Dec. 12, 2008

Courtesy of Memphis

The University of Memphis squad (5-1, 0-0 C-USA), ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press poll and No. 15 in ESPN/USA Today poll, returns to action on Saturday, Dec. 13 after a 10-day layoff with a road game at No. 19/19 Georgetown (6-1, 0-0 Big East). Game time is 1 p.m. (CT) at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

Saturday's contest is the first true road game of the 2008-09 campaign for the Tigers. Memphis brings a 19-game road win streak into Saturday's encounter at Georgetown. The last time the Tigers dropped a road game was Dec. 20, 2006, when they lost at Arizona (79-73 Wildcat win).

Memphis last played Dec. 2 when it defeated Marist 100-61 at FedExForum. The Tigers have not played since while taking final exams for the fall semester. Prior to the Dec. 2 win, Memphis participated in the 2008 O'Reilly Auto Parts Tip-Off Nov. 20-23. The Tigers advanced to the championship game with wins over Chattanooga Nov. 20 (83-71 in quarterfinal) and Seton Hall Nov. 21 (84-70 in semifinal), before falling to Xavier 63-58 in the title contest.

Georgetown, picked to finish seventh in the Big East Conference in the coaches' preseason poll, is off to a 6-1 start. The Hoyas enter Saturday's game having won three straight with victories over Maryland 75-48, American 73-49 and Savannah State 100-38. Georgetown's only loss was a 90-78 setback to Tennessee in the semifinals of the Old Spice Classic on Nov. 28 in Orlando, Fla.

Georgetown, picked to finish seventh in the Big East Conference in the coaches' preseason poll, is off to a 6-1 start. The Hoyas enter Saturday's game having won three straight with victories over Maryland 75-48, American 73-49 and Savannah State 100-38. Georgetown's only loss was a 90-78 setback to Tennessee in the semifinals of the Old Spice Classic on Nov. 28 in Orlando, Fla.

All five Hoya starters are averaging double figures, with DaJuan Summers leading the way at 13.7 ppg. The team's other double-figure scorers are Greg Monroe (13.3 ppg), Austin Freeman (13.1 ppg), Chris Wright (12.1 ppg) and Jessie Sapp (10.3 ppg). Monroe leads the squad on the glass with a 5.7 rebounding average, while Wright is tops on the team with 27 assists (3.9 apg). Monroe also has 17 blocked shots.

The Hoyas are shooting 53.1 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from the arc and 76 percent from the foul line. Georgetown is out-rebounding its foes by an average margin of 2.7 boards per contest (34.4-31.7). The Hoya defense is holding its opponents to 32.8 percent shooting from the floor and 29.2 percent from the three-point line.

The Tigers are 125-136 all-time versus current members of the Big East Conference. Memphis has played Cincinnati (30-36), Connecticut (1-0), DePaul (14-12), Georgetown (2-6), Louisville (34-51), Marquette (14-12), Pittsburgh (1-1), Providence (2-3), St. John's (0-1), Seton Hall (3-1), Syracuse (1-1), USF (18-3), Villanova (4-8) and West Virginia (1-1).

Memphis has played 14 of the 16 Big East schools, leaving Notre Dame and Rutgers as the only two the Tigers have not faced. Most of the contests versus Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and USF were league games (Missouri Valley, Metro, Great Midwest, Conference USA).

Since the start of the 2005-06 campaign (when the Big East realigned), Memphis is a perfect 7-0 against teams from the Big East. Earlier this year, the Tigers defeated Seton Hall 84-70 in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Last year, Memphis posted victories over Big East foes Connecticut, Georgetown and Cincinnati.

Georgetown is the second of four Big East foes for Memphis in 2008-09. The Tigers already played Seton Hall Nov. 21 and hosts Syracuse Dec. 20 and Cincinnati Dec. 29 at FedExForum.

Memphis head coach John Calipari has an all-time record of 59-31 (.656 winning percentage) against current members of the Big East Conference. Calipari has coached against Cincinnati (4-7), Connecticut (1-2), DePaul (4-2), Georgetown (2-0), Louisville (6-5), Marquette (3-1), Pittsburgh (2-1), Providence (1-1), Rutgers (11-4), Seton Hall (1-0), Syracuse (3-1), USF (9-1), Villanova (2-0) and West Virginia (10-6).

