On Saturday, the Memphis Tigers continued their AAC road winning streak despite poor play from their four senior guards. The Tigers defeated the Temple Owls 79-69 in Philadelphia, but the win did not come easy. Memphis struggled in the beginning of the game – and they trailed at halftime by two – because the ball rarely went inside. Their Tigers had a big second half, and came back to win on the shoulders of Shaq Goodwin. At this point in the season, it is safe to say that Goodwin is the barometer for whether the Tigers will win or lose.
Last weekend the Tigers were obliterated at home by Cincinnati, and in that game,Goodwin and Austin Nichols were manhandled in the post by Justin Jackson and Shaquille Thomas. When Memphis cannot establish themselves in the post, or at least get good dribble penetration, they will always find themselves in a battle, and most likely a loss. In the only other Tigers’ blowout loss — a 101-80 defeat to Oklahoma State — the Tigers also received no post play, as their starting bigs combined for eight attempts. Getting Goodwin involved is what gets the Tigers going.
This is what Memphis does, though. Before this game I wrote that if Memphis did not come prepared to play this game versus Temple, they would get lackadaisical, shoot too many long-jumpers, not throw the ball in the post or even get dribble penetration, and that is exactly what happened. Memphis found themselves in a dogfight with a team that was 5-8 coming into the contest. The high from their win over Louisville got to their heads, and Memphis went away from what they do best.
The problem for Memphis is that they have four senior guards (Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon) that get all the attention. At the beginning of the season, that seemed to be the Tigers’ biggest advantage, but that isn’t the case. Having four guys who can handle the ball, get in the lane or hit jump-shots seems like a great attribute for a team to have; the downside to that is when you have four guys trying to do the same thing and they have to share the ball amongst themselves, leaving no touches for Goodwin or Nichols. This could be because the guards are all seniors, and Goodwin (sophomore) and Nichols (freshman) are both underclassmen. Maybe that’s it, maybe it is an ego problem. I don’t know for sure, but there has to be a reason as to why the Tigers do not even attempt to go inside on every play.
Opposing teams have played zone against the Tigers for several years now, and it’s easy to see why; when a team cannot shoot from the outside, you pack the paint and make them shoot from the outside. The Tigers need to do a better job of getting the ball in the paint, even against a zone. The best thing for them to do is get the ball to Goodwin or Nichols at the free-throw line. Both bigs can pass the ball well, or hit the jumper from the high-post, and it will open up space for the guards to get better looks at the basket. In the rematch against Oklahoma State, the Tigers used this set a lot, and it was a big reason why they won that game.
Memphis still has big wins over Oklahoma State and Louisville; they are good, but at times they forget the reason why they are good. It could be because all they heard about going into this season was their four-guard lineup, but it is time for them to realize what gets the job done. This season is far from over, but the Tigers can put themselves in a bad position if they continue to shoot long jumpers, especially when they play better teams than Temple. Memphis’ next game is against Connecticut, and they also have rematches with Louisville and Cincinnati, as well as a game versus Gonzaga. The road doesn’t get any easier, but it would seem easier if they got Goodwin involved more.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury.