NCAA Tourney: Arizona Wildcats (27-7) vs. Memphis Tigers (25-9)by Javier Morales on Mar. 17, 2011, under Sports
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A look at what to expect Friday at 11:45 a.m., Tucson time, as No. 12-seeded Memphis and No. 5 Arizona play in the first round of the NCAA tournament
What’s going right: Freshman wing player Will Barton is a slender player (6-6, 175) in the same mold as Washington’s Justin Holiday, only his arms are much longer. Barton, who has a wingspan of 7-5, is Memphis’ motor, playing by far the most minutes dispersed among the young Tigers. He is the only player averaging more than 30 minutes (30.5). He is among the top three Memphis players in scoring (leads team with 12.3 points a game), rebounding (second with 5 a game) and assists (third with 95).
What’s going wrong: Barton and fellow freshman, Chris Crawford, are not shy behind the three-point line, and that may not be a good thing. They are the only Tigers who have jacked up more than 100 three-point attempts, and they are a combined 81 of 285 (28.4 percent) from beyond the arc. The rest of the team is not bad, 123 of 339 (36.3 percent).
Barton said Thursday: “This year we made it a mission to get it done and make sure we get to the tournament (after playing in NIT a year ago). At the same time, we’re not just happy to be here. We’re not setting our standards on just getting to the tournament. We plan on staying here and doing damage and getting these two games and trying to make it to Anaheim (for the Sweet 16).”
What’s going right: Kyle Fogg is working his way back from a left quadriceps strain but is expected to take back his starting job from Kevin Parrom. Memphis starts four guards and only one true frontcourt player (freshman Tarik Black). Point guard Lamont “MoMo” Jones Jones, Derrick Williams and Solomon Hill are the only Wildcats to start every game this season. Jones’ leadership and intelligent play will be critical in a game that matches a vast majority of players who have yet to experience March Madness. Of the players in the top eight rotation of each team, only two players (Fogg and Jamelle Horne of Arizona) have played in an NCAA tournament game. Jones is second behind Williams in scoring at 9.6 a game.
What’s going wrong: Jones’ play in the Pac-10 tournament was a bit shaky. He shot only 25.9 percent from the field and tallied only six assists in the three games with seven turnovers.
Jones said Thursday: “It’s just about hard work. Right now we’re playing great together as a team though we lost the last game in the (Pac-10) tournament. But we’re playing great as a team, playing great defense, and we’re just playing great basketball. Hopefully that can translate over into the NCAA Tournament and it can help us get a win.”
Who has the edge? Since the starting guard play is loaded toward Memphis, the Tigers get the nod in this category. Despite Memphis’ lack of size inside, the Tigers are slightly outrebounding opponents by an average of 35.7 to 34.9 a game. That is attributed to their athleticism and hustle. Overall consistency a question mark for Memphis, however, with junior guard Charles Carmouche (a transfer from New Orleans) the only player to start the last 10 games.
What’s going right: Black is Memphis’ only legitmate big man as a starter and stands at 6-8, 252. He has a team-leading 56 blocked shots. By comparison, Arizona’s leader, Williams (6-8, 241), has only 24.
What’s going wrong: Offensive rebounds and all-around physical play inside will be a concern for Memphis coach Josh Pastner, coaching against his alma mater for the first time. Black averages only 5.2 rebounds a game. He has 176 overall in 34 games. In the same amount of games, Williams, who is undersized in the frontcourt, is averaging 8.1 a game (277 rebounds overall).
Black said Thursday: “Out there (at El Paso) in the (Conference USA) conference tournament, what I recognize about this team is when our backs are against the wall or when it’s do-or-die times in situations, we pull through. I believe that we’re going to have that same mindset going into this tournament. It’s do or die. If you lose, you’re out. And we knew that back in El Paso, so we did what it took to win.”
What’s going right: The Wildcats are starting four players who have pulled down more than 120 rebounds overall — Williams, Hill (151), Perry (149) and Parrom (121). The foursome is also shooting a good field-goal percentage (53.6 percent, 459 of 857). As the numbers suggest, more often than not, these guys are efficient.
What’s going wrong: Aside from a lack of defensive presence that alters shots and stops penetration to the basket, Williams and Co. have not produced a lot of steals that could lead to fast-break opportunities on the other end. Parrom and Hill, both of whom should be productive in steals, have combined for only 47.
Williams said Thursday: “Yeah, I’m used to it (isolating defenses). I’ve seen everything from box and one. I’ve never seen a box and one on a big man, and Cal did that to us, 2-3 zone, 1-3-1. We’ve seen every zone to slow our team down, but it just backfires on them. If they focus on me too much, MoMo right here and Fogg are going to take over the game, especially against Kyle, I didn’t play any of the three overtimes (against Cal) and we still won the game. If they’re going to take me out of the game, I just have to trust my teammates. Like they did in many of our other games. So it’s just going to backfire on them if they try to do that.”
Who has the edge? Arizona. This is as good of a draw for a first-round game the Wildcats could have imagined. Their question mark all year has been in interior defense. The Wildcats match up well with their size against a more fleet-footed Memphis. Controlling the boards will be crucial for the Wildcats in this one because Memphis, with its youth, is bound to miss its share of attempts.
