Four Thoughts: Memphis at Oklahoma StatePosted by CD Bradley on November 20th, 2013
Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.
- In some ways, it’s unfair to judge Memphis too harshly based on Tuesday night’s blowout loss at Oklahoma State. Once things start to unravel on the road, they have a tendency to get away from you, as the Tigers were so clearly reminded. That said, they contributed quite a bit to their own woes. It became apparent early on that they were at best uninterested in running offense, with one or two perimeter passes preceding long jumpers without the ball ever making it below the free throw line. Oklahoma State opened in a sagging man-to-man, clogging the lane while giving the Tigers outside shots which they were much too quick to take. ESPN.com‘s play-by-play divides all shots into jumpers and layups; in the first half, Memphis was 7-of-12 on layups and 3-of-19 on jumpers. That’s how you fall behind by 18 at halftime, at which point the game was effectively over. On a couple of occasions, Memphis threw multiple passes and got good looks inside, but just as often a player got the ball on the perimeter, called a clearout and began an ill-fated drive into traffic. That can work against physically overmatched teams, but failed miserably on the road against a higher-ranked opponent.
- The headline will definitely be the performance of Marcus Smart, and he was spectacular. It was a series of three-pointers in the first half that got him trending on Twitter and blew the game open. Great players will have great games, but the long-distance assault probably isn’t what should concern Josh Pastner going forward. Smart hasn’t been a good shooter, averaging 29 percent from three last year and 31 percent in his first three games this season, so giving him those jumpers isn’t the worst idea. But before he channeled Steph Curry, he was having his way by posting up Memphis’ slighter guards; he made particular sport of Joe Jackson, on whom he has three inches and 50 pounds. Shabazz Napier, the guard who leads conference foe UConn in rebounding, had to enjoy what he saw. While Smart’s shooting night may have been a bit of a surprise, he is a consensus first-team All American; the Tigers’ utter failure to slow him has be of major concern given the guard-dominant AAC. What must Russ Smith be thinking?
- Josh Pastner still hasn’t beaten a ranked team as a head coach, which is his problem. But Memphis getting worked in Stillwater is also the AAC’s problem. As we’ve noted before, the conference’s non-conference slate offers few opportunities for quality wins. This was one of the biggest, and we see how that turned out. Memphis has a few more chances — Florida at MSG next month, Gonzaga in Memphis in February, and maybe a rematch with the Cowboys in a couple of weeks at the Old Spice Classic – as do other AAC members. But as each win opportunity passes by, the risk grows that the league’s RPI numbers will be such come January that there are few quality wins to be had in conference play either.
- The strength of this Memphis team was supposed to be its backcourt, with four senior guards thought by some to be the best unit in the country. Those guards – Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon Jr., Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford – combined for 10 turnovers against only eight assists. That followed up on a 21-turnover performance by the Tigers in their opening game. One of the tradeoffs inherent in playing a three-guard or even four-guard lineup is that rebounding will suffer, but ball-handling should be a strength. It hasn’t necessarily been one for Memphis thus far, and it must improve for the Tigers to live up to their preseason expectations.