ASU - Memphis Men's Basketball Preview

March 18, 2003

By Brian Gomez, TheSunDevils.com

When Sun Devil men's basketball head coach Rob Evans stares along the sideline Thursday night at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, he'll see a team that is strikingly similar to his own.

No. 10-seeded Arizona State and No. 7 Memphis resemble each other in many ways. In fact, they are so closely related that it's almost frightening.

Both teams went to the National Invitational Tournament last season and neither team has been to the NCAA Tournament in quite a while. Both teams have dominant big men and explosive frontcourt players. And both teams have coaches who have been around the block a few times.

That all adds up to a West Regional opener that has the makings of a classic, similar to the game played when the schools last met in the 1992-93 season. ASU celebrated an 89-76 victory over a Memphis team led by Anfernee Hardaway in part of the now-defunct 7-UP Shootout at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.

'We like to do a lot of the same things,' Evans said. 'We like to dictate tempo and they like to dictate tempo with their offense and their defense.'

The Sun Devils and the Tigers stack up evenly in nearly every statistical category. ASU is averaging 76.8 points per game. Memphis is at 74.5.

ASU is averaging 36.5 rebounds per game. Memphis is at 40.0. ASU turns the ball over an average of 13.9 times per game, while Memphis coughs it up 13.8 times.

The Sun Devils are shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 32.3 percent from three-point range and 67.2 percent at the free-throw line. The Tigers are 43.8 percent from the field, 34.9 percent from beyond the arc and 65.4 percent at the charity stripe.

'We've looked at a couple things they do, but not that much,' ASU senior point guard Kyle Dodd said. 'We've always been a team that has tried to worry about what we're doing and what we're executing.'

Last year, the Sun Devils (14-15 in 2002) managed to sneak into the NIT, despite losing four straight games to close the regular season. Memphis (27-9) was upset by Houston in the opening round of the Conference USA Tournament, but later won the NIT on the strength of a 72-62 victory over South Carolina at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

ASU and Memphis have followed similar paths this season along their way into the 65-team field. The Sun Devils have an RPI of 32, while the Tigers rest comfortably at 27.

ASU is 4-10 against teams in the NCAA Tournament with wins over Utah, Purdue, California and Oregon. Memphis is 4-3 against NCAA Tournament teams, having beaten Syracuse, Illinois, Louisville and Cincinnati.

The Sun Devils haven't gone dancing since 1995 when former head coach Bill Frieder's team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The Tigers last went in 1996 under former head coach Larry Finch, but they were eliminated in the opening round by Drexel.

Perhaps one of the few noticeable differences between the teams lies in their feelings heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Sun Devils were ecstatic Sunday when they found out they would be part of March Madness, but the Tigers thought they got slighted as a No. 7 seed in the West Region.

'I can't explain it,' Memphis head coach John Calipari told The Commercial Appeal. 'But it's a better seed than we had a year ago. At least we're coming down the right way.'

Many postseason prognosticators had the Tigers penciled in as high as a No. 4 seed in the South Region. Memphis soared to the No. 16 spot in the national polls after winning 12 of its last 13 games to close the season. Its lone loss during that span came Thursday in the form of a 78-75 setback against Louisville in the C-USA Tournament semifinals.

'It's surprising that we're a seven seed, but we're just happy we're in and that we have a chance to advance and win the national championship,' Memphis senior center Earl Barron said. 'We would've liked to have had a better seed and played a team that's not so good, but we're prepared. This team has played well this whole season against some of the top teams in the country. If we go out there and play the way we're capable of playing, we can play with anybody.'

At 7 feet, 268 pounds, Barron is capable of causing trouble in the post. He averages 7.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

'He's not heavily involved in their offense, but he's a load,' Evans said. 'He's a guy that does a lot of things for you. He blocks shots and he rebounds the ball.'

Barron is joined down low by senior power forward Chris Massie, who leads the team with an average of 17.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. Massie is shooting 66.1 percent from the free-throw line on the season.

'He's going to be jacked and ready to play, and so am I,' said ASU freshman forward Ike Diogu, who will likely draw the primary defensive assignment against Massie. 'He's going to take it strong to me and I'm going to take it strong to him.'

Memphis has just as dangerous of a frontcourt with a pair of playmakers in Antonio Burks and Anthony Rice, who is shooting 36.7 percent from three-point range on the season. Burks is almost as fast as Sun Devil sophomore point guard Jason Braxton and he also poses more of a scoring threat.

'They're very versatile and they're very athletic,' ASU senior shooting guard Curtis Millage said. 'They just compete hard.'

Although Evans has never coached against Calipari, he and Calipari have crossed paths several times before as assistant coaches in their younger days. They also have maintained a friendly relationship over the years.

'We don't go out to dinner,' Evans said. 'I don't go out to dinner with a lot of coaches, but I have a healthy respect for him and I believe he has a healthy respect for me.'

Reach the reporter at brian.gomez@asu.edu.

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