Three inches. That’s an educated guess on how close the Tigers came to knocking off top-ranked Kansas tonight. Had Elliot Williams’ three-point attempt at the buzzer been a bit more shy — by thaaaaat much — Memphis earns its greatest upset in 89 years of basketball. Instead, the Tigers walk off the court in St. Louis disappointed with a 57-55 defeat.
Remarkable first half. Despite converting only two field goals over the last nine minutes of the half and missing 12 of 14 three-point attempts, the U of M was down only six points against the consensus number-one team in the country. (Consider: had the Tigers made merely 25 percent of their three point attempts in the half, the score would have been tied.)
Just as eye-opening was the way seven Memphis players were able to trade punches against a Kansas team that went 10 deep, with two All-Americans (Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins) and a freshman phenom (Xavier Henry) in its starting lineup. A strength to this year’s collection of underdogs may well be its team defense (witness the six Kansas turnovers over the game’s first six minutes). Josh Pastner has an undersized team, but it’s not lacking for quickness or athleticism. Kansas players not named Aldrich made but 13 of 33 shots.
• Among the “what ifs” to consider at the breakfast table: What if the Tigers’ shooters had been even mediocre? They attempted 25 shots from beyond the arc and hit exactly six (two of them clutch in the final minute by Doneal Mack and Williams). Roburt Sallie going for 0-for-6 might be hidden against SMU or Tulane. Not on ESPN though.
• Pastner deserves his first stripe for coaching acumen, managing his seven players against a titan like Kansas and only losing one to fouls. Pastner has a challenge on his hands, though, in identifying the role that one player — Wesley Witherspoon — will play this season. In terms of height — Witherspoon’s 6’9” — the sophomore is among the Tigers’ biggest players. But he looked horribly out of position guarding the low post Tuesday night (where he picked up his last two fouls). With so few options for defending the basket, Pastner may be forced to stretch Witherspoon’s defense more than either man would like.
• If you’re a college hoops fan, you gotta love Dick Vitale’s enthusiasm. But objectivity? His unbridled defense of the Memphis program in respect to the allegations that Derrick Rose had a proxy take his SAT for him was hardly a broad assessment of the matter. Long tied to the mast of college basketball, Vitale should show greater concern for the shortcuts players are bound to take to skirt the NBA’s draft restrictions. Whether or not Rose is guilty, the allegations are serious. And whether or not they impact programs competing for a national championship, such transgressions have to be fought by the NCAA.