On November 12 in Stillwater, OK, the Memphis Tigers suffered a kick-to-the-crotch loss at the hands of Oklahoma State. In a rare turn of events for non-conference opponents, the Tigers got a chance to avenge that loss to the Cowboys with a matchup in the finals of the Old Spice Classic on Sunday evening.
Before the first game between these two, teams I wrote that Memphis’ big men would be the key to a victory for the Tigers, but the big men did not show up. Instead, Marcus Smart did, and in a big way.
In that game, the Tigers got a combined 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks from their starting bigs, Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols. Oklahoma State got a 39-point explosion from Smart, leading the Cowboys to a 101-80 win. If Memphis doesn’t want to get stomped again, they will need Goodwin and Nichols to show up, or for Smart to get lost on the way to the arena.
The good news for the Tigers is that since the blowout loss, their bigs have played significantly better, especially Nichols. In the three games since their defeat, Nichols has averaged 17.0 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 1.3 blocks per game, while shooting 52.4 percent from the field. Goodwin has posted 10.3 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game and 1.0 blocks per game, and is shooting a blistering 72.2 percent from the field.
After seeing the way these two have responded, it’s safe to say that the Oklahoma State loss got under their skin and lit a fire in them.
In the first meeting, the Tigers were without senior forward David Pellom, who was originally pegged as the starter at power forward instead of Nicholls. Pellom missed the first three games of the season while recovering from knee surgery. He returned in limited action over the last two games, playing 18 minutes combined, scoring five points and grabbing eight boards.
Pellom didn’t play for the Tigers last year either because he was sitting out one year after transferring from George Washington. In his junior year at George Washington, Pellom averaged 10.4 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game. His presence for the Tigers against Oklahoma State could be huge. If he can go at full strength, that will give Memphis three capable bigs that can protect the rim and get buckets in the post.
Once again, the key for Memphis beating Oklahoma State is having good production from their post players, except those bigs appear to be better equipped to contribute this time.
The first game against the Cowboys was only Nichols’ second collegiate game, and he was welcomed with an abrupt slap to the face. He will be better, Goodwin should be better, and Pellom is worlds better than Dominic Woodson, the Tigers’ third big without Pellom.
As long as Marcus Smart doesn’t go bananas again, we should be in for a good, competitive game between two of the nation’s best teams … but there is no guarantee that Smart won’t go bananas. So, it might not matter what the Tigers’ big men do, but it is better to go down swinging than to lay there and get kicked in the crotch.
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