It will be a McDonald's High School All-America Game reunion on Saturday when Memphis and Georgetown meet. In the Mar. 26, 2008, contest played in Milwaukee, Wis., the Tigers' Tyreke Evans played for the East squad, while the Hoyas' Greg Monroe was a member of the West squad.

Evans was selected the game's MVP and had 21 points and 10 boards in helping lead the East team to a 107-102 victory. He also had four assists in 23 minutes of action. Monroe had one point, six boards, two blocks and two steals in 20 minutes.

Evans and Monroe also played in the 2008 Jordan Brand Classic in Madison Square Garden on Apr. 19, 2008. Monroe had 13 points, eight boards, four assists and two steals in helping lead the Blue team to a 124-114 win over the White squad. Evans, the White team MVP, had 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Joining Monroe on the Blue team was Memphis' Wesley Witherspoon. The 6-foot-8 Tiger freshman had 13 points, four rebounds and three steals in the Blue team win.

Memphis' Tyreke Evans and Georgetown's Greg Monroe haven't always played on opposing teams. Both played on the same team at the 2008 Nike Hoops Summit this past April at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore. The duo teamed up to helped lead the USA Junior National Select Team to a 98-78 win over the World Select Team. Evans had 11 points, eight boards, four assists and three steals, and Monroe added seven points, six rebounds and one steal.

Saturday will be an interesting day for the Witherspoon family. Wesley, a freshman guard for the Tigers, plays Georgetown at exactly the same time his brother, Wynton, a senior forward on the George Washington squad, faces off against Harvard at home.

According to the mother's (Carolyn) plans, the family will watch Wesley's first half against the Hoyas at the Verizon Center. Then, the family will travel across Washington, D.C., to the Charles E. Smith Athletic Center to see the second half of Wynton's game versus Harvard.

While many Tiger fans will tell you that the 1973 and 2008 NCAA title game appearances or the 1985 NCAA Final Four showing are their best postseason moments, those same fans could tell you about the Memphis-Georgetown battle in the 1983 NCAA Tournament second round on Mar. 20.

In an epic match-up between two of the nation's top post players, the Tigers' Keith Lee and the Hoyas' Patrick Ewing faced off at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky. Both players had outstanding games, as Lee had 28 points and 15 boards and Ewing 24 points and nine rebounds.

The Tigers grabbed a 30-25 halftime lead en route to the win. Memphis won the game on the glass, out-rebounding Georgetown 37-22.

The 1995-96 season had already been one for the record books for John Calipari and his UMass Minutemen. Calipari had already directed UMass to a 34-1 record, a 26-game winning streak, a No. 1 national ranking, an Atlantic 10 Conference regular season title and the A-10 Tournament championship. The only jewel left to complete the crown was to win the NCAA Tournament East Region and advance to the 1996 NCAA Final Four.

Standing in UMass' way was a Georgetown team led by All-America Allen Iverson and Othella Harrington. The Hoyas scrapped and stayed with the Minutemen in the first half and trailed only 38-34 at the break. However, UMass exploded for 48 second-half points en route to an 86-62 win.

Marcus Camby, the National Player of the Year, led the Minutemen with 22 points and seven rebounds, while Carmelo Travieso added 20 points and six assists. Iverson had 23 points and Harrington 13 points for Georgetown.

Saturday's game could be a battle of defenses as Memphis and Georgetown rank among their respective league leaders in a few defensive categories. The following shows that:

    UofM/Rank    Stat    GU/Rank

    64.3/4th    Scoring Def.    55.7/3rd

    38.2/2nd    FG Pct. Def.    32.8/1st

    30.7/4th    3-pt. FG Pct. Def.    29.2/8th

    7.3/1st    Blocks    5.3/4th

    11.3/1st    Steals    8.6/7th

When head coach John Calipari sized up his squad during individual workouts in the fall, he said that the 2008-09 Tigers could be a better defensive team than 2007-08 -- even with the losses of two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Joey Dorsey and cat-quick guard Derrick Rose.

