Dana O'Neil will have a piece from Madison Square Garden here in a bit. In the meantime, here are some quick thoughts on Kansas’ 81-68 win over Memphis in the first game of the Jimmy V Classic:
Memphis has everything you can’t teach, but far fewer of the things you can. The Tigers are going to be fine, because even when they play smarter, more experienced teams, their sheer athleticism and talent will be enough to get them by. Nearly every player on the floor for Memphis at any given time -- with the possible exception of Angel Garcia, who would do well to put his big frame to use under the basket instead of launching shots from 20 feet and beyond -- borders on athletic marvel. They’re almost cartoonish: Joe Jackson is the hyper-quick guard, Will Barton is the stretchy wing, Tarik Black is the linebacker with inside touch. In the future, the sky is the limit.
As for the present? Memphis makes too many youthful mistakes, has too many breakdowns on defense, and too often lacks cohesion on offense to beat teams that combine athletic ability and savvy like the Jayhawks. But the Tigers will take down plenty of well-organized opponents, because those opponents simply won't be able to keep up.
Entering the game, Wesley Witherspoon was the Tigers’ most efficient scorer. So it’s probably no surprise the Tigers struggled on offense on a night when Witherspoon went 3-for-11 from the field. If he isn’t getting easy looks and trips to the foul line, Memphis is going to have trouble staying afloat on the offensive end.
The Morii are tough enough by themselves. (Brothers Marcus and Markieff combined for 30 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and five blocks on Tuesday night. Yeesh.) But when you throw uber-athletic forward Thomas Robinson (10 points and 10 rebounds, eight of which came in the first half), KU's frontcourt gets borderline frightening.
Tyshawn Taylor doesn’t need to do much more for this Kansas team than what he did at MSG. The Jayhawks don’t need a do-everything point guard to get them into their offense, though they might get one when Josh Selby becomes eligible. At times last year, Taylor seemed to want to play at the pace of, say, Derrick Rose. But if Taylor can just do what he did Tuesday -- break through pressure, force help in the lane, dump passes off to the Morii-Robinson combo, finish five-foot floaters with calm and poise -- then he’ll continue to be a major part of KU's attack even when Selby takes the floor in two games.
Josh Pastner prefers to run John Calipari’s dribble-drive style offense, and with all this talent, it makes sense. But there are plenty of things the Tigers can shore up in their quasi-offensive sets that can help them get better shots on a consistent basis. Then again, this was an awfully good defense they played against, so some measure of forgiveness is warranted. Again, that talent got an awful lot done. But there is so much on the margins the Tigers can improve that will make them considerably better in the long run. Alas, these are the perils of freshmen.
One bright spot for Memphis: The first-half sequence when the Tigers pressed relentlessly and closed Kansas’ early lead in a matter of minutes. This should be a weapon Pastner uses more often. The Tigers are so athletic and so long, they're bound to give teams trouble merely getting the ball across half court.
One last piece of advice: The Jayhawks need to shoot more 3-pointers. They were 6-for-11 from beyond the arc Tuesday night. That’s a pretty good mark, but imagine if Kansas were to shoot, say, five or six more 3s per game. With all the attention on the frontcourt, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed and company will get open looks. They just need to pull the trigger.