Saturday, March 22, 2014

game preview: Memphis

Date/Time: Sunday, March 23; 8:40


Record against the Tigers: 0-0

Last meeting: N/A

Last game: UVA 70, CCU 59 (3/21); Memphis 71, GWU 66 (3/21)


UVA: 60.9 (#346)
Mem.: 68.9 (#59)

UVA: 114.5 (#23)
Mem.: 111.2 (#55)

UVA: 90.0 (#4)
Mem.: 98.1 (#55)

UVA: .9405 (#5)
Mem.: .8079 (#37)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (5.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.8 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (6.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.2 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (6.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.3 apg)


PG: Joe Jackson (14.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.6 apg)

SG: Geron Johnson (8.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.6 apg)
SG: Chris Crawford (8.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg)
PF: Austin Nichols (9.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.5 apg)
PF: Shaq Goodwin (11.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.7 apg)

PHEW.  Breeeeeeeeathe.  Let's just say: you and I know that UVA would've suffered a worse reputation hit for losing as a 1 seed than any 1 seed in the past, present, or future could ever have taken.  Why?  Because Maui, that's why.  Now that the Chamin-ticleers bullet is dodged, so is the potential infamy of being on the wrong end of the biggest two upsets in college basketball history.

UVA will now play in a SECOND NOT THIRD round game of the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2007, trying for its first Sweet 16 berth since 1995.  At least this time, Ralph Sampson is not what follows the word "since."  Standing in the way are the Memphis Tigers, a team UVA has never played in its history.  Memphis knocked off George Washington in a close one in the 8/9 game on Friday.  No doubt after CCU, pundits will look at this and call Memphis a popular upset pick, but every game is different; right now you got Florida taking it to Pittsburgh despite the fact that Florida struggled with Albany and Pitt crushed Colorado.  So.

-- UVA on offense

Memphis plays a hair-on-fire brand of basketball; they're not quite VCU, but they like to press and see what they can't get, and if they fall behind they'll probably turn up the heat to 11.  They're thin in the frontcourt, with a couple of athletic forwards in Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols (a former UVA recruiting target) but Goodwin at 6'9", 242 is the largest player in the rotation.  6'7" forwards Nick King and David Pellom provide some spot relief minutes, but it's the guards that are the main focus of what they do.

Those guards will press up hard on defense and try to create turnovers, which they're very successful at doing.  Memphis is a top-10 team in the country in getting steals.  Any one of them - Memphis runs four guards on and off the court, usually playing three at a time - is a threat to get a steal, as is Goodwin.

Tony Bennett went with a slightly surprising move at halftime yesterday, employing Anthony Gill to start the second half; leaning hard on Gill is something he's been inclined to do if the team is struggling.  Gill played a season-high 29 minutes (tied with the Maryland loss) while Mike Tobey had just 15.  It would surprise me a little if Gill started the game (but only a little) but given the athleticism of the Memphis lineup it wouldn't surprise at all if Gill once again played most of the game in an effort to match.

The close-up defense that Memphis's guards play means that teams struggle to get three-pointers off.  Opponents shoot just .302 against the Tigers, and fewer than 30% of their shots are threes in the first place.  UVA must have good ball movement in order to find any chances from deep, because Memphis won't sag off and let you shoot it.

They also don't foul much; their big men Nichols and Goodwin (and particularly Nichols) block shots very well without getting in foul trouble.  You'd think that all the pressure on the ball would mean plenty of reach-in fouls, but the Memphis guards stay out of foul trouble as well.  If there's something the Tigers don't do well on defense, it's rebound; typically a team that forces a lot of two-pointers would be a good defensive rebounding team, but Nichols and Goodwin are both pretty pedestrian on the boards and the small guard-heavy lineup means they have a hard time corralling rebounds.  UVA can hopefully find some second-chance opportunities; Tobey remains a top offensive rebounder and Gill and Akil Mitchell do nice work there too.

The key, of course, is limiting turnovers.  Yes, that's important all the time.  Like, the key is to score baskets.  Memphis, though, doesn't want to defend for 35 seconds.  They want to take your ball and go the other way, quickly.  If UVA is both patient and sound with the ball, they should be able to find ways to use their size against the Tigers and, better yet, force Memphis into the halfcourt game the Hoos will prefer.

-- UVA on defense

With the trouble that Coastal Carolina gave UVA by playing a guard-heavy lineup and isolating the ball while looking for one-on-one matchups, you have to assume Josh Pastner noticed and will look to make his own guards take advantage of UVA the same way.  Memphis, however, tends to be a bit of an average team in the halfcourt, preferring to score early if they can.

The top offensive threat is probably off the bench, actually; sixth man Michel Dixon is a heck of a shooter from anywhere on the court.  Dixon and wing Chris Crawford represent Memphis's only major distance threats; this team prefers to get to the rim where they're much more efficient.  Crawford is essentially a three-point specialist.  Point guard Joe Jackson and shooting guard Geron Johnson will shoot too, but both are shooting under .280.  Jackson is also much more of a driver, and a pretty good passer too.

Memphis's hair-on-fire game, though, makes them also turnover-prone.  They get the ball stolen from them a lot.  Some of this happens in transition, where they may get a little too eager to take advantage of a steal, and just give it right back.  Still, UVA has done a good job in the past of taking advantage of turnover prone teams.  Also, in Memphis, UVA has finally found a worse free-throw shooting team than themselves.  Dixon is almost automatic and Jackson is pretty good; the rest of the team misses quite a bit.

Overall, this is not a team with a single go-to scorer, which is actually sort of unfortunate as UVA's better games tend to come when they have someone they can focus on.  Just about everything Memphis does, from shooting to turnovers to getting steals, is spread out among most of the team.  However, if UVA is successful at controlling the tempo, much of what Memphis wants to do can be neutralized, and it'll become a question of keeping the Tigers out of the lane.

-- Outlook

I think this is an interesting game from a neutral perspective, as there's potential for both teams here to be a terrible matchup for the other.  Maybe I'm a little gun-shy from all those Coastal Carolina guards and the isolation game they had success with, but the similarities in the guard-heavy lineups between our opponents can't be ignored.  On offense, UVA likes to slowly probe the defense and blocker-move until something breaks apart; Memphis's disruption could put an early kibosh on those plans during some possessions.  Plus, Anthony Gill won't have a large athleticism advantage and could find it harder than usual to face-up drive from the high post like he likes to do, at least as long as Goodwin or Nichols are guarding him.  Having a low, quick player guarding Malcolm Brogdon could result in steals; the same for Joe Harris, and UVA must be exquisitely careful about their passing lanes.

However.  UVA has a way of imposing a pace.  The Hoos took UNC down eight possessions from what the Heels are used to, for example.  Memphis doesn't want to play a halfcourt game, and being forced to defend for the whole shot clock, repeatedly, could cause them problems.  UVA also tends to make mincemeat of teams who don't take care of the ball.  And part of the trouble against Coastal - a lot of the trouble, actually - came from the Chanticleers hitting some tough, very contested shots, and magically turning into a deadeye three-point team.  With the score tied 47-47, CCU had hit 8-of-15 three-pointers.  Hitting on one-third like they're supposed to would've had the score at 47-38, and the ensuing 9-1 run would've iced the game instead of merely offering a little breathing room.  (Yes, I know that's not exactly how this works.  Just go with it - the lesson here is that just about any team that turns its bad tendencies into really good ones will pose a threat to anyone they're facing.)

Anyway, I wouldn't worry about Coastal.  It's a whole new game.  Like I said: Florida just stomped Pittsburgh despite the troubles they had with Albany.  Memphis is the team in front of us now.  The Tigers had only one bad loss all season (Houston) but entered the tourney on just a 4-4 run culminating in a blowout loss to UConn in the AAC tournament.  Often the consensus with Memphis is: really talented but needs to get their shit together.  UVA is one of the shit-together-est teams in the country.  I'd say watch out if the Tigers do start figuring things out and play the ball they're capable of - this isn't a team to be taken lightly, and could easily be considered perhaps the 2nd or 3rd toughest 8/9 seed in the tourney.  But it's too early yet to be calling for a tournament exit for the good guys.

Final score: UVA 67, Memphis 62

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If there's one thing I would ask of our nation's sports writers, it's more use of the term "shit-together-est".