RALEIGH, N.C. — As 8-seed Memphis (24-9) entered its opening NCAA Tournament game, it was thought that George Washington (24-9), the 9-seed, was the tougher-minded, more resilient team.
But in the end, it was Memphis that came out as the more physical team, dominating the offensive glass early and setting the tone before hanging on for a 69-66 win.
Entering the game Friday night after all the carnage of the first two days, just three perfect brackets remained in Warren Buffett’s Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge.
All three of those remaining perfect brackets had George Washington winning.
Afterward, Memphis head coach Josh Pastner certainly didn’t care very much that his team eliminated those three chances to win a billion dollars.
"If Warren (Buffett) wants to donate the billion to our University, we’ll take it and use it in good company," Pastner quipped.
"We were just trying to make the right plays," Joe Jackson said. "Whether it was getting the lobs or driving and kicking out to our shooters, we just tried to keep attacking. We got some steals and we got some rebounds. We just wanted to get out on the break and get to the basket. We wanted to get our confidence back."
The Tigers were coming into the NCAA Tournament having lost two of their last three games, both by double digits.
And when Memphis can have a four-guard lineup on the floor and spread opponents out, it becomes very difficult to stop or slow down.
Pastner said he spent a summer vacation with his family barely spending any real time with them, and instead, dreaming up all the ways he could use a four-guard lineup.
"I was thinking the entire time, how are we going to get the four guards this and that, get the spacing, the playing time, everything else," Pastner said.
"There have been some games where they were really good and games they haven’t been good. I said from the beginning I"m going to roll with them. I have, and they’ve won us a lot of games."
Memphis showed great patience against George Washington, winning a 60-possession game — its second-fewest this season.
Memphis has been able to impose its own up-tempo style on opponents, rarely having a game with fewer than 60 possessions when those are all too common in today’s college basketball world.
When George Washington went to a 1-3-1 zone, Memphis just stayed patient and attacked it by getting into the teeth of it rather than jacking up three-pointers. Memphis attempted 17 first-half three-pointers but just five in the second half.
"The post moving against the zone helped move things up against their defense," Pastner said. â¨
Next up for Memphis is a match-up with 1-seed Virginia. The game will be a clash of styles, to put it mildly. Memphis wants to run, and Virginia wants to control the pace. Memphis wants to crash the offensive boards; Virginia wants to limit opponents to one shot — and a tough shot, at that.
Memphis is third in the country in assists — something Pastner mentioned more than once in his postgame press conference — and that kind of elite-level ball movement will be important, too.
"We had 19 assists on 27 made field goals. We only had 12 turnovers," Pastner said. "At the speed we play at, that’s a good thing."