Back in the NCAA Tournament after a break in the action last season, the Arizona Wildcats size up the Memphis Tigers in the second round of the West Regional this afternoon at the BOK Center in Tulsa.
Fifth-seeded Arizona, which has had to vacate appearances in both the 1999 and 2008 NCAA Tournament due to NCAA infractions, has a record of 43-25 officially in the annual event and won the national title back in 1997 with an 84-79 overtime triumph versus Kentucky in Indianapolis. As far as the 2010-11 campaign was concerned, the Wildcats were the team to beat in the Pac-10 as they put up a record of 14-4 in conference and were almost nearly as strong versus non-league opponents (13-3). Led by second-year head coach Sean Miller, Arizona closed the regular season with back-to-back wins over Oregon State and Oregon, and then added victories against the Beavers and USC in the conference tournament before losing to Washington in the title game on March 12th by a score of 77-75 in overtime at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
As for the Tigers, the squad had some trouble against the rest of Conference USA this season and actually lost three of the last five games of the regular season. But Memphis bounced back in the conference tournament with wins over Southern Miss, East Carolina and UTEP, the latter being a one-point decision in the title game, in order to earn the automatic berth in the real postseason. The squad finished with a record of 25-9 overall and was just 10-6 in league bouts.
In an interesting twist, the second-year head coach for Memphis is Josh Pastner who spent the previous 12 years of his life as part of the Arizona family as a player, staff member and assistant coach and enjoyed 12 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament during his time in Tucson. The Tigers, who have made the NCAA title game twice in 1973 and 2008, have an all-time record of 32-22 in this event and are still searching for their first crown.
Memphis leads the all-time series between the programs by a slim 4-3 count, although the Wildcats had taken three in a row before the Tigers put up a 76-63 win at home back in 2007, the most recent matchup.
The winner of today's game is back in action on Sunday versus the survivor of the Oakland/Texas matchup.
Unlike previous seasons when the Tigers had several standout performers to lean on, this time around the squad has just a single double-digit scorer on the roster in Will Barton with his 12.3 ppg. Barton, who mixes in five rebounds per game and is one of the primary passers with his 95 assists over the course of 34 appearances, doesn't have the best aim out on the perimeter, having converted a mere 27.3 percent of his three-point tries. The team as a whole is shooting only 32.7 percent beyond the arc and other than Antonio Barton (39-of-91) doesn't exactly have a single go-to guy for that aspect of the offense. Joe Jackson (9.9 ppg) has handed out 107 assists thus far, but he has made 110 turnovers which is a good portion of the unit's whopping 520 miscues so far this season. Tarik Black (9.2 ppg) tries to give Memphis a presence in the paint with his team-high 5.2 rpg, but having fouled out of eight games hasn't helped him or the Tigers.
Like the Tigers, Arizona has only one player scoring in double figures entering the tournament as well, but the big difference is that Derrick Williams is not just another scoring option for the Wildcats. Williams was named the Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year for 2010-11 after producing 19.1 ppg and 8.1 rpg this year. A 61.5 percent shooter from the field, Williams has also made good on 35-of-58 (.603) behind the three-point line, but don't expect him to move to the outside exclusively any time soon. A physical player in the paint, Williams was 215-of-298 at the free-throw line which means he accounted for more than one-third of the unit's scoring at the stripe and helped Arizona to outscore the opposition by 146 at the charity stripe through 34 games. Lamont Jones (9.6 ppg) and Kyle Fogg (8.3 ppg) were key in getting the ball to Williams as they combined to distribute 173 assists for the Wildcats.
With so many teams in the Pac-10 having a hard time slowing down Williams in the paint, it is hard to imagine the Tigers finding a way to get the job done and also being able to produce enough offense to actually win this game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona 75, Memphis 63