On Tuesday evening No. 11 Memphis travels to Stillwater to take on No. 9 Oklahoma State in the tip-off of the Old Spice Classic. This will be the two highest ranked teams facing off so far this season outside of the Champions Classic in Chicago last week. Memphis comes in off of a 95-69 over Austin Peay, while Oklahoma State has already notched three wins over Mississippi Valley State, Utah Valley and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. This matchup will feature two of the best backcourts in the country, but the outcome will be determined by which team can get more work done in the paint.
Marcus Smart is the headliner when you talk about backcourt players in college basketball this season. Smart was an All-American second-teamer last season but decided to hold off on the NBA and give college one more year. Smart isn’t the only dynamic weapon on the wing for the Cowboys, though, as they also have Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte. The quartet of backcourt mates are going to be one of the best in the NCAA this year, but they will have their hands full Tuesday night with Memphis’ quartet of senior guards. The Tigers’ guards don’t have a standout guy like Smart, but between Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Michael Dixon and Chris Crawford the Tigers can get things done offensively and defensively on the perimeter.
Watching the guards battle against each other will be what draws us all to our TVs on Tuesday, but the deciding factor of who will win the game will be who wins the paint. Of Oklahoma State’s top six players in terms of minutes played, Nash is the tallest at 6-foot-7. The Cowboys do not play a single player more than 19 minutes per game that is bigger than Nash. Nash is a very aggressive player and a sold rebounder, but if he has to go against bigger players all game long the Cowboys will be in trouble. The best bigs on the Oklahoma State roster are Michael Cobbins and Kamari Murphy, but between the two the highest rebounds per game average is Cobbins’ 6.1 last season.
The Tigers counter the Oklahoma interior with two very solid bigs. Memphis has Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols, both of whom could take advantage of the Cowboys’ interior, especially on the boards. Memphis also has Geron Johnson — who plays a similar role as Nash for the Tigers in the rebounding department — and freshman Dominic Woodson, who is another big load in the paint at 310 pounds. Goodwin, Nichols and Woodson are vastly different players, but they complement each other well. Goodwin is a low-post banger who bullies his way to buckets in the post or with put-backs off of offensive boards. Nichols is more of a face-up big who can stretch the floor. Woodson is a big body with a soft touch around the rim and a space-eater in the paint on defense.
This game has all the signs of being an instant classic, even though the Vegas line is set at minus-6.5 for Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have the ultimate spade in the game with Smart; if he plays out of his mind, which he’s capable of, Memphis doesn’t stand much of a chance. Oklahoma State is favored in this game, but if you notice the Tigers dominating the paint don’t be surprised to see Memphis pull off an upset.
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