If freshman-heavy Memphis eventually jells into an elite team in the next few months, Monday's gritty 72-68 victory over Miami may be remembered similarly to Kentucky's narrow early wins last season over Miami (Ohio) and Stanford.
It won't be important that Memphis got out-rebounded 51-31, shot 4 of 22 from behind the arc and displayed the type of shot selection that would have a youth-league team running suicides the next day in practice. What the legacy of this late-night game will be is that the Tigers fell behind an improved Miami team late in the second half, withstood that test of character and found a way to emerge with the victory.
Trailing 63-59 with 3:55 remaining after a left-wing three from Miami's Durand Scott, Memphis gathered itself and unleashed a late surge, surrendering just one more field goal the rest of the way. Guard Chris Crawford shook off a poor night from behind the arc to hit the go-ahead shot, a three-pointer off a kickout from point guard Joe Jackson to put the Tigers up for good 66-65 with 1:51 remaining.
The victory represents a starting point for a revamped Memphis team that missed the NCAA tournament in coach Josh Pastner's first season but expects to return to national prominence this season thanks to a crop of talented newcomers. Pastner added high-scoring New Orleans transfer Charles Carmouche and signed the nation's No. 2 rated recruiting class, though that group took a small hit when the Tigers severed ties with McDonald's All-American wing Jelan Kendrick this past weekend.
Freshman point guard Joe Jackson led four Tigers in double figures scoring on Monday with 17 points. Memphis' array of long, athletic wings played with tremendous effort on both ends of the floor, limiting Miami to 32.8 percent shooting and getting to the free throw line a ridiculous 39 times.
For Memphis to continue to evoke comparisons to last season's freshman-dominated Kentucky squad, the Tigers must continue to progress the next few months the way that Wildcats squad did.
They need to place a greater emphasis on rebounding and shot selection. They must get more consistent interior production from big man Will Coleman. And they must reintegrate elite freshman Will Barton into the offense after he missed 17 days of training camp battling injuries.