Well, chalk up one for Calipari six games into the campaign. The following compares the defensive numbers of the 2008-09 team to the 2007-08 Tigers:

After Six Games

    2008-09    Stat    2007-08

    64.3    Scoring Def.    67.0

    38.2    FG Pct. Def.    40.5

    30.7    3-pt. FG Pct. Def.    33.3

    44    Blocks    42

    68    Steals    57

    118    Turnovers Forced    115

While the Tiger defense has forced its foes into 118 turnovers (19.7 per game), Memphis has taken pretty good care of the ball despite playing several newcomers a lot of minutes. After six games, the Tigers have 78 turnovers (13.0 per game), and have had only one game of more than 15 miscues (18 versus Chattanooga).

Last year with a team dominated by veterans, Memphis had 92 turnovers after six games (15.3 per game).

The Memphis 1,000-point is already 43 players strong, but soon, two more Tigers will join that elite group. Seniors Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier are closing in on that milestone and will hit the mark some time in 2007-08. Anderson now has 958 points, while Dozier has 975 points.

Matt Simpkins, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward from Oakland, Calif., was cleared to join the Memphis basketball team on Dec. 4. The NCAA Clearinghouse told head coach John Calipari and the Tiger coaching staff of the decision on the afternoon of Dec. 4.

Simpkins, who signed a national letter of intent with Memphis this past spring, began practicing with the team Dec. 5 and will dress for Saturday's game at Georgetown.

Last year, Simpkins played for head coach Chris Chaney at The Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C. He averaged 17.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 5.1 blocks in helping lead the Bulldogs to a 32-2 overall record.

When Joey Dorsey's career came to an end last season, many questioned how the Tigers would make up for his domination on the glass. The answer -- six games into 2008-09 -- is Shawn Taggart.

Taggart is averaging 10.0 boards per game and has grabbed double-digit rebounds in five of the Tigers' six contests. His 10.0 rebounding average leads Conference USA.

He started the year with 12 boards versus Fairfield and then followed with 11 rebounds in games against UMass and Chattanooga. Taggart had 10 rebounds in the loss to Xavier Nov. 23, and followed with a season-high 13 boards in a win over Marist Dec. 2.

The Richmond, Va., has also shown his ability to score and has three double-doubles in his first six games. He posted a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds in the season-opening win over Fairfield on Nov. 15. It was his first double-double in a Memphis uniform.

Five days later (Nov. 20), Taggart had his second double-double as a Tiger with 16 points and 11 boards in the victory over Chattanooga. Taggart's third double-double performance was against Marist with a career-high 21 points and 13 boards.

In addition to the rebounding loss by Joey Dorsey's departure, many wondered how the Tigers would defend the rim. Again, the answer -- six games into 2008-09 -- is Shawn Taggart.

The 6-foot-10 forward leads the team and Conference USA in blocked shots with 17 (2.83 bpg). Taggart blocked a career-high six shots in the Tigers' victory over Marist Dec. 2. Prior to that, he had four blocks against Xavier in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Nov. 23.

Two days after his best performance in a Tiger uniform, junior Pierre Henderson-Niles suffered what looked on television as a season-ending knee injury in the first half of Memphis' Nov. 23 contest. But, after the team physician's diagnosis at halftime, the injury was not as serious as it appeared. The injury was a knee sprain, and Henderson-Niles returned to play in the second half.

After a week of practice and recovery, Henderson-Niles got the first starting nod of his career versus Marist Dec. 2. In 19 minutes of action, he had eight points, five boards and one block. However, Henderson-Niles received the biggest ovation from Tiger Nation when he defended a Marist guard from sideline to sideline and did not allow him to penetrate toward the basket.

In the Nov. 21 game versus Seton Hall, Henderson-Niles played like head coach John Calipari envisioned his big man would since he arrived on campus in the fall of 2006. The 6-foot-8 forward played a career-high 23 minutes versus the Pirates, and grabbed a career-best 10 boards. Both previous career bests (seven rebounds vs. Kentucky; 20 minutes vs. Oklahoma) were set at the start of his freshman campaign in 2006-07 at the Maui Invitational.