The University of Memphis men’s basketball team had a tendency to build big leads in games early, but lose the large advantage before the end of the game. The Tigers built double digits leads in many games early in the season, but had to hold on for dear life to pull out a win. That has not been the case the past few weeks. The last two Tigers’ home games have been blowouts by Tigers’ standards. The Tigers are in the middle of a 16 game winning streak. The last loss was to the hated Louisville Cardinals on December 16.
The Tigers did not play bad in that game and if a few questionable calls had not gone against the Tigers maybe they would have won that game. The Tigers’ black eye of the season came during the three games played in the Bahamas. Despite having one of the most talented teams in the field, Memphis only won one game on that trip. The Tigers learned a lot from that trip and the lessons learned has led to the current streak. The Tigers have returned to the Associated Press and USA Today polls and are slowing rising in the power rankings.
Here are a few reasons why the Tigers are on such a roll:
Respecting the opponents. The Tigers have had a history of playing down to the level of their opponent. Head coach Josh Pastner has been stressing the quality of every opponent the Tigers are playing this year. To the Tigers’ opponents, every game is their Super Bowl. This will be the last chance some members of Conference USA will get to beat the Tigers, because of the move to the Big East next season.
Adonis Thomas consistency has improved. Before the season, it was a given that Thomas would be showcasing his talent for pro scouts on a nightly basis, but then Thomas was invisible for the first half of the season. Recently Thomas has been more aggressive. Against Marshall, Thomas had one of his best games of the season scoring a career high 23 points and he grabbed 10 rebounds. The points and rebounds came within the flow of the game and he didn’t take away from anyone’s game.
The big three play well together. An unlikely trio has formed in the combination of Chris Crawford, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson. When those three are on the court at the same time a special kind of explosive occurs. The normally fast Tigers appear even faster and are able to push the tempo to an even higher pace and they tend to force opponents turnovers. It hasn’t hurt that Crawford has emerged from his early season slump. The key with these three players is they head up the dangerous Tigers’ defense.
Offense excites, but defense wins games. The explosive dunks of DJ Stephens, the penetrating layups of Jackson and the outside shots of Crawford always seem to get the crowds at FedExForum on their feet. However the Tigers lead Conference USA in blocked shots, are second in steals and have three players ranked in the top ten in steals per game 9-Crawford (1.56), 7-Jackson (1.68) and 3-Johnson (1.8). DJ Stephens is hands down the best shot blocker in the conference with 57 blocked shots on the season and is averaging (2.28 bpg).