(6) Memphis vs. (11) Saint Mary’s
(6) Memphis Tigers
Since Josh Pastner took over for John Calipari in 2009, he has continued to bring in high level recruits and remain one of the premier teams in Conference USA. The one thing he has not done as the head of the Tigers basketball program is win a NCAA Tournament game, but this year’s group is very capable of changing that for him. The Tigers (30-4, 16-0) enter the big dance after running through C-USA during regular season play. They’re led by speedy junior point guard Joe Jackson, who has played his best basketball of his career this season, averaging 13.8 points, three rebounds and just under five assists. He’s thriving as the focal point of the offense and is surrounded by some quality weapons in Adonis Thomas, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford, Tarik Black, Shaq Goodwin and D.J. Stephens. The Tigers are one of the highest scoring teams in the field, averaging 74 a contest. They’re an athletic bunch and it really shows on the defensive end, where they hold opposition to 64 a night while blocking six shots and accumulating nine steals on average. While they work very well together, the Tigers do turn it over in excess, giving it up nearly 15 times a contest. Taking care of the ball is vital in the tournament and it’s something the Tigers will really have to be conscious about if they’re going to survive and advance. They’ll also need to try and avoid foul trouble and make their free throws. During the regular season, they shot just 67 percent from the free throw line. The Tigers have went 2-3 against the RPI top 50, struggling against teams with the ability to really pressure them on the defensive end.
(11) Saint Mary’s Gaels
Gonzaga’s development into a perennial NCAA Tournament team and a national powerhouse has forced the rest of the West Coast Conference to raise their level of play and the Gaels (27-6, 14-2) have proven to be up to the task. They’re back in the tournament for the second straight year and have one of the best guards in the country in senior guard Matthew Dellavedova, who spent his summer representing Australia in the Olympics. He leads the team in points (15.8) and assists (6.4). He’s one of four double-digit scorers along with Stephen Holt, Beau Levesque and Brad Waldow. Unfortunately, the Gaels are not going into the big dance healthy as guard Jorden Page injured his knee in the WCC Conference Tournament championship against aforementioned ‘Zags. As a team, the Gaels score 76 a night, making eight threes on average. They outrebounded their opponents by nine a night. They went 1-3 against the RPI top 25 with their most notable win coming against Creighton. The Gaels are hoping to avoid a team that can shoot the three as they really struggled to contain the long ball during the regular season.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Memphis. The Tigers are too athletic and explosive for Saint Mary’s to keep pace with.