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Memphis at Gonzaga

2/7/09

Two teams take a break from conference action as the #14 Memphis Tigers from Conference USA travel cross-country to take on the #18 Gonzaga Bulldogs of the West Coast conference. Both teams are leading their respective conferences with identical 7-0 records.


The 18-3 Memphis Tigers have had the luxury of playing 13 of their games at home where they have gone 12-1, with the only loss coming against Syracuse way back on Dec 20th. In that game they shot a miserable 34% from the field and made just 7 of 33 from 3 pt range. But since that game the Tigers have gone on a major roll, winning their last 13 games in a row, including 10 of them by double-digits. This will be Memphis’ 7th true road game of the year where they have gone 5-1.


Overall, the Tigers are averaging 77 pts per game on 44% shooting from the field, close to 33% from 3-pt range and 66% from the FT line. Memphis lost 3 starters from last year’s team that made it all the way to the championship game, including PG Derrick Rose who is now averaging nearly 17 pts per game for the Chicago Bulls. But they’ve still got 4 players averaging in double-digits, and a 5th who is just a ½ pt shy. And there really hasn’t been a huge drop-off at PG either, as Rose’ replacement, Freshman Tyreke Evans, is leading the team with 16.8 ppg, 52 steals, 92 defensive rebounds, 79 FT’s and a FT % of nearly 70%. And at 6’6”, 219lbs., Evans can use his size and strength to score around the basket as well as from outside, and also grab lots of rebounds. Returning starters Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier, both seniors now, are combining for 22.5 ppg and 12 rebounds, with Dozier also leading the team in FG percentage, making just over 50% of his attempts. And 6’10” junior F Shawn Taggert has joined the starting line-up this year, averaging 10 ppg and sinking 48% of his attempts, as well as leading the team in rebounding with 155.


Despite their 18-3 record, Memphis has had a little trouble with some of the better teams in the nation though, as they are just 1-3 against top 25 competition, losing to Xavier, Georgetown and Syracuse by an average of 7 pts each, and winning a close one at Tennessee by a score of 54-52. In those 4 games they averaged just 61.7 ppg, well under their season average of 77 ppg, and they gave up 66.5 ppg which is a little more than 5 pts over their average of 61.2 ppg.

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Gonzaga is also a team that can put up some points as they are averaging 78 ppg, with 4 starters also in double-digits and a 5th chipping in with 9.3 ppg. All four of the Bulldog leading scorers are shooting above 45% on FG attempts, over 34% on 3-pt tries and over 71% from the FT line. As an entire team, they average over 47% on FG’s and nearly 37% on 3-pointers and over 70% from the FT line.


The Bulldogs have some experience in the line-up with returning seniors PG Jeremy Pargo and F Josh Heytvelt. Heyvelt is pacing the scoring with 14.4 ppg and is making nearly 53% of his FG’s, as well as nearly 40% of his 3-pointers and 71% of his FT’s. Junior G Matt Bouldin is following up his team-leading 12.6 ppg average from last year with 13.1 ppg this year, and also leads the team in steals and is 2nd to PG Pargo in assists with 60. And PF Austin Daye has joined the starting line-up this year after coming off the bench last year to average 10.5 ppg and 4.7 rebounds while playing less than half the game. This year he is the 2nd highest scorer with 13.8 ppg and is leading the team in rebounding with 7.2 per game.


Gonzaga is very similar to Memphis on defense as both teams are giving up right around 61 ppg and both teams are in the top 7 in the country in defensive FG % allowed.

The Bulldogs are 8-1 at home this year with the lone loss coming against Portland State back on Dec 23rd. However, that game came just 3 days after Gonzaga’s heartbreaking OT loss to Uconn in the “Battle in Seattle”, so the Bulldogs were in a let-down situation which Portland State took advantage of. Just 8 days later, Gonzaga suffered another heartbreaker in a 1 pt loss at Utah, but since then they have reeled off 8 straight wins, winning all but 1 by double-digits.

This will be Gonzaga’s toughest test since the UConn game, and they will have this one at home at least. But almost all of their games against upper-echelon teams have been close and I would expect the same result here. Expecting the line to be something like Gonzaga –4 to 4.5, I would be very tempted to take Memphis here, as their biggest loss so far has been by 9 on the road at Georgetown, and that game actually went into OT. Plus, Memphis will be coming off of almost 3 days rest while Gonzaga will be on just 1 days rest, having played a big conference game on the road at 2nd place Portland on Thursday night. I will be taking the Memphis Tigers plus the 4 or so points.

 

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