The Memphis Tigers have had a successful start to their first season in the AAC so far, and when Michael Dixon Jr. and David Pellom come up big off the bench, they are the best team in the AAC. On Tuesday evening the Tigers beat South Florida in their first conference game in the AAC, 88-73, with a big assist from their bench duo of Dixon and Pellom. The two seniors combined for 28 points and nine rebounds, and Dixon threw in five assists. When these two are clicking for the Tigers, they are unbeatable.
The publicity on this year’s Memphis squad has all surrounded their four senior guards (Dixon, Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford), but this team will only go as far as their bench will take them. To win in college basketball, you need to have players who can come in off the bench and produce, especially with the new “no touching” rules the NCAA has implemented this year. Foul trouble is inevitable in almost every game I have watched this year, and if a team doesn’t have a starter-quality player to come off their bench, then the are in trouble. Luckily for Memphis, they have Dixon and Pellom, a guard and a big, that way they can fill in for any situation.
Both of these players are also playing their first season with the Tigers. Pellom transferred last season from George Washington, but had to sit out a season, and Dixon transferred this offseason from Missouri. The Tigers have needed both of these players at different parts of this season, and they will definitely need them down the road, but they haven’t put on a show like they did against USF before.
Dixon was a nuisance all game long for the Bulls, he deflected what seemed like 15 passes, but somehow he was only credited for one steal. Dixon came in for Jackson — who got in foul trouble — and the Tigers extended their early lead. Having a guard like Dixon who can push the ball, find open teammates and even knock down a jumper himself, means that Memphis never has to let off the gas pedal; they can go, go, go all game long.
Pellom has proved to be the only other consistently competent big other than Shaq Goodwin. Austin Nichols has played well in spurts, but he is a freshman, and highly sporadic. Pellom has a calming presence about him when he enters the game, which is odd considering he seems to only throw down ferocious dunks on the offensive end. His length and heady play in the post allows the Tigers to have a backup plan when Nichols is having an off night, or when the referees get whistle-happy.
Having a deep roster is normally not a necessity during the regular season in today’s one-and-done college basketball, where you have soon-to-be NBA superstars, but it sure comes in handy come tournament time. The Tigers were considered to be a legitimate top-25 team this year, and maybe even a borderline top-10 team, but when they get performances from Dixon and Pellom like they did on Tuesday, they are one of the best handful of teams in the country. As this season progresses, watch these two off the bench, and as long as they keep coming up big for the Tigers, Memphis will win the first ever season of the AAC.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury.