Saturday, March 21, 2009

Preview: (10) Maryland vs. (2) Memphis- Fight for the Sweet 16

While the rest of the ACC (save for UNC and Duke) are falling apart, the Terps are still in the hunt after the first round. They are taking on a popular Final Four pick in many brackets, not to mention last year's runner-up in the Memphis Tigers, the #2 seed in the West Regional. Let's take a look at Memphis, and what Maryland will have to do to pull off the upset.

(2) Memphis 32-3 (16-0), Conference USA

What to Watch Out For: The Tigers have a different player leading just about every statistical category. Much is made of Tyreke Evans with his 16.6 points per game, but they have weapons all over the court with the presence of Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier underneath, both averaging over 7 rebounds a contest. They should be able to hammer the boards over Maryland’s undersized lineup. However, Maryland has had to overcome this in just about every ACC game this season, so this will be nothing new. Against the Cal State Northridge Matadors, their bench also shined as Roburt Sallie could not be stopped from three point range en route to 35 points. Their bench is not usually a significant part of their offense, but Sallie could be a real player to watch if he gets hot again.

What you Might Not Know: This is also a much improved free throw shooting team, with all but one starter shooting 70% or better from the line. A major knock on this team last season was their lack of consistency at the charity stripe, and it may have even done in their national championship hopes last year. However, I still feel good if Maryland has to foul late.

Why Memphis Can Win: In the first round, Memphis was (by admission of their players and Coach John Calipari) looking ahead to the next round and wasn’t prepared for the aggressiveness of Cal State- Northridge. They should be geared up for this one, especially with Greivis Vasquez unwisely stoking the flames by claiming that Memphis would finish under .500 in the ACC. Northridge utilized a pressure zone defense to limit Memphis’ opportunities for good shots, limiting the Tigers to 1-13 from behind the arc with the exception of Sallie’s barrage of threes- Memphis now has more experience with this style, the same one Maryland used against California and the same one the Terps will likely try today. Additionally, Memphis has a great deal more experience in the tournament than Maryland and will react to the pressure with more composure than the Maryland squad that was hammered in the second round in their last foray into March Madness.

Why Maryland Can Win: This team just has “it” right now. They seem to be finding ways to win that they never could rely on earlier in the season. Eric Hayes has finally decided not to be a pure shooter and drive to be basket with more regularity, which should catch the Tigers off guard as they carefully watch Greivis Vasquez. While Vasquez shouldn’t have called out Conference USA, there is no question that they have been tested more often in conference than the Memphis Tigers. They have fought tough against the top teams in the country on a consistent basis late in the season, while Memphis hasn’t played against a truly high quality team since February 7th against Gonzaga, and lost against the two other tournament teams they played this season, Xavier and Syracuse, early in the season. Gary Williams will be able to come up with a creative game plan to enable Maryland to run with Memphis and take advantage of their speed to neutralize their opponent’s size advantage.

The Rundown: Memphis will be able to concentrate their defense on Vasquez to bottle up his opportunities and force his supporting cast to make plays without him- they won’t be able to make enough, though they will keep it close early. Maryland simply isn’t deep enough to keep up with Memphis for a full 40 minutes, and Vasquez will get into foul trouble as he plays even more aggressive to get out of the Tiger’s pressure D. Vasquez talked about “showing [Memphis] what the ACC is all about.” The ACC is 3-4 so far in this tournament, and I just don’t see it getting much better. Memphis might not be very tested, but they are overflowing with talent and are too deep to fall apart late in the game.

Memphis is favored by 9 points. The nod goes to the Tigers, but the Terps should cover.

Photo Credit: (Baltimore Sun/Karl Merton Ferron)

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