What an absolutely extraordinary first half the Tigers put together last night against hapless Michigan State. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the most embarrassing moment was…was it the fact that Memphis had not one, but two, highlight-reel dunks in which there was not a Michigan State defender in sight? Was it the fact that Michigan State went scoreless for the last 6:18 or so of the second half? Or was it the fact that Pierre Niles actually got in the game in the first half and scored?
Answer: Pierre Niles. You could not have put long enough odds on Pierre Niles actually playing and scoring in the first half. It is unheard of. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it either. Incredible.
The second half was little more than a formality, only made slightly interesting by the injury to Derrick Rose. It was a stray elbow that caught him about the eye and forced him back into the locker room early in the second half. If you check out the video of Derrick Rose after the game last night on sports56whbq.com, you can see the cut and the fresh blood. It was a big one. Rose, like most of the Tigers, is deathly afraid of needles. He freaks out at the sight of them. So when the doctors wanted to stitch him up, you can probably guess how Derrick reacted. He refused to be stitched up. Instead, the Memphis doctor told me, they used a substance called Dermabond to essentially glue the wound shut. And he’s fine today – the wound looked a lot better this afternoon than it did last night, that’s for sure. It will not be an issue tomorrow.
Also, take heart. Joey Dorsey did not say anything controversial at all. Repeat: Joey Dorsey kept his foot out of his mouth. Tiger fans, breathe easier now.
There’s no question this Tiger team is more relaxed and confident than the teams of the last two years. Part of that comes naturally with experience. Anderson, Dorsey, Dozier, and CDR have all been there before and are utterly unconcerned about the hype around this event. And the fifth starter, Derrick Rose, plays with a calm that belies his 18 years of age. Rose has been awesome. No other word can adequately describe it – his size and speed have been impossible for opposing teams to deal with, and he seems immune to pressure. It’s rare that you expect a freshman to stabilize a team, but that’s what Rose did last night in the second half.
Texas is such a good team, though. Really athletic and talented all over the court. D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams are as quick and effective a guard combo as there is in college basketball. Augustin is virtually impossible to guard – he is so quick and has developed a mid-range game to go along with his ability to get to the basket. Abrams gets hot quickly and can reel off 4 or 5 threes before you know it. And then there’s Damion James, who is athletically as good as any player in the country – 6′ 7”, 230, can play the 3 or the 4 and can hit outside shots. Matching up with him will be a serious challenge for Memphis. Texas isn’t that deep, but the 6 or 7 guys that play are very effective.
More so than any other game of the season, this game will come down to individual defense for the Tigers. Man to man, they will have to get the better of Texas consistently. If they take the same approach as they did against Michigan State, they will win. If not, they could fall prey to Texas’ athleticism. Offensively, the Tigers will need to be shooting well to make Texas pay for using the 2-3 zone. You know it’s coming, Memphis knows it’s coming, Texas knows it’s going to be zoning up the Tigers. It’s about how they react and how they shoot.
One more chance to take a huge step. But it’s a chance they’ve never been more prepared to take.