Game Notes: SMU at Memphis
The Tigers take care of business at home.
While rolling through Memphis to check out the Penny Hardaway Hoop Fest, it was a given that any basketball nut like myself would look to see if there was going to be any college or NBA games to peep. Much to my pleasure, the Memphis Tigers were taking on SMU at noon before the elite HS hoops tipped off, so it was a given that I was going to stop in and see what Josh Pastner had to offer.
Once the game was set to tip at noon, the National Anthem and starting lineups were done and the players were ready to tip. One problem: No lights. Even Gucci couldn’t cut the lights on, so after a 15 minute or so delay, everything was ready to roll. With Adonis Thomas out for the season, it was evident that this group of Tigers wasn’t quite used to playing with each other. The chemistry simply wasn’t there. With Antonio Barton and Joe Jackson not exactly being the epitome of true point guards, everyone had a “I’m gonna get mine” mentality out there. Not coincidentally, this resulted in a really rough half for the Tigers on both ends. They shot 12/31 from the field offensively and constantly got beat for open lay0ups/jumpers due to lack of communication. The lack of continuity allowed SMU to stick around, trailing Memphis by only 2 at the half, 30-28.
The second half started off very much the same for Memphis: Bad shots and poor rotation defensively. SMU was able to grab a 5 point lead via making the extra pass, killing the Tigers on the offensive glass, and knocking down open jumpers. It was looking like we were going to have an upset on our hands, despite Memphis hella hyped crowd. Then at around the 7 minute mark, Memphis turned it on. They applied unbelievable ball pressure on SMU and created mad turnovers, which led to easy bucket after easy bucket in transition. I caught myself slipping early in the game wondering whether or not Memphis was as good as advertised, but those last 7 minutes showed why they can easily win the C-USA ‘ship. The damage they put on SMU during that run allowed them to walk away with a convincing 63-45 W.
Here are a few key observations from the game:
—Will Barton is one of college basketball’s elite shot creators. At 6-6 and 175 pounds, Will Barton doesn’t exactly fit the bill of what you’d envision on a guy who can get buckets on anyone. Don’t let his sinewy build fool you, he can go. After playing more of a combo guard throughout his high school career, the sophomore seems to have realized that he has the most potential as a cold-blooded scorer. He used the handle that he developed running point to easily shake SMU defenders off to free himself up for open looks. The first step and natural scoring instincts he shows are special, hence why he is leading C-USA in scoring as a sophomore. There is plenty of work to do with Barton’s decision making, but nobody can deny the fact that he will have the option to bounce bounce to the league this June if he chooses to do so.
—It will be a surprise if Joe Jackson is wearing a Memphis jersey next season. After almost transferring at the semester break, former McDonald’s All American Joe Jackson decided to stick it out at Memphis for the remainder of the season. You’d hope that in a situation like that, things would get better. Based on the SMU game, they haven’t. The former star just a few miles away at White Station played very sporadically throughout the game at both the point and shooting guard slots. Jackson and his camp have stressed that they want him to play point guard and it was super clear to everyone in attendance that it didn’t seem like he was having a good time out there on the court. With Chris Crawford emerging as the team’s best option at the point, look for Jackson to explore other options at season’s end, including in state rival Tennessee.
—If/When Memphis gels, they are going to be tough. For the first 33 minutes of the game, I sat there wondering whether or not Memphis was an NCAA tournament team. For the last 7 minutes, I was debating how deep they’d go in March. The Tigers have everything that you could ask for in a legit NCAA caliber team in terms of talent, but have yet to develop the continuity or establish a leader for the team. If they’re able to get it together and stop beating teams simply off of talent alone, UAB and UCF are going to be in for a surprise as the season goes on.
—Matt Doherty will be lucky if he is in Dallas next season. Despite what many UNC fans will think, its not that he can’t coach; It’s that he can’t recruit. Against Memphis, he did an excellent job of keeping his players disciplined and convincing them to settle for good shots. In fact, his sets that involved tons of back cuts constantly got his team open look after open look. The problem was that his players just weren’t talented enough to knock shots down or create their own offense when they got deep in the shot clock. There haven’t been any more Jeryl Sasser’s walking through that door under Doherty’s tenure and if things stay the way they are, I expect there t o be a change in leadership at SMU soon.