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.
Sep 17, 2014, 11:25 PM EDT
With Isaiah Briscoe moving on to the college ranks next summer, Duval could be the next elite guard produced by the Playaz Basketball Club.
Sep 17, 2014, 10:10 PM EDT
Last year’s Hoops on the Haasephalt event attracted nearly 4,000 fans on the UAB campus.
Sep 17, 2014, 8:26 PM EDT
Despite rumors to the contrary, one of the best players in the Class of 2015 is 100 percent committed to attending LSU next year.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
“The Grateful Red” snapped up every available ticket within five minutes Wednesday morning.
Sep 17, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
The Nittany Lions return five of their top six scorers from a team that finished the 2013-14 season with a 16-18 record (6-12 Big Ten).
Sep 17, 2014, 4:04 PM EDT
Jim Boeheim is not one to bite his tongue around the media.
Sep 17, 2014, 3:16 PM EDT
Tucker is a powerful dunker at 6-foot-4
Sep 17, 2014, 1:43 PM EDT
Is Oliver Purnell is tapping into a D.C. pipeline?
Sep 17, 2014, 1:08 PM EDT
Walker is currently suspended from the Texas team.
Sep 17, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Missouri will move on with team-related activities without two freshmen following an arrest.
Sep 17, 2014, 10:59 AM EDT
Lyle was originally committed to Louisville before backing off.
Sep 17, 2014, 10:03 AM EDT
The rush for a good spot to wait for Big Blue Madness tickets is always entertaining.
Sep 16, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
The tallest player in high school basketball has some visits set.
Sep 16, 2014, 9:15 PM EDT
Arizona State has cut ties with a junior college forward and 2015 recruit was who arrested over the weekend.
Sep 16, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Bo Ryan shows he’s a big man on campus at Wisconsin following his Final Four appearance.
Sep 16, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
Jalen Rose says that former teammates Chris Webber needs to apologize.
Sep 16, 2014, 6:06 PM EDT
The Longhorns pull in a commitment from a good guard in 2015.
Sep 16, 2014, 5:46 PM EDT
Kevin Stallings has earned four commitments in 2015.
Sep 16, 2014, 4:44 PM EDT
The five-star recruit decommitted from Louisville, and what it has to do with shoe companies.
Sep 16, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
There are also a limited number of ugly road weeks.
- Jim Boeheim calls Yahoo’s Coach K story ‘completely off-base’ 7
- Jalen Rose believes Chris Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan 4
- Thoughts on Antonio Blakeney, shoe companies and decommitments 1
- Top prospect in Class of 2014 signs endorsement deal with Under Armour 1
- Five-star shooting guard Antonio Blakeney decommits from Louisville 3
- Richard Pitino warns Minnesota fans not to trust his dad before Louisville opener 2
- CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: UConn and Arizona land 2015 big men, 2015 commitments flying off the board 0
- Jim Boeheim calls Yahoo’s Coach K story ‘completely off-base’ (7)
- Former Indiana guard A.J. Guyton writes an open letter to Bob Knight (6)
- Big Blue Nation already camping out for Big Blue Madness? (PHOTO) (5)
- USA Basketball, Mike Krzyzewski and thoughts on today’s ‘takedown’ (4)
- Jalen Rose believes Chris Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan (4)