NCAA Tournament: Memphis vs. George Washington Preview

Coach Josh Pastner feels confident that his team will be ready to go on Friday. He currently has an 1-3 record in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Josh Pastner and the Memphis Tigers (23-9, 12-6 AAC) seem ready to redeem themselves from their loss to the Connecticut Huskies in the quarterfinals round of the American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament.

From Pastner’s perspective, there’s no negative energy floating around the presence of his players, only positive thoughts.

“No negative nellies, positive paws with this team,” Pastner stated to the media at Tuesday’s press conference at the Larry Finch Center.

“We all got to be positive paws during that game, all of our guys. We got to have great energy and the positive paws got to carry us with good energy playing to win and hopefully we will get the job done.”

There have to be some positive thoughts going into the NCAA Tournament where one loss can end a team’s season. In the Tigers’ first game, they will take on the George Washington Colonials (24-8, 11-5 A-10) of the Atlantic 10 for the right to move onto the second round to face the winner of Virginia/Coastal Carolina.

George Washington is 4-1 in their last five games. They are coming off a semifinals round loss to Virginia Commonwealth (74-55) in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

As a team, the Colonials shot 41.7 percent (20-of-48) from the field. Their 52.6 percent (10-of-19) effort from the free throw line was their own worst enemy compared to VCU’s 70.6 percentage (12-of-17) from the line.

George Washington will be without one of their leading scorers in sophomore guard Kethan Savage. Savage was second on the team in scoring (12.7).

Coach Mike Lonergan ruled out Savage ability to play against Memphis. Savage suffered a broken foot on Jan.18 against St. Bonaventure and hasn’t played since. Due to his foot injury, he was unable to practice with the team on Thursday.

With Savage out of the lineup, coach Lonergan will have to rely on other talent on his roster to get the job done against Memphis. Besides Savage, there are four players scoring in double figures: Maurice Creek (14.3), Isaiah Armwood (12.5), Patricio Garino (12.2), and Kevin Larsen (11.3).

Pastner gives coach Lonergan the upmost respect for the talent on his team.

“They are a very good team, well coached. They are fundamentally sound. They are not going to beat themselves. We’re going to have beat them in order to win the game,” Pastner said.

Senior graduate transfer David Pellom is the most excited Tiger to play against George Washington. Before Pellom came to Memphis, he had played three seasons for the Colonials but failed to make the NCAA Tournament.

In his last season at George Washington, Pellom was sidelined with a left wrist injury. When Pellom found out he was playing against his former school, he and Armwood from George Washington called one another.

“It’s funny because the day we were matched up, me and Armwood facetimed each other at the same time. It was kind of funny that we were matching up against each other,” Pellom said.

Pellom insists that his teammates don’t take this George Washington team for granted as they like to play an aggressive style of zone defense and force their opponents to play half-court.

“It’s pretty tough. They definitely have some long arms with 6-8 and up guys that are on the court. Anything that is going to slow us down is going to be a struggle for us,” Pellom said. “Just as long as we keep the paste like we want, then we will be fine.”

In order for Memphis to get out of the first round for the second straight season, senior guard Joe Jackson and sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin will have to play well.

Jackson’s stats sheet has taken a hit after his stellar junior season when he was crowned Conference-USA Player of the Year. In the 2012-13 season, Jackson shot 51.9 percent (168-of-324) from the field and 44.7 percent (38-of-85) from deep.

This season, Jackson is shooting 43.9 percent (145-of-330) from the field and 26.9 percent (21-of-78) from beyond the arc.

“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.”

George Washington and Memphis are scheduled to tip-off at 5:55 p.m. CST on Friday at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. The game will be televised on TBS and the NCAA March Madness Live App.