Saturday, November 8, 2008

2008-09 Opponent Breakdown: University of Memphis

Memphis and Gonzaga have become the most recognizable non-BCS programs in the nation. The Memphis Tigers, under the outstanding leadership of John Calipari, have had some of the most exciting teams in recent years. When Memphis takes the court, you can usually assume that they have the best five athletes in the gym no matter who they play. From guys like Darius Washington to Rodney Carney and now with Tyreke Evans, Coach Calipari has assembled teams that have excelled in the college ranks. The Gonzaga and Memphis series has been extraordinarily exciting and even though the Tigers have beat the Zags the past three years, each game has been a showcase of great basketball. Memphis will be traveling back to Spokane this year and it should be a game the entire nation is watching. ESPN Gameday will be in attendance and it promises to be another great match up between two programs who have broken through the "mid-major" title.

Last Season's Results: If you are a college basketball fan, you know how Memphis' season ended last season. The Memphis Tigers cruised through the regular season. They lost one game, let me repeat that, one game throughout their regular season schedule and in their conference tournament. After winning the Conference-USA title, the Tigers entered the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed. They faced an extremely tough road to the title and many national pundits thought they would be the first top-seed to lose. They killed UT-Arlington in the first round and then were very tested by Mississippi State. They escaped with a three point victory and their reward was a game with Michigan State. They dominated the Spartans and moved on to the Elite Eight where they defeated the Texas Longhorns. The Tigers became the popular pick to win the title at this point and they stream rolled fellow #1 seed UCLA in the Final Four. In one of the most exciting national championship games, Memhis took on the Kansas Jayhawks. Questions had been raised about Memphis' poor free throw shooting and in the championship game, free throws caught up with them. Derrick Rose had the chance to ice the game with some late free throws but he failed to capitalize and left the door open for Kansas. Mario Chalmers hit the biggest shot in Jayhawks history and sent the game to overtime and the rest is history.

New Faces: Coaches like John Calipari don't ever really have to worry about rebuilding. Memhis has always recruited very well under Cal and this year's class will have to fill in for plenty of lost productivity. They lost Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Joey Dorsey from last years team. Derrick Rose was the first overall selection in the NBA Draft, Douglas-Roberts was their "Mr. Consistency" and go-to wing, and Joey Dorsey was one of the most physically imposing big man in the nation. Most programs would need a few years to recover from those type of losses but Memphis is expected to be a top team once again. Arguably the most naturally talented 2008 recruit in the nation is now a Memphis Tiger. Tyreke Evans (right), a point guard from Pennsylvania, will be stepping in for Derrick Rose. While Evans is not as college ready as Rose was when he entered, expectations are still high. Evans fits the system perfectly and can create off the dribble very well. Another huge newcomer for Memphis is Wesley Witherspoon. Witherspoon fits the Memphis system more than any other player they have recruited. He is a lengthy 6'8'' wing who can also play...the point guard? Witherspoon came to Memphis as a likely forward but he has been practicing at the point guard spot with Antonio Anderson. Look for him to make his career at the wing position but he should get some minutes at the point. Roburt Sallie was originally a Nebraska Husker but after some admittance issues, he now is enrolled at Memphis. Sallie spent one year in junior college before making the leap and is a very athletic guard who had three steals for Memphis in their exhibition opener. The status of four-star recruits Angel Garcia and Matt Simpkins are still up in the air. They have not been cleared to participate by the NCAA but a decision should be coming soon. Garcia was recently injured so he may be shelved for the entire season anyway. The Tigers need Simpkins however as he will provide some much needed size down low for Memphis. C.J. Henry is the last newcomer for Memphis. C.J. went down a similar road to Zag forward Ira Brown. Henry played a couple years of minor league baseball before deciding that basketball was right for him.

Players to Watch: I'm very interested to see how Robert Dozier performs this season. He is the only returning starter up front for Memphis and is going to be heavily relied on to lead this team. If Memphis is going to have a successful year, this has to be his team. He is the leading returning scorer and rebounder with nine points and seven boards a game. Dozier is extremely long and athletic and he will have to increase his scoring output in the 08-09 season. The front court should be interesting this year for Memphis and another player to watch is Shawn Taggart. The Iowa State transfer will step in at center for the departed Joey Dorsey. Taggart has better offensive skills than Dorsey but no one played better post defense than Joey. Taggart is able to take his game to the perimeter and can even shoot the three ball. He is another very long and athletic post man who should be able to average double figure points. Everyone is going to be watching Tyreke Evans this season. Evans had a pretty high profile recruitment and by committing to Memphis, he took on a huge responsibility to keep this proud program afloat. He has plenty of talent around him but their is a bunch of pressure on the youngster. He is extremely talented on the offensive side of the ball and all the reports from Memphis are positive. Evans has been learning how to become the complete guard for Coach Calipari and if he out because Memphis could be excellent once again.

TKR's Concern-O-Meter: Gonzaga is once again playing one of the best non-conference schedules in the nation. This game is different however. Memphis has had Gonzaga's number for the duration of this series and you have to believe that this is one of the most important games for Mark Few's squad. Last year the situation was different. Memphis had the experience edge and they took advantage of that and dominated Gonzaga. This year the tables are turned. Jeremy Pargo is the only Zag who has played in all four years of this match up and you know he wants this one badly. It won't be easy. Memphis oozes athleticism and is going to present Gonzaga with some match up problems. Two years ago it was almost upset city in Spokane but Memphis fought through and beat Gonzaga in overtime but this time around, the edge has to go to Mark Few's squad. These two teams won't match up until February so who knows what can happen between now and then but personally, this is the game I am looking forward to the most.

What We are Watching for: Memphis is one of those teams that no one matches up well with. Their athleticism from top to bottom is unparalleled but this is a very athletic Gonzaga team as well. Jeremy Pargo had a great game against Memphis last year and I expect more of the same in this years match up. Evans and Anderson are good but I don't think they have enough to contain Pargo. Look for the Gonzaga guards to win the match up in the back court unless Evans goes off. If the Zags can D up the young freshman, it could be a great day in Spokane. I'm excited to watch the match up between Josh Heytvelt and Shawn Taggart. They play similar types of games as both can face up very well. I think Josh is the more talented overall offensive player but Taggart will be able to D him up very well. It should be a real battle in the post. Pierre Henderson-Niles is a monster in the paint and will help out in the interior game. The best match up of the night will be Austin Daye against Robert Dozier. Both players are gifted offensively and are both long, lanky athletes. This is the match up that Gonzaga has to win. Austin has got to be dominant on offense but I would expect Micah Downs to guard Dozier for most of the game. Memphis is athletic but guys like Pargo, Downs, Daye, and Heytvelt aren't slouches either.

Helpful Links:

2006- Memphis v. Gonzaga at Spokane Arena


MTiger said...

As a Tiger fan, I always look forward to the Gonzaga-Memphis game. Your coach is one of the best tacticians and recruiters around and has become one of the names most mentioned when vacancies come up (hope you can keep him.) The players are first rate (Adam Morrison was an animal), the fans are (mostly) all class, and the games are high octane. And this year's is ESPN Gameday? Should be a thriller!

ZagBell said...

Well said mtiger, we're excited for the match up and it has become one of the best games of the college basketball season. We have an immense amount of respect for Memphis and can't wait for the game this year. Yes, it is an ESPN Gameday so it should be one hell of an atmosphere in Spokane.