MEMPHIS, Tenn. – There is little question Gonzaga has improved the last three weeks, winning six straight games with a relatively healthy roster.
How much have the Bulldogs improved? More concrete answers should come today when Gonzaga (15-4) faces No. 1 Memphis (18-0) at the FedExForum.
The Tigers boast a 37-game regular-season winning streak and 42 consecutive wins at home. Freshman point guard Derrick Rose has been projected as high as the No. 2 selection in NBA mock drafts. Junior wing Chris Douglas-Roberts, who hit the game-winner against Gonzaga last season, is projected as a late first-rounder. Forwards Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey combine to average roughly 20 points and 18.6 rebounds. And the Tigers have a deep, versatile bench.
In other words, Memphis won’t be confused with any of the six foes Gonzaga has knocked off since Dec. 31. Of that group, Utah has the highest RPI (91) while San Francisco is at the other end of the spectrum (277). Memphis is No. 2, according to collegerpi.com’s latest ratings.
“Everybody on their team can score, everybody is a threat,” Gonzaga guard Matt Bouldin said. “We just have to play the best team ball we can and the best team defense we can.”
Gonzaga has faced two ranked opponents. The Bulldogs lost to then-No. 8 Washington State 51-47 and lost to then-No. 11 Tennessee 82-72. The Tigers have 10- and 11-point wins over Oklahoma and Connecticut, respectively. GU beat UConn, but lost to Oklahoma.
Memphis ranks 12th nationally in scoring offense and 22nd in scoring defense. The Tigers’ 22.6 scoring margin is second in the country. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said the Tigers are similar to Tennessee – with one notable exception.
“That’s a pretty good comparison, even though the teams are different, with the quickness, athleticism and quick hands,” Few said, “but Tennessee doesn’t have anybody like Joey Dorsey.”
The 6-foot-9, 265-pound Dorsey averages just 7.4 points, but he leads the team with 10.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. He had 15 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks against GU last season. Dorsey grabbed 19 rebounds against Tulsa on Wednesday.
“We’ve played them the last couple years and I think we matched up pretty well,” said Bulldogs center Josh Heytvelt, who is battling bronchitis. “So I think it’ll be the same thing.”
Gonzaga has stressed ball security and crisp passing to avoid feeding the Tigers’ defense-fueled transition game.
“We need to take better care of the ball,” Bouldin said. “We haven’t really strung a (complete game) together. We’ve had great stretches, and then we’ve fallen off. Hopefully, we can string one together.”
Memphis typically spreads the court to create space for players to drive-and-finish or drive-and-dish. Few said Memphis has added isolation plays when it feels like there’s an overmatched defender.
“They have a lot of freedom,” Gonzaga point guard Jeremy Pargo said. “They have a lot of weapons and we have to be able to slow them down. If we show up and perform on both ends, I think we have a great chance to win. We have a lot of guys on offense that can do a lot of things, too, so it’s no cakewalk for those guys on defense or for us on defense.”
Few is especially concerned with the Tigers’ offensive rebounding. Memphis had 16 offensive boards against Tulsa and averages 15.2 per game.
“There is no way to simulate that kind of athleticism, that kind of talent, that kind of ferociousness with which they attack the glass and block shots,” Few said. “It’s not the system with them. They’d be fine with St. Al’s fifth-grade offense. The key is how talented they are and how hard they play. They really assert their physical prowess on everybody.”