Memphis is better-rested and better-seeded, but that's no reason to count out Matthew Dellavedova and St. Mary's as the Gaels try to become the third First Four team in as many years to knock off a team that made the field of 64 with no help.
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Josh Pastner's Tigers ran absolutely roughshod through the C-USA, winning all 16 conference games and the conference tournament, with only five games against conference opponents even decided by ten points or fewer. But there are some serious concerns about the level of opposition they've been playing. Of their 30 wins this season, only one came against another team that made the NCAA Tournament, a win over 14-seeded Harvard back in January. When Memphis sprinkled in a non-conference game against an above-average mid-major squad in Xavier a few weeks before the conference tournament, they had an 18-game winning streak snapped, trailing by as much as 13 before losing 64-62 on a late three. And in the C-USA final against Southern Miss, the Golden Eagles pushed Memphis to double-overtime before losing by 12.
Meanwhile, St. Mary's comes in hot, after Dellavedova's 5-of-7 shooting performance from beyond the arc carried St. Mary's to a comfortable 67-54 win over Middle Tennessee - a team that made the tournament over Southern Miss - in the play-in game. First Four squads have made a habit of making noise even after winning their play-in game. Last year, South Florida knocked off Temple in the second round, and two years ago, you probably remember VCU. Ken Pomeroy ranks St. Mary's the No. 18 team in the country - that's overall - so they might be underrated as an 11-seed. They didn't go undefeated in their conference like Memphis, but both of their losses were to Gonzaga, so it's understandable.
Memphis will need to watch Dellavedova, who is college basketball's best point guard out of the pick-and-roll. The Tigers make a habit out of forcing turnovers, getting opponents to cough up the ball on 12.8 percent of possessions, No. 9 in the country. And they boast a guy who can wreak havoc, freak athlete D.J. Stephens. At just 6'5, he blocks 10.7 percent of opposing shots, the 22nd-best rate of any defender in the country. Stephen's speed and unreal ups will allow him to appear from nowhere to contest shots by seemingly open big men. (He's also a really efficient scorer - he hits 73.8 percent of his twos - but he doesn't look to score much.)
St. Mary's isn't a particularly good defensive team, especially when it comes to guarding the perimeter. That's good news for Memphis, who are led by Joe Jackson, more of a scorer off the bounce but also a 45.5 percent shooter from beyond the arc, and feature gunner Chris Crawford, who hit at least five threes and scored at least 20 points in the Tigers' final four games.
Pomeroy's numbers actually see this as an upset for the Gaels, predicting a St. Mary's win 60 percent of the time.
Here's the information on Thursday's game:
No. 6 Memphis (30-4, 16-0 C-USA, Kenpom ranking 37) vs. No. 11 St. Mary's (28-6, 14-2, Kenpom ranking 18)
Location: Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Michigan
Date: Thursday, March 21
Time: 2:45 p.m. ET