Memphis 78 Nevada 62
A very interesting game, and undoubtedly a huge win for the Tiger program. Looking at the larger picture, there can be no doubt that two straight Sweet 16 appearances is a major coup for John Calipari. There aren't many schools that can say that. The Tigers will now face Texas A&M in San Antonio for the right to play in the Elite Eight.
Going into the matchup with Nevada, it was obvious that the big concerns for the Tigers would be Nick Fazekas and Marcelus Kemp. Fazekas you probably knew a bit about - he is an All-American, after all - but Kemp was a bit more unknown. It was Kemp who was far more dangerous throughout the game. Kemp hit several big shots, made several key plays, and was a handful for Tiger defenders all day long.
Today's game confirmed my opinion on Nick Fazekas - overrated. Way overrated. Against the elite athletes of Memphis, he was largely overmatched. I cannot believe that he is rated as a first round draft prospect as of right now on several draft sites. He will get killed in the NBA. He made some nice plays, but he's just not very quick or very strong - he finishes very weakly around the basket for a guy of his size. Kemp will be a better NBA player.
Starting out, and throughout the entire game, the Tigers were shaky around the basket. They must have missed at least 10 layups throughout the game. The conversation between me and some of the Memphis media folks at halftime centered around just how in the world the Tigers were only up by 4 while dominating the game in huge stretches. There's no question that the Tigers should have been up by at least 10 - missed layups, missed 3's, defensive lapses cost them.
All of that could have cost the Tigers dearly. What could have cost them even more today, and what may cost them on Thursday, is the injury to Chris Douglas-Roberts. CDR landed hard on his ankle with about 8 minutes or so to play - it looked nasty. The Tigers had to play the final minutes without him, and may be without him in San Antonio. The early word is that it's a mild to moderate ankle sprain, which is actually good news. It could have been a torn ligament. Without CDR, things got a little dicey at first - Doneal Mack and Willie Kemp were asked to play key roles and they were clearly very nervous. Calipari had to take them out to make sure the game didn't get out of hand.
Robert Dozier was fantastic throughout the game, but he came up huge late - he made play after play, including a sequence where he grabbed two massive rebounds. He outmuscled Nick Fazekas for a board late in the ballgame...that summed up the difference in the teams. Fazekas, an All-American, had never faced opposition as athletic as the Tigers, and he was beaten to the spot by largely unheralded Robert Dozier. If Dozier can continue to play like this, the Tigers will be hard to beat.
Andre Allen was big yet again - he is the most clutch player the Tigers have. Jeremy Hunt was frustrating for large stretches of play, but ultimately did a lot of very important things for the Tigers. For him, it must be especially thrilling to actually be a part of a Sweet 16 team after looking on last year from the outside.
Very loud Tiger crowd here in New Orleans. The Tigers had the largest contingent of fans here in town, and they were the rowdiest as well. John Calipari repeatedly spoke of just how important the fans were to the team's performance in the first two rounds of the tournament. On the other hand, the Nevada fans were more numerous than you might have thought, especially given just how far they had to travel. I think it should also be noted that one of the members of their Pep Band had his head completely shaved expect for a giant "N" of hair. Very disturbing.
Random Larry King tourney thoughts...Tennessee against Memphis in the Elite 8? Only two wins away...speaking of Tennessee, very impressive effort against Virginia, especially JaJuan Smith and Ryan Childress...Florida has a cakewalk into the Final Four, but they'll have to play better than they did today...Seeing them both in person has cemented the fact for me that Al Horford is going to be a much better NBA player than Joakim Noah...I don't know if Tubby saved his job with the Wildcats' tourney performance...USC is apparently much better than people gave them credit for; next stop for Kevin Durant? Memphis?...fantastic action yesterday in the tourney...Ohio State should certainly have lost; Ron Lewis has serious guts; Tennessee could cause them trouble...Wisconsin had the worst tournament of any team out there...My Final Four is unchanged.
Be sure to go to sports56whbq.com and check out the sound from New Orleans. And keep it here on my blog as I head to San Antonio in a couple of days.