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.
Aug 27, 2014, 12:03 AM EDT
Richard Pitino had five recruits scheduled to join the program.
Aug 26, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
The College of Charleston is looking to replace Doug Wojcik, who was fired on Aug. 5.
Aug 26, 2014, 8:07 PM EDT
This is the first commit in the Beavers’ Class of 2015.
Aug 26, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
The 6-foot-10 big man was dismissed from Missouri on April 10.
Aug 26, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Some of the best high school players in the country appeared in Elite 24 this weekend in Brooklyn.
Aug 26, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Dayton adds depth to its point guard position for the 2014-2015 season.
Aug 26, 2014, 4:26 PM EDT
The younger brother of Enes Kanter will join the favorite to win the Horizon League.
Aug 26, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
Porter Moser’s team should still take a step forward in the Missouri Valley.
Aug 26, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT
Pastner continues to recruit the state of Tennessee well.
Aug 26, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Some teams are unlucky in losses. It’s not bad luck when you blow games you should have won, though.
Aug 26, 2014, 1:09 PM EDT
Our top ten is different, but not by that much.
Aug 26, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
According to a report, there are six sites vying for four Final Fours between 2017 and 2020.
Aug 26, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Value Add is college basketball’s equivalent to WARP.
Aug 25, 2014, 11:10 PM EDT
UTEP took a blow to its 2014-15 season as two freshmen failed to make the roster.
Aug 25, 2014, 10:10 PM EDT
Xavier went 4-0 on a preseason trip to Brazil and got a lot of playing time for its inexperienced team.
Aug 25, 2014, 9:10 PM EDT
UConn gave a scholarship to a former walk-on.
Aug 25, 2014, 8:10 PM EDT
Former Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson will get a shot to play professionally in Europe.
Aug 25, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Cool video of a Vanderbilt walk-on earning a scholarship.
Aug 25, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Former Georgetown great Patrick Ewing and agent David Falk are donating $3.3 million to Georgetown for a practice facility.
Aug 25, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
This week’s CBT Recruiting Roundup features some thoughts on Bruce Pearl’s fast start at Auburn and a couple players cutting school lists.
- ‘Value Add’ stat projects Utah’s Delon Wright as having a historic season 0
- College Basketball Talk’s Recruiting Roundup 0
- Bruce Pearl gets welcomed by Auburn team, students after NCAA show-cause ends (VIDEO) 0
- College Basketball Talk’s Recruiting Roundup 0
- John Calipari can be a great coach with being an x’s-and-o’s mastermind 4
- Louisville’s Terry Rozier is ready for his bigger role this season 1
- Expectations have changed for Nebraska after surprise run to 2014 NCAA tournament 0
- John Calipari calls Mike Francesa’s radio show to complain about a critique (AUDIO) (6)
- Rupp Arena ranked college hoops’ best home venue, Cameron Indoor 31st? (5)
- Indiana lands a final piece in their 2014 recruiting class (4)
- John Calipari can be a great coach with being an x’s-and-o’s mastermind (4)
- Creighton’s logos draw ire of Major League Baseball franchise (4)