The Memphis Tigers (23-9, 12-6 AAC) are in a similar situation they have been in before since coach Josh Pastner has been leading the team. The media, especially the fans, are not sure if the team can make a deep run in this season’s NCAA Tournament.
All of the speculations started last week in the American Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament when the Tigers suffered an embarrassing outing (72-53) in the quarterfinals round to the hands of the Connecticut Huskies (26-8, 12-6 AAC).
The four senior guards for Memphis (Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon Jr.) combined to score 29 of Memphis' 53 points on 26.3 percent (10-of-38) shooting from the field.
Pastner assured the media that the Memphis Tigers are prepared to face its first round match-up against George Washington University (24-8, 11-5 A-10).
“We will be ready to play. We will be ready to play,” Pastner said twice to one of the reporters present at Tuesday’s press conference. “I can’t sit here and guarantee the outcome, but we will be ready to play. I know I felt that going into the UConn game, but we will ready to play.”
Pellom told his teammates on Selection Sunday to not take this team for granted as they love to play zone defense and force their opponents to play half-court.
“It’s pretty tough. They have long arms with 6' 8" and up guys that are on the court that can slow us down is going to be a struggle for us,” Pellom said. “But as long we keep the pace like we want then we will be fine.”
George Washington lost to Virginia Commonwealth University (74-55) by double figures in the semifinals round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, but with key wins over Creighton, VCU and UMass in the regular season, they were still able to make it to the big dance.
As a team, George Washington averages 73.4 points a game. Senior guard Maurice Creek leads the way for the team in scoring (14.3 ppg). The Colonials have four other players who are averaging in the double figures: Kethan Savage (12.7), Isaiah Armwood (12.5), Patricio Garino (12.2) and Kevin Larsen (11.3).
With the way Memphis played against UConn, Pastner looks for his go-to-guys Jackson and sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin to make a big impact in the early minutes of the game on Friday.
“We have practiced well. I think the guys are ready,” Pastner said. “We got seniors, and we know what we want to accomplish. They know what they want to accomplish. Guys like Shaq and Joe have to play better and they know it. There’s no hiding from it. We all know it and I believe we are going to play really well.”
“We have to play well as a team if we want to win. We just can’t focus on their big guys,” Nichols said. “We have to focus on the whole team, of course. I have heard that they are pretty big but I think we can beat them down the court.”
Nichols along with his teammates have been hearing the fans talk about their horrible performance against UConn, but he remains confident that the team will play a lot better.
“We are pretty confident. We always have great confidence. That’s a huge part of our team by just having great confidence,” Nichols said. “I think we got an OK seeding. Everyone in our bracket is beatable of course. The way we play. I think we can beat any team in the tournament. Like I said, confidence is the main key and we just got to continue to trust the process.”
The game between Memphis and George Washington is slated for Friday at 5:55 p.m. CST at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. The game will be televised on TBS.