Having handled Texas-Arlington, 87-63, the second-ranked Memphis Tigers (now 34-1) advance to the NCAA tournament's second round, where they'll face Mississippi State Sunday afternoon in Little Rock. Here are four angles to consider as you digest Friday nights win.
Who knows what was said in the heated exchange between Joey Dorsey and Tiger coach John Calipari early in the second half, but it may be a component to the Tigers' making a tournament run of any sorts this month. Having picked up his third foul with more than 16 minutes left to play, Dorsey took exception to the way his coach greeted him on the bench. This after the senior center had virtually no impact on the Tigers taking a 45-31 halftime lead.
Upon returning to the floor, though, Dorsey was the shot-blocking, rebounding, floor-running big man he can be when motivated. With the Bulldogs sending Charles Rhodes (34 points Friday against Oregon) and Jarvis Varnado (four blocks, eight rebounds) into the paint for Sunday's tilt, Dorsey is going to have to play motivated -- play mean, one might say -- for Memphis to retain the edge a number-one seed should.
This will be the fifth time the Tigers have faced an SEC foe in the NCAAs. In 1986, the Tigers blew a six-point halftime lead and lost to LSU in the second round, Dana Kirk's final game as Memphis State's coach. Led by David Vaughn and Penny Hardaway, the Tigers upset Arkansas in the second round of the 1992 tournament. The Hogs got revenge three years later in the infamous "no-foul" game won by Corey Beck and friends in overtime. Memphis beat South Carolina in the opening round of the 2004 tournament, Calipari's first win in the Big Dance as Tiger coach. Thirty-four wins will go a long way, championship or otherwise. But if the Tigers end up 0-2 against the SEC this season, there will be scowls all but permanently drawn across the faces of Memphis fans. Can't happen, can it?
With each round the Tigers survive, the experience factor should grow as an intangible in their favor. Friday's win was the ninth NCAA tournament game for Dorsey, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Robert Dozier, Antonio Anderson, and Andre Allen. (For perspective, in four years, Keith Lee played a total of 12 tournament games, as did Baskerville Holmes and Andre Turner.) If CDR, Anderson, and Dozier combine for 52 points, as they did Friday night, the Tigers will be tough to beat. Add the stability of play at point guard -- a combination of the precocious Derrick Rose, Willie Kemp, and Allen -- and the Memphis roster has a thicker backbone than most teams in the field. Watch the three-point shooting percentage, though, against Mississippi State. The Tigers will take 9 of 18 (as they shot against the Mavericks) any game, any round. But if the Bullies force the kind of misfiring displayed by Oregon (9 of 38), Sunday night could be a sleepless one in these parts.
Much is made every season about the Tigers' strength of schedule (or better put, lack thereof). But this year, thanks to a big-name nonconference lineup arranged by Calipari and athletic director R.C. Johnson, Memphis remained near the top of the RPI rankings even well into Conference USA play. But it's hard to claim that schedule as quite so solid after the NCAAs first round. The eight tournament teams Memphis faced this season split their games. Traditional postseason players Arizona, Gonzaga, and Connecticut all went down, as did Southern Cal (which came very close to beating Memphis in early December). Georgetown, Tennessee, and Oklahoma won, as expected. And so did Siena. A team that Memphis destroyed, 102-58, the Saints beat Vanderbilt ... the same Commodore squad that beat Tennessee three nights after the Vols gave Memphis its only loss of the season. That, friends, is why this bash is called March Madness.