple, but it’s not.
You see, the biggest reason that I was ready to write No. 16 Memphis off after their embarrassing loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater a month ago was that they rolled over and let themselves get beaten when the Cowboys jumped out on top. They didn’t fight back. They took that whooping. They looked like a team that expected to lose. It was tough to watch.
But less than two weeks later, in the finals of the Old Spice Classic, the Tigers erased a double-digit halftime deficit to comeback and beat Marcus Smart and company, the first time in Josh Pastner’s tenure that he had knocked off a consensus top 25 team.
Now, if you weren’t watching closely, you would probably write off last night’s 77-75 loss to No. 15 Florida as Memphis reverting back to their old ways, somehow pinning the Oklahoma State win on a combination of Marcus Smart choking and Memphis getting lucky. It wouldn’t be difficult to make a reference to broken clocks being right twice a day.
But, again, you’d be wrong. For two reasons:
1) Florida is a really, really good basketball team. Like, top-five-in-the-country, national-title-contender good. I truly believe that, especially now that they are back to full strength and have Casey Prather playing like an animal. There ain’t no shame in losing to the Gators by two points.
2) Florida was ready to pull away from Memphis on a number of different occasions, but Memphis didn’t let it happen. The Gators were up double-figures early in the first half, but Michael Dixon pulled the Tigers back to make a game of it at the half. Memphis took the lead at a couple of different points in the second half, but Florida again made a run. Their lead stretched to nine late in the second half, and this time it was Joe Jackson that led the Tigers on a surge to get back into the game.
Just when you thought that Memphis was going to roll over and quit … they didn’t.
Memphis played well on Tuesday night. If a couple of breaks had gone their way — David Pellom doesn’t get called for a goaltend, Michael Dixon doesn’t pick up a phantom fourth foul midway through the second half, Shaq Goodwin doesn’t get a technical when he got too close to the rim trying to get a rebound, Joe Jackson’s layup at the end drops in instead of bouncing of the rim — this would have been a very different story.
Memphis looked like a team tough and talented enough to make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
“All you can ask for is the ball in your hands with a chance to win, and that’s what we had,” Pastner said after the game.
And if they get it next time, against Louisville or UConn or Gonzaga, more often than not the outcome will be positive.
Oct 24, 2014, 12:06 AM EDT
Syracuse’s men’s basketball and football programs are under investigation, with the stakes being higher for Jim Boeheim’s program.
Oct 23, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Joshua Smith averaged 11.5 points per game before being ruled academically ineligible last season.
Oct 23, 2014, 10:49 PM EDT
Cam Payne became the star of Murray State as a freshman, but he wouldn’t have gotten there if he had a back up. Why?
Oct 23, 2014, 9:53 PM EDT
The preseason favorites to win the Atlantic 10 added a new teammate Thursday.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:03 PM EDT
Shawn Lester averaged 11.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in the sixth man role last season.
Oct 23, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Hallice Cooke will have one hip operated on Monday, with the second surgery coming four weeks later.
Oct 23, 2014, 5:41 PM EDT
Christian James joins Rashard Odomes and Akolda Manyang in Oklahoma’s 2015 haul.
Oct 23, 2014, 4:34 PM EDT
The OVC looks like a three-team race this season.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:57 PM EDT
Nice work editing in the music.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT
Who are the top 20 perimeters in the country this season?
Oct 23, 2014, 12:04 PM EDT
This scandal will be a stain on North Carolina’s sports and academic programs for a long time.
Oct 23, 2014, 11:07 AM EDT
This is about as embarrassing as being POSTERIZED can get.
Oct 23, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT
The Shockers went to the Final Four in 2013 and undefeated in 2014. What is next for them?
Oct 22, 2014, 10:46 PM EDT
Cody Larson was South Dakotas Next Big Thing. He returned in infamy, but that has not stopped him from succeeding.
Oct 22, 2014, 10:14 PM EDT
Wisconsin held its third annual “Shooting Down Cancer” event Wednesday, with their goal being to #MakeBoPay.
Oct 22, 2014, 9:13 PM EDT
Austin Nichols is the reigning American Athletic Conference ROY, and sophomore Avery Woodson is expected to compete for minutes in a crowded by inexperienced backcourt.
Oct 22, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
Cezar Guerrero knocked down five straight from half-court during the team’s Red and White Hoops Night event Tuesday.
Oct 22, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
Oregon didn’t have much depth to begin with due to various personnel issues, so Michael Chandler’s lingering knee problem is a major concern.
Oct 22, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
People don’t come more intense than Bruce Pearl.
Oct 22, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT
Given SMU’s depth on the perimeter, LaGerald Vick’s decision to move back in classes will help both parties in the future.
- Cameron Payne didn’t expect to fill Isaiah Canaan’s void at Murray State, but he did 0
- 2014-15 Season Preview: The Top 20 Perimeter Attacks 1
- Top 25 Countdown: No. 12 Wichita State 1
- South Dakota State’s Cody Larson thrives despite return home amidst unmet expectations 2
- 2014-15 Season Preview: 20 Impact Freshmen 0
- UNC investigation states bogus classes pushed by academic counselors to athletes 7
- Top 25 Countdown: No. 13 VCU Rams 0
- UNC investigation states bogus classes pushed by academic counselors to athletes (7)
- Report: Texas plans to start paying their athletes $10,000 stipend (4)
- 2014-2015 Season Preview: College Basketball’s Top 13 Dunkers (VIDEOS) (3)
- Maryland senior forward suffers sprained ankle (2)
- Texas A&M lands another five-star center, has loaded 2015 recruiting class (2)