Friday night, 9:57 pm (or shortly thereafter). Reliant Stadium, Houston. CBS.
Since we’ve already spent the last few days looking at Memphis, I’m going to stick mainly to the numbers tonight.
Memphis comes in at 35-1 on the season, the only loss being to Tennessee by a score of 66-62 on February 13. The Tigers went a perfect 19-0 in Conference USA play (including the conference tournament). According to the Sagarin rankings, Conference USA ranks as just the 10th best college basketball conference. Only four members of the 12-team conference rate in the top 100 teams nationally according to Sagarin: Memphis (3), Houston (56), UAB (58), and Tulsa (79).
But Memphis did partially compensate for their weak conference slate by loading up their nonconference schedule with quality opponents. The beat Oklahoma, UConn, USC, Georgetown, Arizona, and Gonzaga–plus Mississippi State in NCAA Tournament play. Still, they played just 3 teams in the Sagarin top 25 (Tennessee, Georgetown, UConn), so they’ve had relatively few chances to test themselves against top-flight competition.
Even adjusting for the quality of their opponents, though, Memphis rates as an elite team. They rank 3rd in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency and 10th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.
On defense, the Tigers have no perceptible weakness:
- They’re very good at forcing tough shots, holding opponents to an effective FG% of 42.9 (5th in the nation). Both their opponents’ 2-point % (41.9) and 3-point % (30.3) are 7th lowest in the nation.
- They create a decent amount of turnovers, forcing their opponents to give the ball up on 22.3% of possessions (98th in the nation).
- They rebound well, holding their opponents to an offensive rebounding % of 28.9 (29th in the nation).
- They don’t foul excessively; their opponents’ free throw rate is 32.9% (95th in the nation).
Memphis plays an aggressive man-to-man defense. When their perimeter defenders do get beat, their big men are very good at blocking shots. Memphis’ block % of 15.4 ranks 8th in the nation. All three of their big men–Joey Dorsey, Robert Dozier, and Shawn Taggart–sport individual block percentages above 5.0%. (Block % is blocked shots divided by opponents’ 2-point attempts.)
On offense, their statistical profile is less balanced. They’re very good at maximizing the number of shots they get:
- They don’t turn the ball over; their offensive turnover % of 16.9 is 11th best in the nation.
- They rebound their misses; their offensive rebounding % of 38.5 is 18th in the nation.
When it comes to shooting the ball, they create and convert good looks around the basket–their 2-point FG% of 53.2 is 26th in the nation–but they struggle shooting from longer distances:
- Their 3-point shooting % is a pedestrian 35.3 (154th in the nation).
- Their free throw shooting % of 59.2 is second-to-worst in the nation (340th out of 341 teams).
Junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts is Memphis’ leading scorer (17.3 points/game) and their best perimeter shooter (42.7% three-point %). No other Memphis player shoots better than 37% from 3-point range.
Freshman guard Derrick Rose is Memphis’s second leading scorer (14.1 points/game). He’s a less efficient scorer (35.1% three-point %), but we also know from our film session that he’s the guy who makes the dribble-drive motion offense go.
Beyond Douglas-Roberts and Rose, Memphis is pretty balanced offensively. Five players average between 5 and 10 points per game. Most noteworthy among those players is 6’9″, 260-pound senior big man Joey Dorsey, who averages 9.7 rebounds per game. He ranks in the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Also, Dorsey shoots 64.7% from the field; if he gets the ball near the basket, it’s all over.
One other player to keep you eye on:
Freshman Junior Antonio Anderson. In his last four games, Anderson has made 8 of 17 three-point attempts and put up 19 assists vs. just one turnover.
Memphis is both deep (10 players average at least 9 minutes per game) and big (8 of those players are 6’4″ or taller). Izzo compared them to the Magic Johnson-era Lakers earlier this weak. Expect to see Izzo use his bench liberally to try to offset the Tigers depth, keep the Spartans fresh in what will be a faster-paced game, and avoid foul trouble for the big men early in the game.
Of course, fouling the Tigers excessively is slightly less costly than it is against other teams. No Memphis player shoots better than 69% from the free-throw line. The conventional wisdom is that this will hurt them in a close game. Ken Pomeroy takes issue with the conventional wisdom and at least one Memphis fan thinks free throw shooting has been overemphasized as a weakness for the Tigers (partly because they haven’t played very many close games), but the Tigers’ struggles at the line could certainly be an equalizing factor that helps MSU stay within striking distance Friday night.
Steve Grinczel reports that Izzo has no plans to employ a “hack-a-Tiger” approach against Memphis. (You’ll note that your humble blogger was able to lead Mr. Grinczel to the precise rank of Memphis’ free throw shooting difficulties; scroll down to the kenpom link. It’s good to feel like you serve a purpose in society.)
I’d say that makes a lot of statistical sense. Fouling Dorsey may make some sense when he gets the ball near the hoop, since he shoots just 39.3% from the line. But you certainly don’t want to be fouling the Memphis players indiscriminately. 59.2% is a very poor free throw shooting %, but still higher than Memphis’ effective field goal % of 53.1%.
Kenpom predicts a 70-65 Memphis win in a 67-possession game.
I’ll leave you to mull over the numbers for now. Tomorrow night, we’ll put on a cup of coffee and talk about what we think the keys to pulling off the upset will be.