Game: #1 Virginia Cavaliers vs. #8 Memphis Tigers
Play: Sunday, PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC
Offense and Defense clash as the Memphis Tigers take on the Virginia Cavaliers in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Memphis led wire to wire in their second round game against George Washington, even though it was a tight game throughout. Virginia is coming off of a bit of a scare against 16-seed Coastal Carolina, a game in which they fell behind by double digits at one point before a late first half surge gave them momentum that carried on to a big second half.
Key Match-up: Virginia G London Perrantes vs. Memphis G Joe Jackson
Perrantes is not much of a scoring threat, but the fact that he is a freshman playing the second most minutes on the number one defense in the country tells his story. Perrantes has an outstanding 3.4 assist to turnover ratio and will be checking the top scorer on Memphis in Joe Jackson. Jackson, a senior, is the more experienced player but Perrantes has been an extremely steady hand on a team that asks him to care for the ball above all else. Perrantes made three of four three-pointers in the victory over Coastal Carolina, so while he is not a scorer by trade he still must be respected on the perimeter. Like Perrantes, Jackson will handle the ball for his team and has a very good 2.1 assist to turnover ratio. Limiting miscues will be important for both of these players, because momentum can swing quick when the ball is turned over for easy scores.
Virginia Notes: Their defense is so good that when they can get going offensively they are almost unbeatable. The Cavaliers have put up back-to-back 70 point games, and when surpassing that scoring threshold the team is now 13-1 on the season, with the lone loss by a single score. In the 2014 calendar year, Virginia has only lost two times, both on the road: once at Duke and once at Maryland. They earned a number one seed for a reason. Their offense has been inconsistent, as they showed in the first half against Coastal Carolina, but they will be in every game thanks to their defense.
Memphis Notes: Stylistically, Memphis is a long way from the days of John Calipari, whose strategy of recruiting high-profile one-and-done players has been replaced with a team that is led by seniors. Memphis has continued to have moderate but unspectacular successes under head coach Josh Pastner, having made the NCAA Tournament four straight seasons, but they have yet to advance past the round of 32 under their current leader. They face a monumentally tall task in Virginia. The Tigers do have a lot of ability themselves, having beaten Louisville twice this season. They are particularly strong on offense, and have even cracked the 100 point barrier on two separate occasions. Memphis ranks in the top 25 of the NCAA in assists and field goal percentage, and also rate well in offensive rebounding. They play an above average pace, which will clash with Virginia’s style. Virginia, who on average takes about 50 shots per game compared to Memphis season average of 59, will try and slow the game down to limit the Tigers’ offense.
Prediction: Virginia got outplayed by Coastal Carolina in the first half of their last game because they were not hitting shots. They were kept in the game by their defense. Memphis’ best shot to win is to push Virginia as hard as they can to wear their legs down and weaken their defense. They are good enough to win, but Virginia won’t be goaded into a fast game. Virginia will hold Memphis below their season average of 77 points a game to advance to the Sweet 16 of NCAA March Madness with a 70-61 win.
Commentary by Brian Moore