Of all the possibly outcomes of Missouri's game against Memphis last night, that was one that I never, ever envisioned. Here were two teams, both known for being remarkably tenacious on defense, both running press defenses for all 40 minutes, every single night.
Yes, they both run, and yes, both like to keep the game extremely up tempo, but it's a strange, grinding sort of up tempo basketball, less run and gun than run and brawl.
So in all likelihood, I thought, we would see a fast-paced, intense, but low-scoring affair, as both teams' defenses hassled the other's shooters to the point that whomever could get over 65 points would likely be the winner.
It was the first time that the Memphis Tigers had ever given up 100 points in a game since John Calipari took over as head coach. This simply isn't the sort of thing that's supposed to happen to shutdown defenses like the one that Memphis fields. Of course, then you also have to say the same thing about the Missouri defense, which is what makes this game so Goddamned weird.
I could see if it were just an utter blowout; if Mizzou had continued to just pound Memphis the way they did for most of the first half and the first six or eight minutes of the second. When a team gets down by 20 or more, the score can get just completely out of hand, and you can just throw the usual pattern a team has out the window. At some point, players just stop playing their games when getting beaten really badly.
But in this game, Calipari actually managed to get his guys back into it after being down 24 points. (I'm one who usually thinks the value of coaching is a tad bit overrated, but I'm putting that one squarely on Calipari's shoulders. That was an amazing job of coaching right there.) Both teams played the whole game the exact way they've played every other game this year, and the score still ended up looking like a Phoenix Suns contest just broke out about halfway through.
Okay, so neither of these teams were actually paper tigers, but hey, how often do you get two teams called the Tigers playing each other? I had to use the 'A' material.
So now it's on to the #1 seed for Missouri, as they play the University of Connecticut. UConn looked like a behemoth earlier in the year, and they've been very impressive in the tourney thus far, but I have to say, I'm actually not as afraid of them as I was Memphis.
Memphis is pretty much the prototype of a team you would design to beat a team that plays the way Mizzou does, and Mizzou just dismantled them.
UConn is an awfully good basketball team, but I don't think they can run nearly as effectively, or for nearly as long, as Memphis. The Huskies do have a rare player in college basketball, in Hasheem Thabeet and his remarkable shot-blocking abilities, but I just wonder if they'll be able to keep up with Missouri's pace of play.
Regardless, that was one of the greatest basketball games I think I've ever seen, even if it completely failed to follow any kind of script you might have predicted for it. Or then again, maybe it was the greatest because it was so completely, utterly off-script.
Kind of like the Tigers' whole season, come to think of it.