“Like I’ve been telling everybody, this is what you live for, these type of moments right here. Two good teams going at it, two highly ranked teams, very well known teams, so it’ll be a great game tomorrow,” said Smart.
The game will feature two of the best backcourts in all of college basketball.
Smart (13.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists) and senior Markel Brown (15.3 points and 3.7 assists) are OSU’s starting guards with Phil Forte (21.0 points while making 63.6 percent of his 3-pointers) coming off the bench.
Memphis head coach Josh Pastner’s three-guard lineup includes a trio of seniors: Joe Jackson (16 points, 7 assists), Michael Dixon (15 points) and Geron Johnson (11 points, 10 rebounds). The Tigers also bring senior Chris Crawford (11 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals) off the bench.
OSU head coach Travis Ford says the Tigers are one of the nation’s best college teams.
“It’s a great matchup. The teams’ strength are very similar. Both have relatively deep teams. Their depth is a little bit more experienced than ours,” Ford said.
“It’s going to be fast. I pump up every team (we play) and I tend to exaggerate at times, but I told our team, ‘you remind me throughout the season if there’s a faster team than Memphis.’ But this will probably be the fastest team we play and maybe the fastest team in America. They are as fast from end to end as I’ve seen in a very long time.”
The Cowboys opened the season with three blowout victories over Mississippi Valley State (117-62), Utah Valley (93-40) and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (97-63). The Tigers opened the season last Thursday night with a 95-69 victory over Austin Peay.
The early season showdown inside Gallagher-Iba Arena will be the first test of the season for both squads.
“It’s a showcase game. I think it’s going to be a great game,” Nash said. “I think it’s going to be a high-scoring game. We’ve got two teams that can score a lot of points. It’s going to be about who’s going to play defense. Who’s going to accept their roles and play better defense; I feel like we’ve got the edge.”
Smart said, “It’ll be a great matchup, veteran guys on their side and veteran guys over here who understand the game who have been playing and knows what it takes to win.”
The Tigers were 31-5 last season and return nearly everyone from a team that advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament before losing to Michigan State.
Jackson (6-1, 174) and Dixon (6-1, 200) are three inches shorter than OSU’s Smart and Brown, but they more than make up for their lack of height with what they can do on the floor, Ford says.
“When you look out there and see Joe Jackson and (Michael) Dixon, there are no two quicker guards in the country. None. Nowhere,” OSU’s head coach said. “You’re talking about quickness, talent, experience … there’s not a more experienced backcourt in the country.
“You’re talking about Joe Jackson who has started pretty much from day one, has been player of the year in the league and all that stuff, and then Dixon is a fifth-year senior (who averaged 13.5 points and 3.3 assists at Missouri in 2011012 before transferring to Memphis) and he’s played on number one teams in America … The backcourt at Memphis is the most experienced backcourt in the country, and they’re very talented. Those two guards have been through a lot and have been through a lot of big moments and played in big games before.”
Ford says Tuesday night’s game is the type that players like Smart, Brown, Jackson and Dixon look forward to playing in.
“I don’t think we’re going to have to motivate either team. I think both teams are excited to play the game,” he said. “You want to win the game, no doubt. That’s the ultimate goal but also we’ll learn a lot about our team. Memphis is a team that I believe when it comes March they can make the Final Four. With their talent, with their depth and with their experience, they are a Final Four-type team.”
Nash delivered a message Monday to Cowboys fans.
“I hope we sell out. I hope we orange out and show that Gallagher-Iba is one of the toughest arenas to play at. We’ve got to get Dick Vitale to want to come back here. To all the fans out there, please come out and support us. We need you. We need you for this game.”