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December 6, 2013

Memphis-Northwestern State Preview

Memphis vs. Northwestern State Preview
The Memphis Tigers (5-1) seem to have gained confidence after their win over then number 5/8 Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Old Spice Classic championship game on Sunday. Everything fell into place for Memphis to pull off an impressive 73-68 win over OSU.

The Tiger big men deserve special applause for their performances, especially sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin, who was named MVP in the classic after he averaged 14 points and 6.7 rebounds in three games.

Memphis is now on a four-game winning streak and they can't stop now. They have to stay the course as Pastner has preached over and over again if they wish to solidify a place among the elite college basketball teams in the nation.

The four senior guards (Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Michael Dixon and Geron Johnson) have to continue working harmoniously and within the concepts of the offense for this team to go far. The quartet combined for 44 points on 47.2 percent (17-of-36) shooting from the field in the finale over the Cowboys.

With the win, the Tigers have moved up to No. 16 in the AP Top 25 poll.

Now, let's move forward to Northwestern State (3-3) of the Southland Conference. They are coming off a win over Niagara by the final score of 107-100. Three players scored in double figures to lead the charge.

Junior guard Antoine Mason led the team in scoring with 33 points. A large percentage of his points came from the free throw line as he converted 14-of-17 (82.4 percent) from the stripe. Mason shot 37.5 percent (9-of-24) from the field and went 1 of 5 (20 percent) from long range for the game.

As a team, Northwestern averages 89.7 points per game.

Senior forward Marcus Ware had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds against Niagara. Senior guard Marvin Jordan was right behind Ware, finishing the game with 19 points, four rebounds and one assist.

In order for Memphis to continue their winning streak, they have to do three things. First, they have to play smart defense. What they did to Marcus Smart was pure effort, motivation and determination. All game long, they ran at Smart and harassed him into doing things he was not accustomed to doing, and the effort showed with his quiet 12 points.

In the Old Spice championship game, in stark contrast to just days earlier in a 101-82 defeat, Memphis forced Smart to turn the ball over, take bad shots and forced his teammates to win the game for the Cowboys. Memphis grabbed a crucial win. They'll need another superior performance, this time against a trio of talented scorers in Mason, Jordan and Ware.

Secondly, Memphis has to do a better job of shooting from the line. In their last game, they went 3-of-10 (30 percent) from the line in the first half. For the season, the Tigers shoot a subpar 63.8 percent (just 113-of-177) from the charity stripe. There's no way Memphis can continue to win games shooting that poorly from the line.

Lastly, Memphis' big men have to set the tone for the team in the early going of the game, which conversely means that the guards need to dump the ball into the paint. Goodwin and freshman forward Austin Nichols came out swinging against the Cowboys. Nichols had nine points and five rebounds in the win while Shaq finished with 17points, eight boards, three assists, two blocks and two steals. The pair were the aggressors early and it resulted in a victory and a championship celebration.

As for Northwestern State, they basically have to fight to the very end. Mason, Ware and Jordan have to get going for this team. Putting points on the scoreboard and taking an early lead could help them pull off the upset.

Second, they have to get Nichols and Goodwin in foul trouble early in the game. When the big men for Memphis are on the bench, the guards have to take over the scoring load and sometimes get into the habit of taking questionable attempts early in the shot clock. If that happens then NWS has a legitimate chance of winning this game.

Third, force Memphis to beat them from the free throw line. As a team, with Memphis shooting just 63.8 percent from the line, it makes sense to take a foul instead of giving up a clean look at the basket. The Tigers (with the notable exception of Jackson) have exhibited the tendency of not being clutch from the line in a close game.

This game is slated for Saturday at noon at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN and will be televised on ESPN3.

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