Memphis moving to Big East, but can it thrive there?

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Memphis spent the last decade or so trying to join the Big East. Other BCS conferences were occasionally rumored, but it was always the Big East. It’s a basketball-rich league (Georgetown, UConn, Villanova) that added former Memphis rivals Louisville and Cincinnati in the mid-2000s. Makes sense.

Now it’s actually happening. Memphis will join the Big East starting with the 2013-14 season. Hoopheads often wondered how the Tigers would fare in a stronger conference – especially during John Calipari’s final four seasons. Now we’ll find out.

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Josh Pastner might be a little nervous by the idea.

As Gary Parrish notes, the move is great for Big East hoops, Memphis hoops and fans overall. But the days of pushing around the rest of the league are over. They had been for a few years, but now they’re really over. And recruiting? The Tigers will be on ESPN far more often, but now Pastner’s vying for prospects against coaches like Jay Wright, Rick Pitino, JT III and the rest of the league. (Not having to compete with Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia helps a little.)

Pastner, 34, is still learning the ropes as a coach. Memphis was his first job as a head coach and he’s only halfway through his third season. He already has proven himself as a more than capable recruiter, but this is a different league with higher stakes. It’s almost like the dream of joining another league loomed for so long, it seemed like it might never happen.

Still, Pastner might be the least of Memphis’ worries compared to its wreck of a football program.

Memphis is kinda like Robert Redford in “The Candidate.” What now? Were we really prepared for this possibility? (Political movie aside: Why “The Ides of March” didn’t get more acclaim last fall is beyond me. Great flick.)

Memphis can handle the move. It has the financial resources and Pastner’s a tireless worker. But will it thrive? That’s the big question.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.