Colonials present obstacle to Pastner's first Sweet 16
Head coach Josh Pastner and the Tigers hope to get a big shooting night from senior guard Michael Dixon Jr. Dixon has shot 38 percent from beyond the arc on the year. Photo By David C. Minkin | special to the daily helmsman
The University of Memphis men's basketball team tips off the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season on Friday in Raleigh, N.C., against George Washington University.
The eighth-seeded Tigers (23-9) were eliminated in the second or third round each of their last three trips to the tournament - never making it into the tournament's second weekend.
To advance to the Sweet 16, Memphis will have to beat the Colonials then turn around and beat the first-seeded University of Virginia Sunday.
Head coach Josh Pastner and the Tigers aren't shying away from the pressure and expectations.
"It says 'the Road to the Final Four' not 'the road to the regular season,'" the fifth-year coach said. "I think for media, fans, if you're gonna say 'hey, you got to get to the second weekend' because that's where the original thought process was from the beginning. And I think that's fair. Let's do it. Let's get to the second weekend. We're good enough to do it."
The ninth-seeded Colonials (24-8) ended a six-year drought of missing the NCAA Tournament this season. They boast wins over Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Maryland and Creighton University - all tournament teams.
Senior guard Maurice Creek leads G.W., scoring 14.3 points and grabbing 3.4 rebounds. However, head coach Mike Lonergan told the media on Thursday that the Colonials' second-leading scorer, sophomore guard Kethan Savage, is doubtful to play in Friday's game.
Memphis has struggled with teams that like to slow the pace down - Cincinnati, SMU and Connecticut. George Washington plays tons of zone defense to force their opponents to beat them from outside.
"They're gonna zone us," Pastner said. "They're gonna probably pack it in. As simple as it may sound, we're gonna have to make some shots. We're gonna have to make some threes, and we have to defend the three as well."
The Tiger's second-round matchup with the Colonials will be a memorable one for senior forward David Pellom. Pellom transferred to the U of M in the summer after spending his first three seasons of eligibility at G.W. He also grew up in Wilmington, N.C., which is only a two-hour drive from Raleigh.
The Tigers want to make some shots, but only senior guards Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon Jr. shoot decent enough clips from behind the arc to be reliable. They each shoot right at 38 percent from three.
Pastner has been adamant all season that the difference for the Tigers has been whether or not they make shots.
The Blue and Gray will do their best to get hot from the field at 5:55 p.m. on Friday when their second-round matchup tips off on TBS.
"We will be ready to play," Pastner said emphatically. "I can't sit here and guarantee an outcome, but we'll be ready to play."
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