Games that Matter -- December 23, 2010
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ESPN / USA Today: 9
Preview of Thursday's Game: Georgetown at Memphis, 8pm
After two weeks of cupcakes and exams, Georgetown will ease its way into conference play with an evening matchup against a familiar foe: the Memphis Tigers, a team which dominated the Hoyas the last time they battled at the Fedex Forum in 2007. But that was then and this is now. Today’s Memphis squad is young and untested. Despite their 9-1 start, the Tigers have played in some very close games against inferior competition (i.e. needing overtime to defeat juggernauts like Arkansas State and Austin Peay, and waiting until the final minute to beat Texas A&M Corpus-Christi).
If it seems like Memphis is taking longer than usual to get its act together, that’s not at all surprising, considering the Tigers have been plagued by injuries and defections. Leading scorer Wesley Witherspoon is out until mid-January with a knee injury. Their biggest player – 6’11’’ junior Angel Garcia – just left the team to play professionally in Europe. Meanwhile, star freshman Jelan Kendrick was released from the team back in November. Memphis is also one of the youngest teams in the country – with seven freshmen and three sophomores. So you’ll have to forgive Memphis if it’s been struggling against weaker competition.
The Tigers’ backcourt consists of three emerging stars: 6’0’’ freshman Joe Jackson, 6’4’’ freshman Chris Crawford, and 6’6’’ freshman Will Barton. All three have the potential to be special, if they can figure out ways to complement one another. Joe Jackson, a Memphis native, is the closest player Memphis has to Chris Wright. He’s not the best outside shooter, but he puts the ball on the floor relentlessly and leads the team in scoring (11.5 ppg) and assists (3.7 apg). He’s the engine of the offense. As a freshman, he’s been erratic (leading the team with 3.7 turnovers per game), but the Tigers are much more stagnant when he’s not in the game. Equally important to the Tigers’ success is Will Barton – another highly touted recruit – who averages 11.4 points per game and has led the team in rebounding (4.4 rpg) since Witherspoon’s injury. Like Jackson, Barton is a grinder. He’s not a great shooter and he forces his shot a little too often, but he’s got a solid handle and knows how to get to the basket and draw fouls.
The bellwether for this Memphis team has been Chris Crawford (9.4 ppg). He’s probably the biggest threat from the perimeter, so when he’s knocking down threes, Memphis has looked really good. When he struggles, though, the dribble-drive offense that Josh Pastner adopted from Calipari resembles street ball instead of anything fluid.
Joining Jackson, Barton and Crawford in the backcourt are two role players that have stepped up recently: 6’2’’ freshman Antonio Barton and 6’2’’ junior Charles Carmouche. Both average over 20 minutes per contest. Carmouche, in particular, has provided a spark for the Tigers, contributing 12 points and 6 boards in Memphis’ last game. Memphis uses a 7-man rotation, so expect to see a lot of Carmouche and the other Barton in tonight’s game.
Without Witherspoon and Garcia up front, Memphis has struggled to find the right combination. Thus far, it has relied on Will Coleman, a 6’9’’ senior, and Tarik Black, a 6’8’’ freshman. Neither player averages more than 20 minutes per game, but both have improved considerably in the last few weeks, particularly on the defensive end. Coleman has had a couple of offensive outbursts, scoring 20 against UT-Martin and 15 against Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. Black is less polished and more prone to commit turnovers, but he’ll see lots of action as one of the biggest guys in the Tigers’ lineup.
Keys to the Game
1. Forcing Perimeter Shots: With the exception of Crawford, Memphis doesn’t shoot the ball very well from the perimeter. Memphis’ biggest strength lies in Jackson and Barton’s ability to penetrate to the basket and draw fouls. If Georgetown can take away the middle, Memphis will have to find its shooting touch, something which has so far evaded the Tigers this season.
2. Controlling the Tempo: I’m not saying we can’t run with Memphis. We can. But Memphis is a fast and scrappy team full of guards who love to take the ball to the basket. We don’t need to press. We don’t need to worry about depth. With a bigger and stronger lineup, we should be able to run our offense and wear the Tigers down in our half court sets. With only seven guys in its regular lineup, Memphis is not deep. We should be able to take advantage.
3. Julian: It’s time for him to step it up. Yeah, he made all 8 of his free throws in the Temple game, and that kept it close down the stretch in the second half. But he’s still a work in progress, and there were tons of missed opportunities against Temple. I don’t have outsized expectations for Julian; I just want him to catch the ball, hold onto the ball, and DUNK the ball. That’s it. I’m tired of lazy turnovers under the basket. Against Memphis, Julian should be one of the best bigs on the court. Memphis will look to fight and claw, and Julian needs to play under control. Catch the ball, hold onto the ball, DUNK the ball. I know you won’t be Mike Sweetney, and that’s okay, but please step it up.
4. Getting Inside Joe Jackson’s Head: Joe Jackson leads Memphis with 37 turnovers. He’s definitely one of the Tigers’ best scorers and distributors, but when things aren’t going well for him, he has a tendency, like all freshmen, to get rattled. I can’t wait to see Chris Wright abuse him all night.
5. Jason: Against Loyola, Jason’s shot looked a little off for the first time all season. Not sure if he was just trying to force the issue a little too often, or if he just wasn’t feeling it (which happens). Let’s just hope it’s not a trend. We’ll need him to score and play under control tonight.
Memphis is good. They’re guard-heavy and tough, and they should get better as the season progresses and will probably end up as a tough out in the NCAA Tourney, especially when they get Witherspoon back. But right now, they’re young and inexperienced and hurt. Georgetown is bigger, stronger and more battle-tested. I know this game is on the road, and I know we’ll be facing a hostile crowd, but this is the type of game we need to win. And I’m not talking about a close win either. We’re better than this team. We should win by 10 or 15 points. It doesn’t matter where the game is played.
I’m still a little mad that my winter road trip to Tennessee back in 2007 was a little ruined when we lost by 14 to Derrick Rose and Co. Beating Memphis back in D.C. in 2008 provided a little payback, but I kind of want their fans to suffer a little more. Chris and Austin are men. Joe Jackson and Will Barton are still boys. Let’s take it to ‘em and head into the regular season with a W.
Let's go Hoyas. Beat Memphis.