The Memphis Tigers (23-9, 12-6 AAC) are in a similar situation that they have been in before since coach Josh Pastner has been head coach. The media, especially the fans, aren’t sure if this team can make a deep run in this season’s NCAA Tournament.
All of the speculations started last week in the American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament when the Tigers suffered an embarrassing outing (72-53) in the quarterfinals round to the hands of the Connecticut Huskies (26-8, 12-6 AAC).
Pastner isn’t sure about the outcome in their first round matchup against George Washington (24-8, 11-5 A-10) but ensures that this year’s Memphis Tigers team will be ready to play basketball.
“We will be ready to play. We will be ready to play,” Pastner said twice to one of the reporters present at Tuesday’s press conference. “I can’t sit here and guarantee the outcome, but we will be ready to play. I know I felt that going into the UConn game, but we will ready to play.
As I have said, I can’t guarantee the outcome but we will be ready to play and play to win.”
The Tigers will face a school who senior graduate transfer David Pellom is very familiar with. Before Pellom’s season at Memphis had begun, he had played for George Washington but failed to make the NCAA Tournament in three seasons.
Pellom told his teammates on Selection Sunday to not take this team for granted as they love to play zone defense and force their opponents to play half-court.
“It’s pretty tough. They have long arms with 6-8 and up guys that are on the court that can slow us down is going to be a struggle for us,” Pellom said. “But as long we keep the paste like we want then, we will be fine.”
George Washington lost to VCU by double figures (74-55) in the semifinals round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, but with key wins over Creighton, VCU, and UMass in the regular season, they were still able to make it to the big dance.
As a team, George Washington averages 73.4 points a game. Senior guard Maurice Creek leads the way for the team in scoring (14.3 ppg). The Colonials have four other players who are averaging in double figures: Kethan Savage (12.7), Isaiah Armwood (12.5), Patricio Garino (12.2), and Kevin Larsen (11.3).
With the way Memphis played against UConn, Pastner looks for his go-to-guys Jackson and sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin to make a big impact in the early minutes of the game on Friday.
“We have practiced well. I think the guys are ready,” Pastner said. “We got seniors and we know what we want to accomplish. They know what they want to accomplish. Guys like Shaq and Joe have to play better and they know it.
There’s no hiding from it. We all know it and I believe we are going to play really well.”
Freshman forward Austin Nichols have heard how big George Washington is in the paint, but isn’t nervous about playing against those guys.
“We have to play well as a team if we want to win. We just can’t focus on their big guys,” Nichols said. “We have to focus on the whole team, of course. I have heard that they are pretty big but I think we can beat them down the court.”
Nichols along with his teammates have been hearing the fans talked about their horrible performance against UConn but remains confident that the team will play a lot better.
“We are pretty confident. We always have great confidence. That’s a huge part of our team by just having great confidence,” Nichols said. “I think we got an okay seeding. Everyone in our bracket is beatable of course.
The way we play. I think we can beat any team in the tournament. Like I said, confidence is the main key and we just got to continue to trust the process.”
The game between Memphis and George Washington is slated for Friday at 5:55 CST at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. The game will be televised on TBS.