What’s going right: Freshman guard Joe Jackson, a McDonald’s All-American from Memphis, has turned produced nicely in the last 10 games off the bench. He leads the Tigers in that span with 10.7 points a game. He has shot 48.3 percent from the field (29 of 60) and 50 percent from three-point range (8 of 16). He’s cool at the free-throw line as well, making 80.4 percent of his attempts (41 of 51) in the last 10 games.
What’s going wrong: The Tigers mostly go eight deep with senior forward Will Coleman (6-9, 245) and sophomore forward D.J. Stephens (6-5, 185) attracting most of the minutes along with Jackson. All of Pastner’s players in the rotation have starting experience because he’s tried 17 different combinations. Coleman is susceptible to foul trouble. Stephens is excellent from the field (64.1 percent, 50 of 78) but he is a liability at the free-throw line (55 percent, 11 of 20).
Coleman said Thursday: “In my eyes, I don’t see any of the guys as freshmen anymore. They’re well-coached and well-behaved basketball players that are sophomores now. I don’t feel like they’re freshmen anymore. They’ve shown a lot this year and they’ve matured a lot, and I think it showed a lot and took a lot for all of them to come in, for everyone to come in and win the conference championship, and we plan on doing damage in the NCAA Tournament.”
What’s going right: Kyryl Natyazhko (6-11, 265) has played adequately (especially on defense) more off the bench recently with double-digit minute games in three of his last six games, but don’t expect him to play much in this game because of Memphis’ speed. The Wildcat guards in the rotation, especially Fogg and freshman Jordin Mayes (who played two of his best games against USC and Washington in the Pac-10 tourney), should experience their fair share of minutes. This is also a game in which Jamelle Horne (6-7, 224) can shine, going against his former coach, because of his athleticism and playing against guys smaller than him.
What’s going wrong: In the last 10 games, reserve guard Brendon Lavender averaged only 6.9 minutes a game and scored nine points. He attempted only six three-pointers, making two. With the influx of guard talent next season in the form of point guard Josiah Turner and off-guard Nick Johnson, Lavender most likely will have a similar role all of next season. Will he be content with that as a senior?
Fogg said Thursday: “I think (NCAA tournament experience) is really valuable. This is just a great place to be this time of year. This is what everyone’s been working for since last year. It shows that out there on the court that our team has been working really hard this past year on the court and individually and as a team. I think it’s finally showing. … The Pac-10 Tournament we just had, I think it was huge for us. That’s the closest thing to a tournament atmosphere that most of these guys on the team have had in college. We went out there and played really great ball. I think we’re playing some of our best basketball right now, and I think that’s going to translate into these tournament games.”
Who has the edge? Memphis’ bench is as good as Arizona saw in the Pac-10 with Coleman, Stephens and Jackson each talented. When they enter the game, the Tigers do not drop off; they are as good or better. Likewise, Fogg, Mayes and Horne are essential to give players like Jones, Parrom and Perry a rest. Fogg is especially important with his defense, where as Mayes and Horne can stick an important three here and there. I’ll call this category even.
While Pastner is a player’s coach — he talks to his kids as if he’s the captain of the team rather than the head man — Miller balances the respect of his players with being a no-nonsense guy. Pastner similarly demands respect but not in the same way. He is more of a coach who reasons rather than be cut and dry. To each, their own. The most significant difference, other than their coaching approach, is Miller’s seven years as a Division I head coach compared to Pastner’s two. Miller has also coached in four NCAA tournaments; this is Pastner’s first as a coach (although he studied closely how his mentors Lute Olson and John Calipari approached the tournament). Miller has proven himself in March Madness with a 6-4 record, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2008. Advantage: Miller.
Pastner said Thursday: “Let me just say on this, with Arizona, it’s obviously, Arizona’s a tremendous basketball team. You don’t win 27 games and win the Pac-10 Championship without being really good. Sean Miller has done a great job. I think he’s one of the best coaches in the business. He’s won everywhere he’s been whether at Xavier has an assistant coach at N.C. State, as a player at Pittsburgh. The guy’s won everywhere he’s been.”
Miller said Thursday: “I wish we weren’t playing Josh’s team because he’s meant so much to Arizona’s program. His hard work as an assistant coach and his recruiting efforts have placed our program among the elite. Him being part of a national championship team, there isn’t many more magical moments in a career than that. But that’s the game we’re playing. My previous experience in this tournament, I’ve played against a great friend of mine in Thad Matta, who I replaced at Xavier. Two years ago I played against the University of Pittsburgh where I happened to play and went to school. It’s not about the coaches. It’s about the teams and the players. And both teams enter this tournament really desperate to advance.”
Expect a low-scoring game with low field-goal percentages and more turnovers than usual. This game won’t be pretty with only 12.5 percent of the top 16 players on both rosters experiencing March Madness before. Pastner will likely attempt to control tempo, knowing that bad things can only happen if Williams is loose in the open court. If he releases his young team to the wind, they will get winded fast. As the game goes along, look for Arizona to pull away behind the size and athleticism of Williams, Hill and Parrom. Arizona 68, Memphis 57.