Both No. 13 Memphis and Xavier entered this season looking to reload after deep runs in the NCAA tournament last season. The two teams put their early unbeaten records on the line in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament in San Juan on Sunday.
The Tigers (4-0), who reached the NCAA championship game in San Antonio and lost to Kansas in overtime, had to replace three players who were taken in the NBA draft, including No. 1 overall pick Derrick Rose.
Memphis has shown some inconsistency on offense, averaging 84.3 points but shooting 23.8 percent (20-for-84) from 3-point range. Its defense, however, has improved over the last three games, limiting opponents to 36.8 percent shooting while forcing 20.0 turnovers per game.
Doneal Mack scored 16 points while freshman Tyreke Evans added 12, seven rebounds and six assists as the Tigers reached the Puerto Rico title game with an 84-70 victory over Seton Hall on Friday. Memphis played one of its more complete games, outrebounding Seton Hall 46-36 - grabbing 20 on the offensive end - and recording 19 assists on its 25 baskets while forcing 18 turnovers.
More importantly, the Tigers finished off an opponent when they had the chance, opening the second half on a 14-5 run to grab a 58-35 lead with 13:09 left.
Tigers coach John Calipari has been content to let Evans find his role in the offense. The 6-foot-6 guard has started the last three games and is averaging a team-high 15.3 points and 3.0 steals along with a team-worst 16 turnovers.
Xavier (4-0), which had to replace three of its top six scorers after falling to UCLA to end up one win shy of last season’s Final Four, has never started 5-0 under fifth-year coach Sean Miller. The Musketeers have rallied to win both of their games in San Juan, trailing Missouri by seven in the second half of their first-round victory before overcoming a 10-point deficit against Virginia Tech to win in dramatic fashion Friday.
Dante Jackson’s shot from just beyond halfcourt at the buzzer lifted Xavier to a 63-62 overtime win over the Hokies. Derrick Brown appears to have fully recovered from an early season ankle injury, finishing with 16 points and six rebounds as the Musketeers won despite shooting a season-low 37.7 percent
Brown has been the most consistent player for the Musketeers in San Juan, shooting 10-for-16 from the field while averaging 16.0 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Calipari recruited Miller to play point guard at Pittsburgh while serving as an assistant under Paul Evans from 1985-88, and the two have maintained a close relationship.
Xavier leads the all-time series 5-1, but this is the first meeting between the schools since the 1966-67 season.