A KenPom Preview: Memphis Tigers

So, I basically lied. No other content came out over the weekend. My b. But I couldn't see the Hofstra game anyways, so any thoughts I had would have been limited to the box score. Fortunately, pending some ridiculous multiple-overtime Xavier game tonight, I should be able to watch the Kansas-Memphis clash tonight. Meaning I'll be itching to let the world hear my thoughts about the game. Which means I'll make time for a game recap. And that's a promise.

Opening Thoughts

You know, in name, this game seems like a gigantic deal. Kansas-Memphis. 2008 National Championship rematch. Two of the best teams from a season prior. But neither of these teams resemble the teams who showed up in San Antonio. Especially Memphis, considering they've lost their entire team, more-or-less, plus their coach since then.

So, while Kansas-Memphis sounds exciting and all, there's one team that, at least on paper, is definitely better. So yeah. This is a game that could trip us up, but it isn't likely. And don't even start talking about 2008. Besides Sherron Collins, no one else really remains that played. Cole and the Big Boy on Memphis, yeah, I guess, but come on.

However, if nothing else, I guarantee they show Mario's shot at least once or twice. And no matter the circumstance, it's always a glorious occasion to watch that. That'll probably be the highlight of the night.

The Background

The Memphis of your older brother who is like 3 years older is not the same anymore. All of those players your older brother grew up watching are gone, and so is the greased hair of the coach who recruited them all there. Now, they are still filled with talent, and their new coach is already shaping up to be reminiscent of his predecessor, but still. Not the same team that was the second-best team in all the land in 2008. Not one bit.

It remains to be seen what will happen with this Memphis Tigers team. Will they continue to be a National Title contender every year-or-two, being capable of beating anybody anywhere at anytime? Or will they sink down a level, to where they continue to dominate the crappy Conference-USA conference they're in, but not really scare the living daylights out of national powers. My money's on some mix of the two, because I like riding fences, but if I had to pick one, give me the second one. They'll still be capable of making intense runs in the NCAA Tournament, because Josh Pastner is going to make sure they always have talent, but I don't think they'll win make a Final Four any time soon. Which isn't a knock, when you think about it, really.

The Offense

Even though it's only one game, I'm going to use the statistics from that one game. This team has changed enough to where I think that's fair.

Four Factors

  • eFG% (123rd) -- The Memphis we're all used to. They are as athletic as can be, but they can't always get the ball in the bucket. Which is kind of an important part of basketball. Coincidentally they were 123rd last year as well, so that's just creepy. They really like counting with their offensive eFG% numbers I guess.
  • TO% (100th) -- This is what happens when you have a bunch of athletes who are learning a new coach and taking on substantially increased roles. They'll make plenty of stupid mistakes Tuesday night in St. Louis. But they'll be a better team in the end for it. And by the end of the year, they'll be dangerous.
  • Off. Reb% (18th) -- Damn. Impressive. That's what you get, I suppose, for having a 485-pound man. Just kidding, Pierre, just kidding. I know you lost weight and added a name last season, they only mentioned it like 18 million times. So yeah, he can offensively rebound, though. We have enough size and talent down low as to where this shouldn't be a problem, but it might be.
  • FTA/FGA (3rd) -- They took nearly as many free throws as field goals in their fast game of the season against Jacksonville State. Wow. Damn. That's just incredible. So, I guess John Calipari's dribble-drive, Princeton offense on steroids type of deal is still in action in Memphis. So, just give 'em some space on the perimeter to shoot, and shuffle those puppies. And hands straight up, just like you are pointing to Jesus.

The Defense

  • eFG% (49th) -- Last year, they were first. I know, I know, different team, but I guarantee their ranking at the end of the year is better than 49th. Like seriously, I'd bet you a ridiculous amount of money. Right now. They play good defense. Again, because it's early, it won't be as sharp. By the end of the year, oh boy.
  • TO% (24th) -- This is getting there. They're going to force some turnovers. Poke some balls out. Break up passing lanes. Reject the crap out of the ball and recover. So, please, take care of the ball. Over/under on stupid freshman turnovers? 7.5.
  • Off. Reb% (197th) -- So, yeah, while Henderson-Niles has learned how to offensively rebound, he needs to pick up some extra time on the defensive boards. Otherwise, Cole Aldrich should have a fun game. And I'm excited to finally see Thomas Robinson, the greatest high school rebounder of all timez!!1!1!
  • FTA/FGA (34th) -- Memphis gets fouled, silly. They don't foul.

The Players

Willie Kemp (G Sr.) -- He can't really shoot. He turns the ball over at a decent rate. He's a non-factor on the boards. And he can't shoot one bit. Not really worried about this fellow. At least on offense. He can play defense.

Doneal Mack (G Sr.) -- He can shoot slightly better, but not really. Doneal never really turns over the ball, though, and he never gets called for a foul. Another defense-first player, which was one thing with CDR, Rose and Tyreke. Now, they need to step up their offensive game.

Pierre Henderson-Niles (F Sr.) -- Not really that good of a player. I mean he wouldn't be bad as a role player off the bench, just picking up some rebounds and using his 5 fouls. But as the primary big guy down low, you can do a helluva lot better. He's basically a non-factor on offense, and he isn't nearly as good of a rebounder as he should be at his size. He's a good rebounder -- he could easily be an amazing one.

Wesley Witherspoon (F Soph.) -- Witherspoon is an excellent athlete, albeit one who can't shoot much at all. However, he can still get to the hoop and get fouled a bunch, which is certainly valuable. Plus, he's a pretty good rebounder. I think he's going to explode at some point this season and take off for awhile. If he could just consistently hit a jumpshot...

Elliot Williams (G Soph.) -- Wanna hear a funny story? Based off of the boxscore from their first game, their best player this season is going to be Elliot Williams. But last year, as a freshman, he didn't play enough to show up on KenPom. Wow. He can't really shoot either, however he can really get to the basket consistently. I don't really know anything else about him. So yeah, just watch and learn on Tuesday night I suppose.

Roburt Sallie (G Jr.) -- I'll never forget it. For the first time, I stayed home from school to watch the first day of the NCAA Tournament. The first game I watched was Cal State Northridge-Memphis. And I watched as the Matadors outplayed the Tigers for forever, and they would have probably pulled off the upset except for...a career shooting day by Roburt. He more than doubled his previous career high, and was like 8-11 from three-point range or something ludicrous like that. It was insane. And that's all he's good for, basically. Shooting the three. He can light you up from long range, but that's about it. Which is a good mix, considering everyone else on Memphis pretty much sucks at the long ball.

Closing Thoughts

This is a good, early season test. It shouldn't be some epic game that we could just as easily lose as win, but they at least have the talent to pull off the upset. We're going to have to play good defense, and more importantly have good ball movement on offense. As Bill Self said in the ESPN Inside Access special from yesterday, he wants his players to think and play unselfishly. This will be a good test of that. Because if we move the ball well, and get it to the open guy, and we actually hit the open shot, absolutely no way we lose tomorrow.

We're winning. I think winning big, too.

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