West Region: No. 2 Memphis (33-3) vs. No. 3 Missouri (30-6)
When: Thursday, 9:37 p.m., EDT
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
1) Crack open those history books Although the casual college basketball fan knows Memphis for their recent run of Elite 8 appearances (2006-2008) including last year's title game collapse or perhaps the days of Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, the Tigers actually have a storied basketball history. They were the runner-up in 1973 to a UCLA team led by John Wooden and Bill Walton and made the Final Four in 1985. Those two years were notable for several reasons. In 1973, Walton scored 44 points on 21/22 FG and the victory was part of UCLA's record 88-game win streak. The Tigers (then Memphis State) were coached by Gene Bartow who eventually succeeded John Wooden. In 1985, the Tigers (still Memphis State) were the only non-Big East team to make the Final Four. That appearance was later vacated by the NCAA for use of ineligible players.
2) More than just flash Even though most fans associate the Tigers brand of basketball with a wide-open playground style, they actually play some defense. In fact, according to the statistical wizards over at KenPom.com, Memphis has the most efficient defensive team in the nation allowing just 81.2 points per 100 opponent possessions.
3) Stepping up under the bright lights Not only was Robert Sallie's 35 points against Cal State-Northridge a career-high (previous high: 13 points), it was also more points than he has scored in the previous month (33 points in 8 games). — Rush the Court
1) Don't call it a comeback Ok, do. If and when Missouri goes into the locker room at halftime trailing by double digits, most Missouri fans won't necessarily be worried—the Tigers are used to falling behind. Any lead of less than 15 points is not safe against Missouri's pressing defense and tendency to score in bunches. Missouri has come back to win from deficits of 14 vs. Kansas, 12 vs. Southern Cal, and 11 at Texas. In two close-but-no-cigar games, the Tigers whittled deficits of 26 down to 7 at Texas A&M and 18 down to 1 at Nebraska. During the A&M game, one commentator said that a lead of 25 against Missouri is like a lead of 15 against any other team. This is not true, as numbers carry the same value in Missouri as they do in other states, but MU certainly has the ability to climb back out of deep holes. On the flipside, the Tigers have squandered their share of big leads throughout the season. Coach Mike Anderson's teams tend to play the same frenetic style in a tie game as they do with a 20-point lead which means lots of trapping, lots of fouling, lots of broken full-court presses, lots of easy buckets for opposing teams and lots of business for cardiologists and shrinks throughout Missouri. In lucky-to-be-winning efforts, the Tigers fumbled away leads of 19 vs. Oklahoma State and 16 vs. Marquette. Murray State cut a 16-point second-half deficit to 4. A 5-point lead against Xavier with 3:00 left resulted in a loss. Regardless of which Tiger team jumps out in front the game should be close by the final buzzer.
2) Assist-to-Turnover Purists Bow to Missouri This ultimately means that no one bows to Missouri, but basketball stat geeks will notice that the Tigers have been among the leaders in a few not-so-obscure statistical categories for most of the season. Among the remaining 16 tournament teams, Missouri ranks #2 in scoring offense, #5 in margin of victory, #5 in 3-point FG defense, #1 in assists/game, #1 in assist-to-turnover ratio, #1 in steals/game, #1 in turnovers/game (in the good way) and #1 in turnover margin. The Tigers are the best passing team in the tournament and a testament to their team play is the fact that no player is averaging over 3.6 assists/game. When Missouri is moving on offense and crisply passing the ball they're hard to stop. If Missouri depends on 1-on-1 play look for Memphis to win big.
3) Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence did not see this coming Both players were recruited by former Missouri coach Quin Snyder and their introduction to Missouri basketball was probably less enjoyable than they had expected. Their freshman season entailed the firing of Snyder and a 12-16 finish—good for Missouri's lowest win total since 1973. If the end of Snyder's reign at Missouri was the dark ages, Lyons and Lawrence joined the team at right around the time of the plague. Enter Mike Anderson. Over the course of Lyons and Lawrence's sophomore and junior seasons the Tigers compiled a mediocre record of 34-28, enjoying brief flashes of on-the-court success and suffering through more off-the-court embarrassment. Some players transferred, some players quit, some players were arrested, some players were shot, some players were kicked off the team, but Lyons and Lawrence rode out the turbulence. As freshmen they played on one of the worst teams in the history of modern Missouri basketball. As seniors they play on one of the best. — Tyler Wells