One day soon Syracuse vs. Memphis could (very likely) be a Big East conference affair. Until then, we'll just have to keep getting together from time to time so that the Tigers can be reminded they're not in the league...yet.
Coming off their first loss of the season, the No. 7 Syracuse Orange (13-1) host the Memphis Tigers (10-3) tonight in the Dome. It's a rematch from last year, when the Orange tamed the then-John Calipari-led Tigers in Memphis 72-65. Just like recent opponent Seton Hall, the Tigers were just a wee bit dickish last time these two teams met. Even the LOLCatz noticed. After the game I said there was "lots of taunting, ball-slapping after the whistles blow and general dickery" from the Memphis squad. A year older and playing in a hostile environment should keep that from coming out again.
Another thing that could keep the Tigers in check? The Orange are piiiiissed. Maybe they're not saying it, but they are. Doubts have crept back in about the team after getting pushed around by Pitt. They'll want to squash those immediately and a Memphis team with a good record and semi-good reputation is the perfect antidote.
Memphis might have similar stats on paper to the previous year, but when you dig a little deeper like CuseOrange did, you realize this team is about as untested as they come.
Take a closer look at Memphis’ season so far, and you’ll find that they’ve already lost as many games this season (3) as they had all last season. Despite dropping close games to Kansas, UMass and Tennesse, they’ve played a horrific schedule, ranked 320th in the nation. The crown jewel of that schedule is Memphis’ most recent opponent, Houston Baptist (#341 in KenPom rankings), who employed a zone, giving Memphis a very very dry run of what will be in store for them Wednesday night.
There's a new face lining up against the Orange this time, point guard Elliot Williams. Williams transferred from Duke so that he could be closer to his ill mother, even receiving a waiver to play immediately given the circumstances. And just as immediately, he's paid dividends for the Tigers.
The sophomore leads the Tigers in scoring at 19.7 points per game, rates second in assists with 4.1 and third in rebounds at 4.4 boards per contest.
"He’s made a major impact,’’ Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "He’s our leading scorer. We look to him a lot. He keeps getting better. He keeps improving. He’s becoming a multi-dimensional player.’’
The Orange have some intriguing match-ups, Triche and Scoop against Williams and AO vs. a very similar big man in Pierre Henderson-Niles. SU will look to Kris Joseph to continue his impressive play off the bench, averaging 13.0 points and 4.5 rebounds over the last two games.
Memphis coach John Pastner knows he's got his hands full with the Orange as the Tigers prepare for their new role as the underdog.
"They're good enough to compete for a Final Four, to possibly win a national championship," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "They've got good players. Wesley Johnson is a legit lottery pick. They're big inside. Some of their best offense is offensive rebounding. They're good in transition. It will be a tough game, and it will be a great opportunity for us for a tuneup before we start league play."