Big East, here we come.
Wednesday-night games at East Carolina in early February are among the reasons Memphis fans are somewhat gonzo over the news today that the U of M will be joining the Big East conference effective with the 2013-14 academic year. A Monday-night showdown with Villanova would be a nice trade for the affair tonight in Greenville, North Carolina.
The Tigers and Pirates were tied at 10 after six minutes of play and 20-20 with 8:50 to go in the first half. But keyed by three-pointers from Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford, Memphis finished the half on a 17-5 run and the contest was never in doubt over the game's final 20 minutes. Despite going five minutes in the second half without a field goal, the Tigers' lead was never reduced below six points.
Crawford led the Tigers with 16 points and Will Barton added 15. But the game ball tonight goes to Wesley Witherspoon. For the third time in four games, the senior played a significant role off the bench, earning a double-double with 12 points and and a season-high 11 rebounds. (It was the third double-double of Witherspoon's career.) Miguel Paul led ECU with 13 points.
The Tigers have entered a five-game phase of their schedule in which they primarily need to avoid the big stumble. (And they stumbled mightily in a loss at East Carolina last March.) Now 17-7 (6-2 in Conference USA play), they return to play at FedExForum Saturday night when UAB comes to town. The Blazers and the next three foes on the schedule (Tulane, UTEP, and ECU again) are all quite beatable. Coach Josh Pastner wants to enter the rematch with Marshall (February 25th) with a 21-7 mark, allowing slight margin for error in the loss column as postseason play approaches.
Memphis should enjoy the two-week "don't stumble" period. There won't be many in the Big East.