I'll provide much further analysis on Memphis in my "First Look" series of columns, but this is what I'm seeing from the Tigers during tonight's live action.
The Tigers are noticeably fast, physical and explosive. That said, they play undisciplined basketball on both ends of the floor not unlike what Arizona fans have seen from our own Wildcats in recent seasons. While the Tigers have demonstrated an ability to go on extended scoring runs, they have also experienced several scoring draughts which has enabled Richmond to stay in the game.
On offense, the Tigers run a high set with very little low post play. Their perimeter passing has been crisp, but has mostly been ineffective against Richmond who is rotating well in their three-two and one-three-one zones. When they're patient with the ball, their passing has opened gaps in the defense that they've then exploited with dribblers attacking the holes and getting easy lay-ins. Still, those situations have been few and far between.
The majority of Memphis' points have come in the transition game as they've done a good job of attacking the lane and then kicking to their shooters at the three-point line. They've been pretty nasty on the offensive boards, but that's to be expected from them.
On defense, Memphis is extending their pressure every chance they get. The Tigers apply full-court pressure out of made baskets, as well as off of made free throws. They've also half-court trapped out of timeouts. When they go man, they remind me of Arizona last year where there's a lot of slapping for and reaching at the ball instead of moving their feet and staying between their man and the goal. Again, they look like they may be the swiftest team in the country so they're getting away with what other teams couldn't, but overall their defense has been surprisingly poor for most of the game.
When they do press, once Richmond breaks the initial trap the Tigers usually go into straight man with length-of-the-court pressure. They're tenacious, but nothing a confident point guard can't handle. Once Richmond crosses half court, Memphis does a good job of baiting them into the corners where they trap. They're also double-teaming the post when the ball goes down low. So far, that's where the Tigers have excelled as they've done a good job of taking away the exit pass to the wing and forcing Richmond to throw cross court and skip passes that the Tigers have stolen for fast break opportunities the other way.
The positives – and I'm not insinuating that the abovementioned are negatives – are that the Tigers get to the free throw line a lot as they are always looking to attack the basket. They're relentless in pushing the ball up the floor and as a results are wearing down Richmond as the game drags on. They also have multiple players (at least four by my count) who can either knockdown the three or drive all the way to the rim. They'll present tremendous mismatches for teams that are not fleet of foot. Like all great teams, Memphis is instilling their will late in the game as their defensive intensity has picked up. They've also looked more focused on offense as they've fed the post several times down the stretch.
Overall, Memphis is deserving of their high ranking but to me they do not look invincible. Part of that most likely has to do with this only being their second game of the season and perhaps the fact that they're playing Richmond and not Louisville, Kentucky or Arizona.
When the Wildcats do visit Memphis, they'll need steady play out of their point guards and guys like Hill and Budinger will have to stay out of foul trouble. Because of all their reaching and gambling for steals on defense, Arizona will need to replicate Memphis and be on the attack on offense to keep the Tigers on their heels. If Arizona is at all tentative, the Tigers will make them pay and pay dearly. That said, if Bayless can handle the pressure and the atmosphere, he'll be able to beat his man off the dribble and cause problems in the paint. McClellan should also get lots of looks on the perimeter. Hill will have his hands full inside and will need to do a much better job than Richmond's bigs in kicking the ball out to open shooters.
The game should be fun, but we've got a ways to go until we get there.
FINAL SCORE: MEMPHIS 80, RICHMOND 63