“Don’t Say We Came Out of Nowhere in March” Team of the Week: Memphis Tigers

February 24, 2013

The final of three recent posts featuring college basketball teams that could surprise people in March comes a couple of days after I promised, but it still puts me back on schedule.

In an unrelated note, I was fairly pleased with BracketBuster weekend as a whole, considering that only one team featured in this series (Stephen F. Austin) had a chance to improve its resume by participating in ESPN’s arranged matchups.

The Lumberjacks did take advantage of the opportunity, beating Long Beach State on the road 68-60 on Friday night.

But without further ado, let’s take a look at this week’s final (or first, since Sunday is technically a new week) featured squad, the Memphis Tigers.

The Basic Info

Memphis hasn’t exactly fallen off the face of the Earth since John Calipari left the school in 2009, but it definitely hasn’t received a whole lot of attention since then. It’s kind of surprising, actually, since the Tigers have won at least 24 games every season since current head man Josh Pastner took over for Calipari.

Although it has been a decent past few years in Memphis, this year’s team might be the best since Pastner took over. Memphis is currently the No. 21 team in the nation, blowing through Conference USA with a perfect 13-0 conference record and boasting a 24-3 overall record. However, the Tigers are still being ignored by most fans and even analysts. Despite an RPI ranking of 18th and the nation’s 74th toughest strength-of-schedule (not bad for a C-USA team), the Tigers have been flying under the radar most of the season.

Memphis has had the potential to succeed for a couple of years, but youth and inexperience plagued the team in the past. Now, the Tigers are being led by a group of juniors that have been to the Big Dance, experienced heartbreak, and are ready for their coming out party. This year’s NCAA Tournament just might be the place where that happens.

Why I Like Them

The Tigers are a fun team to watch, because they operate under a fast-paced up-tempo offense that produces a lot of points. Memphis is No. 26  in the nation in points per game with 75.6, but is also No. 14 in the nation in field goal shooting percentage at 48.1 percent. The bottom line is, even though the Tigers are scoring at will against sometimes poor C-USA defenses, they shoot well enough that it will be difficult for any team they may play in the NCAA Tournament to keep pace.

Memphis relies quite a bit on its backcourt play, which is evident in the fact that eight players that see significant playing time can play the guard position. Sophomore Adonis Thomas, who is the team’s second leading scorer (11.8 PPG) and D.J. Stephens, who is the team’s best rebounder (6.8 RPG), are particularly important in that they can play both the guard and forward position. Because of this flexibility, the Tigers have the ability to show you a lot of different looks on the court, which can be very difficult to prepare for in a short amount of time.

Although the best win for the Tigers is a victory over Ohio in early December, Josh Pastner’s team hasn’t had much of an issue staying focused against what is for the most part inferior competition. The biggest question regarding the Tigers heading into March will be whether the weak conference schedule prepared the team for the rigors of NCAA Tournament competition. However, it appears that Memphis is a step above every team it plays in its conference, which is a good sign.

So, Why Are They Being Ignored?

It cannot be said enough that Memphis hasn’t done much to make waves on the national stage. This is actually in stark contrast to prior years, when Memphis played a very difficult out-of-conference slate and played well in those games. The Tigers had a chance to beat both Minnesota and Louisville at home. They didn’t. They also had a chance to beat Shaka Smart’s VCU team on the road. They didn’t. Frankly, in the three biggest games of its season, Memphis has come up short. Obviously, that is reason for skepticism.

There is also concern about the effectiveness of its up tempo offense. Although the Tigers can score and supposedly have eight players that can handle the ball, they have had issues with turnovers all season. In fact, Memphis is near the bottom of the entire nation in the category, turning the ball over nearly 15 times per game. Depending on the type of team it draws, Coach Pastner’s team might be seen as the underdog even if it is the higher seeded team. If matched up with a team like VCU that thrives off of creating turnovers, Memphis is in deep trouble.

There really isn’t much the team that can do with its upcoming schedule that will thrust it into the national spotlight before March. Conference USA, other than the Tigers and Southern Mississippi, is just too weak to garner much respect. In reality, Memphis probably needs to win out in the regular season simply to hang around in the Top 25. It is unlikely that they will move up too much before conference tournaments begin.

What Can We Expect

Joe Lunardi currently has the Tigers as a No. 5 seed in his most recent bracket predictions. This is actually a fairly favorable seed for Memphis, considering the fact that it has maybe beaten maybe two tournament bound squads at this point. Chances are that if the Tigers finish the regular season undefeated in their conference, a five seed is pretty reasonable.

At the same time, a No. 5 seed could end up being a trap for the Tigers. Obviously, fans look to the 5 vs. 12 matchup as a potential upset waiting to happen, and generally people are skeptical of teams from mid-major conferences that earn any seed higher than a six or seven. While Memphis is a team that could surprise people, as a five seed it might end up playing a team with an even greater chance of surprising people in the second round.

I have faith in the Tigers if they draw the right matchups. This is the type of team that has the ability to completely obliterate a squad not ready for the offensive firepower Memphis is capable of, but could also crumble against a team that wants to pressure ball handlers into mistakes.

As for the seeding, anything higher than a five seed for the Tigers is probably too generous considering their total body of work this season.

If you would like to submit a team for consideration for this weekly series, please send me an email at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, tweet me @KBecks_ATC or contact me on Around The Corn’s Facebook page. In addition to any submissions, you are more than welcome to send a short summary of why you think the team is a good candidate for this type of article. Thanks everyone.

– K. Becks

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