Memphis Tigers 23-9, 12-6
Since John Calipari left Memphis for Kentucky in 2009, his replacement Josh Pastner has continued to land high-level recruits and keep the 20+ win seasons streak, which is now at 14, intact. However, he’s yet to experience much success in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers are in the Big Dance for the 26th time in school history and the fourth consecutive under Pastner. They’ve only won one game, last year against St. Mary’s, with him at the helm. The Tigers are a potent team offensively, scoring 78.4 points a game on average. They’re at their best offensively when they can create fast break opportunities off of their defense, which averages 8.7 steals (ninth nationally) and 4.8 blocks (51st nationally). The 17.7 assists per game they average is less than one off of the national lead. Senior guard Joe Jackson leads the team in points (14.3), assists (4.5) and steals (1.6). Sophomore big man Shaq Goodwin has taken the next step forward in his development and gives the Tigers an imposing presence in the interior. He’s putting up 11.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals this season. The Tigers played the 27th most difficult schedule in the country, going 6-8 against the RPI top 100, including two wins against Louisville, while getting 15 of their wins against teams outside of the RPI top 150. They’ve lost three of their last five games, failing to score more than 59 points in two of those losses. When the Tigers can dictate the tempo they’re difficult to keep up with, but if they run into a team that forces them to play mainly halfcourt basketball, it could be another short tournament run for Pastner and his crew.
George Washington Colonials 24-8, 11-5
By virtue of finishing third in the regular season of Atlantic-10 play, playing the 77th most difficult schedule in the country and picking up four wins against the RPI top 50 the Colonials have officially ended a six-season tournament drought. They’re getting a boost as they get set to make their 11th appearance in the Big Dance as Kethan Savage, their second leading scorer (12.7 ppg) and playmaker (2.6 apg), made his return to the lineup against VCU after missing all but 19 games prior due to a broken foot. However, Savage only played one minute – so it’s impossible to predict whether he’ll be able to give them a similar boost to the one he did before the injury. Maurice Creek has helped maintain the fort during Savage’s absence, scoring a team-high 14.3 points on 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc, where he made 78 on the year. With Savage back the six players who average at least eight points on the year. They mainly look to attack inside the arc, connecting on only 5.7 threes on average. They’re solid defensively, holding their opponents to 66 points a game on 41 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from deep. The Colonials’ last tournament win came back in 2006 when Pops Mensah Bonsu was manning the interior. If they continue to come up blank on 34.3 percent of their free throw opportunities it’s going to be really tough to survive past the opening round.
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