March 23, 2014

Hello, Memphuss!

Sorry, can't resist...

Tonight, the rubber hits the road on the "Sweet Sixteen or Bust" decree.  But before any of that, you must stop what you're doing, drop everything, and read the below-linked article -- because Aaron McFarling absolutely nails it.

Seriously, please read that article.  It's fantastic.  So incredibly spot-on that I'm jealous I didn't think to write it myself... while simultaneously aware that the team and all true Hoofans were subconsciously feeling it.

Anyway, tonight against Memphis, the game 1 jitters and 16-1 upset paranoia are gone, replaced by the same muted confidence and joy for the game that powered us to 28 wins prior to the Tournament.

We're good, and we deserve this 1-seed.  Tonight, we'll prove it.

But this post is about Memphis, and I've seen the Tigers play a lot this season, so I have some thoughts on the matchup.

First, you should know that this is not a good matchup for us.  Memphis is like Maryland on steroids.  They have FOUR very good, streaky-shooting, dribble-drive guards -- Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson, and Michael Dixon Jr.  Slashers.  And Virginia has at times this season struggled against teams that can break us down off the bounce.

Memphis has two skilled, athletic bigs -- Austin Nichols, and one of the most improved players in the nation, Shaq Goodwin.  Both can at times struggle with fouls.  Memphis is at its best when it can go inside-out, so the onus is on Akil and Gill to win those matchups against Nichols and Goodwin.  Austin Nichols had three different shots rejected by the backboard against GW Friday night, and he played like he was shaken and scared.  I think Akil/Gill are going to eviscerate him tonight.  Shaq Goodwin, I like.  He'll be a challenge.

The Tigers present specific matchup problems for us, and I can count at least 15 teams I would have preferred us to play in the round of 32 (SFA, Dayton, Stanford, Harvard, UNC, Gonzaga, NDSU, SDSU, Baylor, Oregon, St. Louis, Mercer, Texas... okay, that was only 13), but we got this.

They won't have an answer for Anthony Gill, and our guards can at least come close to matching theirs tit for tat. Mike Tobey, Justin Anderson, Akil Mitchell, and to a lesser extent, Joe Harris are all due for bounce-back games. Joe Jackson might be the best overall player on the floor in tonight's game, but we have guys (Brog, JA) who can guard him.

A key to the game for UVA is going to be Anthony Gill's ability to put Nichols and Goodwin in foul trouble.  Every foul for which either of the Memphis bigs gets whistled should be celebrated by UVA fans.

The big 7-foot question mark for us is Mike Tobey.  Will he come out and play aggressively?  Will he find someone to hit when he's boxing out?  Will he slide and move his feet on D, and try to protect the rim?  If he does those things, he could give us a HUGE advantage in the post (and high post).  If he doesn't, we'll be forced to play small, which (imho) plays to Memphis' advantage.  [Unless Evan Nolte has another big game in him!]

Also, I think we have a HUGE advantage when it comes to coaching.  Josh Pastner is a good young coach, but Tony Bennett is one of the nation's best.  Where this will really show is when the teams hit the locker room for halftime adjustments.  Tony kicks ass at that, and Pastner sucks ass at it.  That gives the Hoos a big second half edge.

Ultimately, Memphis is a team with a glass jaw this season. UVA is the exact opposite. That's the main reason I think we'll win.  Joe will come up big, and we'll pull away late.

Virginia 73, Memphis 59

Anyway, here's your chance to read a bit more about Memphis...

From's college basketball blog, One and One:

Record: 23-9, 12-6 in American Athletic Conference

RPI/SOS: 37/41

Adjusted offense / Adjusted Defense: 110.4 (66th) / 97.8 (53rd)

Seed: No. 8 in East

Impact player: Joe Jackson, senior point guard. 14.3 ppg. 4.5 apg. 1.6 spg.

The Case For:

Few teams can match the depth and experience Memphis boasts in its backcourt. The Tigers have four senior guards (Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon Jr., Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford) who average at least 22 minutes and eight points a game. Dixon, a transfer from Missouri, averages nearly 12 points and has posted a higher offensive rating this season than any of his teammates – yet he’s not a member of the Tigers’ starting lineup. Jackson’s shooting numbers have dipped this season, but he remains one of the better guards in the AAC (to say nothing of the incredible block he had on 7-foot-1 Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski). Memphis has also gotten solid play from forward Shaq Goodwin, who has seen his points (7.4 ppg to 11.8), field goal percentage (46.6 to 58.4) and rebound numbers (4.4 rpg to 6.6) jump from last season.

Before this season, Memphis coach Josh Pastner was 0-12 against ranked teams. He guided the Tigers to a 5-3 record against ranked foes in 2013-14, including wins over Oklahoma State, SMU, Gonzaga and a sweep of Louisville, a trendy pick to make the Final Four. The tougher opponents the Tigers faced in conference play should condition them for the NCAAs.

The Case Against:

Memphis has won just one tourney game in three appearances over the past four seasons under Pastner. In losses to Saint Louis in 2012 and Michigan State in 2013, the latter a 22-point rout, it seemed Pastner was outcoached. When the late Rick Majerus and Tom Izzo made tactical adjustments in those games, Pastner didn’t make the necessary counter-adjustments to put his team in the best position to win. There have been moments this season when Memphis has looked like a top-10 team; the Tigers’ six-point road win at Louisville in January is one example. At other times, Memphis has looked unprepared, overmatched or both. Take, for example, the quarterfinals of the AAC tournament. The Tigers submitted a poor defensive effort, seemingly unable to guard Niels Giffey (24 points, 6-of-8 on threes), and were trucked, 72-53, on their home court. Who’s to say Memphis won’t lay a stinker like that in the NCAA Tourament?

From College Sports Madness:

After taking over the Memphis Tigers in 2009 from the peerless John Calipari, head coach Josh Pastner had been on the steady incline. From 24 wins that first season, the Tigers increased their win total each of the next three years (24 to 25, 26, 31). This season marks a step back for Pastner and Memphis but an expected one. There was no way the Tigers were going to win another 30 games in their first season in the American Athletic Conference. This team still appears to be on track as the downgrade in total wins seems in line with the upgrade in conference talent.

Big Wins: 1/9 at Louisville (73-67), 2/8 Gonzaga (60-54), 3/1 Louisville (72-66)
Bad Losses: 11/19 at Oklahoma State (80-101), 1/16 Connecticut (73-83), 2/27 at Houston (68-77)

Coach: Josh Pastner (5 seasons at Memphis)

Why They Can Surprise:
In what turned out to be a rather loaded AAC, Memphis hung around on the back end of the elite group of teams all season thanks in large part to its guards. Other than Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols, all of the Tigers' top contributors were guards. This also helps explain why Goodwin and Nichols combined for roughly two thirds of the team's total in blocks. The main four set of guards that coach Pastner used were Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon Jr., Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford. The numbers for this quartet were impressive. Each personally grabbed more than one steal per game (as did Goodwin), making Memphis one of the most prolific stealing teams in the nation. The four guards were also responsible for the Tigers being third in the country in assists per game and among the higher scoring teams around at a shade under 79 points per contest. The surprising thing about Memphis though was that, even with guard-heavy lineups, the team still shot very well from the floor. That may be thanks to the guards' proclivity to getting the big men easy buckets in the paint.

Why They Can Disappoint:
Like any smaller roster, such as AAC opponent UConn, the Memphis Tigers often struggled to control the interior. They were not a great rebounding club, nor great at field-goal defense. They could also be prone to turning the ball over themselves, even while forcing a lot of steals on the other end. However, the reason Memphis could easily get bounced by a lesser foe is that the Tigers flounder in categories you wouldn't expect them to: free-throw shooting, where they are one of the worst in the country, and three-point shooting, where they don't take enough or make enough to keep opponents honest. Crawford and Dixon were the team's go-to deep shooters and neither one reached the 40 percent mark from distance this season.

Probable Starters:
Joe Jackson, Senior, Guard, 14.3 ppg, 4.5 apg
Chris Crawford, Senior, Guard, 8.9 ppg, 2.9 apg
Geron Johnson, Senior, Guard, 8.9 ppg, 3.6 apg, 4.9 rpg
Shaq Goodwin, Sophomore, Forward, 11.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.8 bpg
Austin Nichols, Freshman, Forward, 9.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg

Key Roleplayers:
Michael Dixon Jr., Senior, Guard, 11.8 ppg, 2.4 apg
David Pellom, Senior, Forward, 4.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg
Nick King, Freshman, Guard, 4.9 ppg

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 78.4 (30th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 70.4 (185, 5)
Field-Goal Percentage: 48.5 (17, 2)
Field-Goal Defense: 43.1 (149, 5)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 5.4 (256, 8)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 33.7 (195, 6)
Free-Throw Percentage: 65.5 (311, 8)
Rebound Margin: 2.8 (100, 4)
Assists Per Game: 17.7 (3, 1)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.5 (278, 8)

Recent Postseason Appearances:
2013 NCAA Second Round win over St. Mary's
2013 NCAA Third Round loss to Michigan State
2012 NCAA Second Round loss to St. Louis
2011 NCAA Round of 64 loss to Arizona
2010 NIT First Round win over St. Johns
2010 NIT Second Round loss to Mississippi
2009 NCAA Round of 64 win over Cal State Northridge
2009 NCAA Round of 32 win over Maryland
2009 NCAA Regional Semifinal loss to Missouri
2008 NCAA Round of 64 win over Texas Arlington
2008 NCAA Round of 32 win over Mississippi State
2008 NCAA Regional Semifinal win over Michigan State
2008 NCAA Regional Final win over Texas
2008 NCAA National Semifinal win over UCLA
2008 NCAA National Final loss to Kansas
2007 NCAA Round of 64 win over North Texas
2007 NCAA Round of 32 win over Nevada
2007 NCAA Regional Semifinal win over Texas A&M
2007 NCAA Regional Final loss to Ohio State

Good season for a great, storied program.  The good season ends tonight.



    I know a few people who were worried coming into this Memphis game.

    I, myself, was nervous immediately prior to tip off, even though I knew better.

    UVa is a better team. There is no question there, there is no uncertainty there. UVa is better, top to bottom, than a team that has competed in previous years, and it's not close. THIS TEAM IS SPECIAL.

    We know that already.

    We know going into the Michigan State game that we're once again underdogs and we know that there is no shame in losing. Also, we know we're going to beat them because we're GODDAMN BETTER THAN THEM.

    This is my second, in what I hope becomes a long-ish series of drunken rant-style postgame comments on your blog.



  2. That McFarling joint was a surprise. Clearly I shouldn't have written him off.