Plenty of similarities between Memphis and Missouri

Thursday, March 26, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:37 a.m. CDT, Thursday, March 26, 2009
Missouri coach Mike Anderson, far left, watches his team practice on Wednesday in Glendale, Ariz. The Tigers face Memphis in the West regional semifinal, which is scheduled to start at approximately 8:30 p.m.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — When Missouri and Memphis play Thursday night in the Sweet 16, the teams might feel like they are looking in the mirror.

Among the many similarities between the programs, the most obvious is a dedication to defense.

Thursday's game

NCAA West Region

No. 3 Missouri (30-6) vs. No. 2 Memphis (33-3)

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. (Following the conclusion of the Purdue/Connecticut game)

WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium at Glendale, Ariz.

TV: KRCG/Channel 13

RADIO: KBXR/102.3 FM and KFRU/1400 AM

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"They are a tremendous defensive team. We pride ourselves on defense as well," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said.

Anderson is famous for his trademark fullcourt pressure defense. Memphis, meanwhile, ranks sixth in the nation is scoring defense, allowing 57.6 points per game.

"You guard your man. If you can't guard, you can't play here," Memphis coach John Calipari said.

Both Memphis and Missouri have decided to take a one-game-at-a-time approach to this year's tournament.

"It is a one-game approach, a one-day approach," Anderson said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

When Calipari took the microphone moments later, he echoed that sentiment almost exactly.

"I told the team as we went forward, we are staying in the moment," Calipari said. "Today's practice, today's shootaround. We will worry about tomorrow, tomorrow."

Both Memphis and Missouri have found new team identities after the 2007-2008 season brought disappointment.

For Missouri, that disappointment was a 16-16 season marred by scandals and suspensions stemming from off-court issues. For Memphis, it was the disappointment of losing the national championship game to Kansas in overtime after leading by nine points with two minutes left in the second half.

"They are not thinking about last year. If they do, I want it to be positive," Calipari said. "Again, I don't treat this as life or death because if you do, you die a lot."

Both teams had a player win their conference's defensive player of the year award. Junior Missouri guard J.T. Tiller was the co-defensive player of the year in the Big 12. Senior Memphis guard Antonio Anderson won the award in Conference USA.

"I definitely appreciate the way he plays defense," Antonio Anderson said about Tiller. "He plays extremely hard. He is very aggressive."

Both coaches, Mike Anderson and Calipari, were finalists for the national Henry Iba Coach of the Year Award, which Kansas coach Bill Self won.

Both coaches have also become associated with their teams' styles. For Anderson, it is the "40 minutes of hell" pressure defense that he developed during 22 years as a player and assistant coach with Nolan Richardson at Tulsa and Arkansas.

"No one knows the 40 minutes of hell, as most people call it, better than Coach Richardson," Anderson said. "I have played it, and I guess incorporated it into how we are playing at the University of Missouri."

Calipari, meanwhile, is best known for his dribble-drive motion offense. It is a system that doesn't involve screens and allows players the freedom to take their defenders to the basket at any time.

After the Memphis coach started using the offense in 2003, its popularity exploded. It is now used by many college and high school teams across the country. The Boston Celtics won the NBA championship last year using a derivation of the dribble-drive motion.

While Calipari's offense is cutting edge, he keeps things simple defensively.

"Old school," Calipari said when asked to describe his defense. "As much as our dribble-drive motion is the hip thing now, it is old-school defense."

Both Missouri and Memphis started the season out of the spotlight.

Missouri was picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 in the preseason poll. Memphis came into this season having lost its leading rebounder and top two scorers, including top overall NBA draft pick Derrick Rose.

But both teams surpassed expectations. Missouri won the Big 12 Tournament and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Memphis has won 27-straight games entering the Sweet 16.

Both teams played in the Puerto Rico Tipoff before the season. Both coaches say matching the other team's intensity will be the key to the game. Both teams have won at least 30 games this season.

Anderson said the similarities between the Tigers should make for a great game.

"Certainly they play a brand of basketball that is very similar to what we do. I think that's, to me, that's probably the fun part about it," Anderson said.

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