Memphis coach Josh Pastner has watched his young squad survive recent scares against lesser opponents as the Tigers attempt to jell. The Tigers will likely need to grow up in a hurry if they have any hope of beating experienced Georgetown.
Starting three freshmen and carrying only one senior, No. 16 Memphis continues a five-game homestand Thursday night against No. 10 Georgetown, which seeks its second victory against a ranked opponent.
The youth of the Tigers has shown at times, especially while struggling through its latest back-to-back home victories.
Memphis (9-1) trailed by 15 points in the second half last Thursday against Austin Peay before winning 70-68 in overtime, then the Tigers went down to the wire in a 68-63 victory Monday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The closer-than-expected wins came after being blown out 81-68 against then-No. 4 Kansas on Dec. 7.
Pastner said his young players have had trouble adjusting to the pace of the college game in the transition from high school, and his players seem to agree.
"We've been going through this for the last couple of games," freshman Joe Jackson said of the struggles. "I knew we were going to win. That's how the game goes sometimes. It's up and down. We're young too. You have to take that into consideration."
Still, Memphis is off to it's second-best start in 20 years, and Pastner said winning games is what matters.
"We're 9-1," Pastner said. "The only better record you can have is 10-0."
The Tigers have won mainly with defense, ranking third in the nation at 11.2 steals per game. They've been playing without junior and leading scorer Wesley Witherspoon, who is expected to miss at least another three weeks following knee surgery.
Georgetown (10-1) counters with a trio of seniors in Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Julian Vaughn. The Hoyas made easy work of Loyola (Md.) on Saturday in a 99-75 win despite limited practices because of finals week.
Freeman, who averages a team-high 18.5 points, scored 14 for the third straight game for Georgetown, which has won two straight since a loss at Temple on Dec. 9.
"I was extremely nervous coming into this game, just because of exams," coach John Thompson III said. "I wasn't sure how sharp were going to be."
Aside from the loss to the Owls, Georgetown has been relatively sharp all season. The Hoyas passed an early season test by winning at then-No. 9 Missouri on Nov. 30, and Wright is averaging 6.7 assists, good for 10th in the nation.
Junior guard Jason Clark scored 26 points in the overtime win against Missouri and is second in scoring at 14.2 points per game.
With exams out of the way, the Hoyas have been able to focus on the Tigers, who play an up-tempo style much like themselves. Both Georgetown (80.5) and Memphis (80.3) rank in the top 25 in scoring offense.
The teams last met Dec. 13, 2008, with Georgetown winning at home 79-70 in overtime.