In the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Memphis Tigers (24-9, 12-6 AAC)) were in a dog fight against the George Washington Colonials (24-9, 11-5 A-10) from the Atlantic 10 but prevailed with the 71-66 victory.
Senior guards Joe Jackson and Michael Dixon Jr. scored crucial points for the Tigers when the team desperately needed them. Coach Josh Pastner now has two wins on his resume for the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers now enters the second round to take on the Virginia Cavaliers (29-6, 16-2 ACC) from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Virginia was crowned regular season champions and conference tournament champions this season.
The Cavaliers got passed their first test in the first round as it took a solid second half to get the 70-59 victory over Coastal Carolina.
Virginia was down 35-30 at halftime and it was because of their shooting woes. They shot 40 percent (8-of-20) from the field and 28.6 percent (2-of-7) from beyond the arc. Getting off to slow starts will not be able to happen against Memphis.
Sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon will have to lead this Virginia team as he has done all season long. He’s their leading scorer (12.7 ppg). Senior guard Joe Harris would like to extend his last season with Virginia, but Brogdon can’t be the only player scoring in double figures. It will take the both of them to get the Cavaliers to the Sweet 16 round.
Brogdon had 14 points, five assists, and five rebounds against Coastal Carolina. Harris added 11 points, three assists, and three rebounds.
The Cavaliers will have to find their shooting touch early in the game in order to keep up with a Memphis team who averages 77.4 points a game. As a team, Virginia averages 66.1 points a game.
The Tigers have tons of weapons to use against Virginia but Pastner thrives on his four senior guards (Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson, Dixon, and Jackson) to run the offense effectively and score points.
“As I have said before, it is going to be hard for us to win games when our four senior guards don’t play well. We are not going to win that way,” Pastner said.
Memphis needs to do a better job of knowing when to shoot the basketball rather than constantly jacking up shot after shot. They started the George Washington game shooting 50 percent (9-of-18) from the field but finished the first half shooting 15.4 percent (2-of-13).
In the second half against George Washington, the senior guards took more chances in the paint but at times, it seems as if the guards don’t realize that they two solid big men in the paint with the ability to score.
Sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin was very effective on the floor scoring eight points along with grabbing five rebounds. Freshman forward Austin Nichols added nine points and six rebounds. In order for Memphis to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009, Goodwin and Nichols will have to get more touches of the basketball.
If a repeat of Friday’s shooting performance takes place on Sunday, then the Tigers could be looking at the exit of the NCAA tournament.
Johnson, for Memphis, had some words of wisdom for himself and his teammates after their quarterfinals round loss in the American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament to the UConn Huskies.
“We will win two games next week, that’s what I am going to say,” Johnson said. “I have faith in my team. We can play with anybody in the country. I know coach Pastner don’t like that but we are going to get back to the drawing board and work hard.
You can put my statement under my name. We will win two next week.”
The game between Memphis and Virginia is slated for Sunday at 7:40 p.m. CST at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. The game will be televised on TNT and is available on the March Madness Live App.