Arizona kicks off its quest for Houston with an opening round matchup at the BOK Center in Tulsa, OK against the Memphis Tigers, the 12 seed in the West region, in an 11:45 AM MST tipoff.
Much has been made of the matchup between Josh Pastner and the school at which he was formerly employed, but what no one is talking about is how impressive of a feat it was to get the Tigers into the tournament.
When John Calipari left for Kentucky, he left the cupboard at Memphis dry, and in his two seasons as the head man of the program Pastner has done a good job refilling it. In 2010, his seven signees ranked as the second best recruiting class in the country, and those recruits have had a huge part in returning the Tigers to the Big Dance.
Memphis won its way into the tournament with a one-point victory over UTEP in the Conference USA Tournament Final. For the season, the Tigers posted a 10-6 record in conference and a 25-9 mark overall. Arizona and Memphis share a pair of common opponents, as the Tigers lost games to Kansas and Rice earlier this season.
The Tigers started the season ranked as the 19th team in the country, and rode a 7-0 start up to number 14 before losing to the Jayhawks. As expected, Pastner's team has struggled at times due to its youth, as four of its top five scorers are freshmen. It does enter the tournament on a hot streak, winning its four games of the C-USA tournament.
The best of the freshman is Will Barton, the top shooting guard and number three player overall in the class of 2010. The 6-foot-6 guard is the team's leader in minutes, and is also its leading scorer and second leading rebounder at 12.3 points and five rebounds in 30.5 minutes per game.
He's been shooting the ball well from the field at 42.8 percent from the field, although his three-point percentage leaves room for improvement, as he's hitting just 27.3 percent of his tries from beyond the arc.
Barton is a superb athlete who is an immensely talented player, but like most freshmen has struggled with consistency. If his shot is falling and he's giving it everything he's got, he has the ability to fill it up and carry Memphis offensively.
Will is joined in the backcourt by his brother Antonio Barton, who is a much better shooter from three-point range, as he's knocking down 42.9 percent of his attempts from deep. The 6-foot-2 freshman is shooting 45.8 percent overall from the field on his way to 7.9 points in 24.3 minutes per contest.
The lone upperclassman in the starting lineup is junior Charles Carmouche. The 6-foot-3 guard is in his first season with Memphis after transferring from University of New Orleans. After averaging 12.6 points for the Privateers as a sophomore, he's put up 7.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 25 minutes per game for the Tigers.
Although he attempts less than six shots per game, Carmouche has the ability to post big numbers, as evidenced by the 14.5 points per contest he put up in two games of the C-USA tournament. However, he can be nearly non-existent at times offensively, as the other two games of the tournament he failed to score at all.
When he does exert himself however, he has been efficient with his shooting, connecting on 39.1 percent of his three-point tries and 40 percent of his shots overall. He can clearly be taken out of a game with a sound defensive effort, so look for Arizona to guard him hard early on in an effort to do so.
Pastner uses a guard heavy lineup, as Chris Crawford is the fourth backcourt starter for Memphis. The 6-foot-4 freshman is the team's assist leader with 3.3 per game, but he has struggled with his jump shot as he's hitting just 29.6 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc and 32.9 percent of his shots from the field overall.
Those numbers have limited him to just 6.6 points in 26.3 minutes per outing, and he's the least likely of the team's freshmen to take over a game offensively.
Tarik Black is Memphis' final starter is yet another freshman, as well as its lone frontcourt player in the starting lineup. As expected, the 6-foot-8 forward is the team's leading rebounder at 5.2 boards per contest. His 9.2 points rank him third on the team, and his 53.1 percent field goal percentage is tops amongst starters.
One thing preventing Black from being more effective is his tendency to pick up fouls, as he averages 3.2 per game in just 22.9 minutes. His ability to matchup with Derrick Williams will be pivotal for the Tigers, and if he can't stay out of foul trouble, then Memphis may struggle from keeping the UA big man from having a good game.
The bench for Pastner is four-deep, and of the team's top seven scorers, three of them come from the bench. Joe Jackson is the most heralded of the bench players, as he was the team's starting point guard before his struggles forced him to the bench.
A Memphis native, Jackson came in with lofty expectations as a five star player and the seventh ranked point guard in the class of 2010. The self-proclaimed "King of Memphis", has not quite lived up to the billing though, as he's struggled at times handling the ball for the Tigers, evidenced by his 110 turnovers and 107 assists on the season.
The 6-foot point guard is the team's second leading scorer and assist man, as he averages 9.9 points and 3.1 assists per contest. While he's struggled handling the ball, he hasn't managed shooting it, as he's knocked down 42.9 percent of his field goal attempts in his first year.
Jackson may be starting to turn the corner as the point guard for Memphis, as shown by 15.5 points per game during the C-USA tournament. However, if he's to lead the Tigers to victory, he'll have to dish out more assists than turnovers, a feat he's managed to do only nine times this year.
Pastner has veteran as well as versatile player in junior Wesley Witherspoon. The 6-foot-9 guard/forward combo is the team's fourth leading scorer at nine points per game, and his 4.3 rebounds per contest are tied for third on the team.
His skill set is often on full display in his 22.6 minutes per game, as he's hitting on 39.4 percent of his tries from beyond the arc and 48.3 percent of his shots overall. Inside or out, Witherspoon is going to be difficult for Arizona to defend because of his length, athleticism, and range.
Providing relief in the frontcourt is Will Coleman, the lone senior on the roster. The 6-foot-9 transfer from Miami Dade College posts the highest shooting percentage on the team at 63.3 percent on his way to seven points per contests. In 18.9 minutes per outing, he's tied for third on the team with Witherspoon with 4.3 boards per game.
Lastly, D.J. Stephens averages about 12 minutes in his 31 appearances this year. The 6-foot-5 sophomore, although attempting only about 2.5 shots per game, has been effective putting the ball in the hoop with a 64.1 shooting percentage on his way to 3.6 points per contest.
Memphis will likely fall short of Will Barton's guarantee of a National Championship, but it can't be overlooked the job Pastner has done with this team. He dealt with problem players Jalen Kendrick and Angel Garcia, both talented players whom figured prominently in the team's plans for the season, and righted the ship to reach the tourney.
This is a young team, one that certainly has a bright future with the type of talent Pastner is brining in. However, this year's version is not quite there, as it averages about 15 turnovers per game and has struggled at times against teams that it is clearly better than.
One thing Arizona must focus on is defensive rebounding. Memphis averages about 12 offensive rebounds per game, and the Wildcats will need to prevent the Tigers from second and third chances in order to prevent them from hanging around in this game.
To me, this year's Memphis team has a lot of similarities to last year's Arizona team. Its led by a young coach who is heavily reliant upon young talent, is maddeningly inconsistent, and is just not quite ready to break through.
However, with Pastner and Sean Miller at the helm for their respective, games between these two teams will surely transform themselves from second round matchups to Final Four and National Championship games, as both programs are clearly on the rise and on their way back to where they want to be.
Arizona looks to advance in second round
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