Memphis coach John Calipari has been many shades of controversial in a coaching career spanning four schools and two NBA franchises.
But he's won. A lot.
For the fourth consecutive season, Memphis has won 30 games, which means Tigers seniors Antonio Anderson, Robert Dozier and Chance McGrady have won more games than any players in NCAA history. They are the only current program to make four consecutive Sweet 16 trips, and if not for a few bricked free throws, would be the defending national champions.
They were also minutes away from being run out of this tournament by Cal-State Fullerton in the first round.
The masses - and their brackets - want to see a Memphis-Connecticut showdown to determine a Final Four participant on Saturday, but Missouri isn't scared or interested in complying.
The Tigers have reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002, and coach Mike Anderson has instilled a quasi version of "seven seconds or less," NCAA style.
Except the Tigers play defense, too.
Memphis has size and skill. Missouri has speed and skill.
Loosely translated, this has all the makings of late-game, late-night Madness.
Coach: John Calipari (Ninth season at Memphis, sixth NCAA tournament appearance)
How they got here: Defeated No. 15 Cal-State Northridge 81-70; defeated No. 10 Maryland 89-70
Key player: Tyreke Evans
He's not a very good 3-point shooter, but with 16.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game as a freshman, who cares. Since he became the team's starting point guard in Calipari's dribble-penetration offense, the Tigers haven't lost. He's quick, can hit mid-range jumpers and passes with ease. His turnovers have spiked the past couple weeks but he's 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, and how often do opposing point guards see that in front of them?
Strengths: For starters, Memphis has won 27 consecutive games. Evans is the shortest Tiger starter on the floor at 6-6, and they often put struggling freshman Wesley Witherspoon (6-8) at the top of their zone, which makes them arduous to penetrate or find an open look. Their interior defense is solid, as is the rebounding. Those and the 17 turnovers forced per game add up to a lot of transition baskets with these athletes. Make a mistake and the Tigers make you pay.
Weaknesses: Other than the Cal-State game to begin the tournament, Memphis hasn't been tested recently. Conference USA is no match for Memphis' abilities (hence their 61-game conference winning streak). Though they showed they can play with anyone in the country last year, Memphis lost to Xavier, Syracuse and Georgetown in this season's nonconference schedule. No shame in that, but what happens when it's high-quality opponents from here on out? The Tigers are a 69 percent free-throw shooting team, which, as they learned the hard way against Kansas in last year's national championship, can be a big problem in crunch time.
Antonio Anderson Sr. F 10 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.5 apg
Shawn Taggart Jr. F 10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Robert Dozier Sr. F 12.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg
Tyreke Evans Fr. G 16.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.9 apg
Doneal Mack Jr. G 8.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg, .390 FG %
Robert Sallie So. G
Willie Kemp Jr. G
Wesley Witherspoon Fr. G/F
Coach: Mike Anderson (3rd season at Missouri, 1st NCAA tournament appearance)
How they got here: Defeated No. 14 Cornell 78-59; Defeated No. 6 Marquette 83-79
Key Player: DeMarre Caroll
An All-Big 12 forward Carroll (16.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.1 apg) and bookend Leo Lyons have excellent versatility on offense. They can go inside, shoot from mid-range and occasionally hit a 3-pointer. Missouri is all about running and transition baskets, but if they slip defensively and give up baskets, a halfcourt game can break out in stretches, and that's where Carroll and Lyons become even more important. The one downside is Carroll's field-goal percentage (.563) isn't too far away from his free-throw percentage(.634).
Strengths: The Tigers like to employ a "94 feet of hell" philosophy that Anderson learned as an assistant under former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson. The Tigers have depth to help employ their running style, and, equally important, they don't give away many possessions in the process (12 turnovers per game). Carroll and Lyons hold up the interior while the guards can gun. It was Missouri who held up late against Marquette, as freshman Kim English hit four free throws around the Eagles' in-bounds turnover.
Weaknesses: Missouri has come a long way in the past three years under Anderson, let alone their Elite Eight appearance in 2002. But this group of Tigers has never played this late in a season, nor against a team with the size and quickness of Memphis. Even with Carroll and Lyons inside, the Tigers get into trouble when they're not able to run and force the tempo and they often struggled out of the gate in games away from Columbia.
Matt Lawrence Sr. G 9 ppg, 2.1 rpg. .404 3pt %
DeMarre Caroll Sr. F 16.7 pph, 7.3 rpg, 2.1 apg
Leo Lyons Sr. F 14.6 ppg, 6 rpg, 1.9 apg
Zaire Taylor Jr. G 6.5 ppg, 3 rpg. 3.4 apg
J.T. Tiller Jr. G 8 ppg, 3.6 apg, 1.8 spg
Marcus Denmon Fr. G
Kim English Fr. G
Keith Ramsey Jr. F