It't not often that you get a chance, early in the season, to see two of your toughest scheduled opponents go head to head, but on Sunday November 30th, we got a chance to preview Tennessee (scheduled for January 24th) and Gonzaga (scheduled for February 7th)
The game was a battle....
Hopefully, by January and February, Wesley Witherspoon will be able to run the point, and Tyreke Evans will be able to hit the floater. We are going to need their offensive firepower.
What was most interesting about this November matchup was the depth both teams showed.
The commentators quoted Coach Pearl several times during the game: Your five may be better than our five, but are your ten better than our ten? Turns out, Gonzaga's nine were better than Bruce's ten.
Believe me, both of these teams are long and deep.
Gonzaga starts 6-10 Austin Daye, 6-11 Josh Heytvelt, 6-2 Jeremy Pargo, 6-5 Matt Bouldin, and 6-8 Micah Downs, and brings in 7-0 Robert Sacre, 6-0 Demetri Goodson, 6-4 Steven Gray, and 6-4 Ira Brown, but four of the starters (Heytvelt, Pargo, Bouldin and Downs) all played 30 minutes or more.
Tennessee starts 6-7 Tyler Smith, 6-6 Cameron Tatum, 6-9 Wayne Chism, 6-8 Renaldo Woolridge, and 6-2 Bobby Maze, and brings in 6-7 Immanuel Negedu, 6-4 Josh Tabb, 6-7 JP Prince, 6-7 Scotty Hopson and 6-10 Brian Williams. Only Tyler Smith played more than 30 minutes.
Normally, Tennesse's depth and athletecism can wear you down. Sound familiar? It's been a Memphis trademark of late.
And when Tennessee and Memphis tangle this year, we can expect a very physical game. Lots of pressing. Everything will be contested. Even the coaches, Calipari and Pearl, would duke it out, if they could.
The commentators called it "toughness." I don't know.
At one point in the Gonzaga-Tennessee game, JP Prince reached in for a ball Micah Downs was holding high at the sideline at midcourt, and got his mouth instead. Micah was so surprised he turned away, looking for the foul (which never came.)
It's scrappiness, that's what it is, and Memphis should be able to hold it's own, if forty percent of our threes pointers fall, if the team can shoot free throws at seventy five percent, and if Wesley Witherspoon becomes a point guard.
What concerned me was how Gonzaga managed to interrupt the Tennessee offense. It was in the first half with about 4:30 to go, that Gonzaga dropped their man to man, and moved into the zone, with Heytvelt, Downs and Daye on the back line. The score was Tennessee 28, Gonzaga 26. From that point to the end of the half, Gonzaga went on a 9 to 3 run.
Gonzaga opened the second half in the same zone defense.
Woolridge made a quick three to bring Tennessee up to 34-35, but then, over the next twelve minutes Gonzago wore Tennessee down, and lead by ten, at the Tennessee timeout with 8:26 to go. With two minutes to go, Gonzaga led by thirteen, and although Tennesse went on a brief 8-1 run, Gonzaga made their free throws down the stretch to close it out.
In my mind it was the Gonzaga switch to the disruptive zone defense that took the Vols out of their halfcourt offense.
In February I'd like to see the Tigers attack that Gonzaga zone by going down low to Taggart and Dozier. Lets see if we can get Daye and Heytvelt in foul trouble early.
Tonight it will ge Marist. How will Chuck Martin play the defense. Will he try to deploy the zone against the Tigers?
And will the Tigers respond by aggessively attacking the zone, or by lofting numerous threes?