Top 25 Countdown: No. 13 Memphis Tigers

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 26-9, 13-3 C-USA (1st); Lost in the Opening Round of the NCAA tournament to St. Louis

Head Coach: Josh Pastner

Key Losses: Will Barton, Wesley Witherspoon, Charles Carmouche

Newcomers: Shaq Goodwin, Geron Johnson, Damien Wilson, Anthony Cole

Projected Lineup:

G: Joe Jackson, Jr.
G: Chris Crawford, Jr.
F: Adonis Thomas, So.
F: Ferrakhon Hall, Sr.
C: Tarik Black, Jr.
Bench: Antonio Barton, Jr.; Shaw Goodwin, Fr.; Geron Johnson, Jr.; Stan Simpson, Sr.; DJ Stephens, Sr.

Outlook: For the past couple of seasons, this Memphis group has been overrated heading into the season. The junior class, the leaders of this team that also included Will Barton for the past two years, were young and overwhelmed as freshmen. They ended up making the NCAA tournament when Joe Jackson found his form in the Conference USA tournament and carried the Tigers to an automatic bid before nearly upsetting Arizona in the opening round.

Last season started out on the same note for Memphis, as they went 6-5 in their first 11 games of the season. But after an embarrassing loss to Georgetown in Washington DC, things changed. Pastner, who put together a pretty impressive coaching performance over the last three months of the season, got this group refocused and managed to win 20 of the last 23 games despite the fact that Jackson nearly transferred and Adonis Thomas missed a big chunk of with an injury. Memphis was picked by many pundits as a sleeper prior to the bracket being released, but they, again, lost in the opening round after getting slotted as a No. 8 seed and matched up with a very good St. Louis team.

So while I know that you’re probably getting tired of hearing it at this point, I think that this is the year that the Tigers break through.

First and foremost, I think it needs to be mentioned that the entire starting lineup I have listed above hails from Memphis. All five of them. And if you know anything about Memphis, you know that it’s a city that is crazy about their basketball. High school, college, NBA. So not only are these kids playing for their school and for their teammates, but they’re out there representing their city as well. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a 20 year old — pressure that almost drove Jackson, who was labeled as the King of Memphis in high school, out of the program — but this is can no longer be called a young group. Four of the five are upperclassmen that have started at least one year in the program, while Thomas started as a freshman and, despite missing time with the injury, played in the NCAA tournament.

There are no more excuses to make.

Especially from a talent perspective.

Jackson and Thomas are the two studs. Coming out of White Station High, Jackson was a top 15 recruit that some thought had a chance to head off to the NBA after one season in college. That didn’t happen, but that doesn’t change the fact that the diminutive Jackson is a talented scorer and play-maker. Jackson actually benefited from the emergence of Chris Crawford, and to a lesser extent, Antonio Barton, taking over the point guard role, which allowed him to move off of the ball and focus less on running the offense and more on creating scoring opportunities.

Thomas is the guy on the roster most likely to eventually turn into a lottery pick. At 6-foot-7, 240 lb, he’s a powerful combo-forward who is still making the transition to being a full-time perimeter player. He hit a good percentage from three last season (40.5%), but only took 37 of them. It will be interesting to see how things like his handle and his mid-range game have improved, because he’s got the length, strength and athleticism to be an effective rebounder and finisher around the basket.

Given the hype he had coming in, Thomas had a bit of a disappointing freshman season, and it wasn’t solely the result of his injury. He wasn’t alone, either, as Tarik Black was expected by many to put together an all-conference caliber season. While he did finish the year averaging double-figures, Black never really became the kind of interior presence many thought he would be. Black and Thomas will be the difference-makers for Memphis. How well they perform will determine whether the Tigers are once again a tournament team or a legitimate contender to make a run to the Final Four.

In addition to being an experienced group, Pastner actually has quite a bit of depth at his disposal. Joining Thomas and Black on the front line will be the combination of Shaq Goodwin and Ferrakhan Hall. Hall was a bit of an unsung hero for the Tigers last season, giving them some energy and size in the paint, which was something they lacked a year ago. Goodwin will likely be the best option by the end of the season, however he is only a freshman. Another big body, Stan Simpson, will likely get a good amount of playing time as well.

The guy to keep an eye on in the back court is Geron Johnson. The JuCo transfer has had all kinds of legal issue early in his career, but he’s a former top 100 recruit that’s certainly talented and on his last chance to play at this level. He’s a risk, but he’s got a nice upside if everything goes right.

Predictions?: I don’t think it’s even a question that Memphis is the favorite in Conference USA, but at this point, Memphis fans have got to be fed up with simply being the best team in a league that seemingly gets worse by the day. Memphis wants to be a national program, and, as such, they want to see evidence of that in March. They want to see a win over a top 25 program. For the first time in his Memphis tenure, Pastner has a group that can be classified as both talented and experienced. And, for arguably the first time in his career, Pastner can be termed “experienced” as a head coach. I can see this group being a first round flameout again, but I can also see them putting it all together and making a run to the Final Four.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.

Adam Silver on lowering NBA Draft age minimum: ‘It’s on the table’

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver joined Dan Patrick this morning and was again questioned about the potential of the NBA changing the age limit to declare for the draft.

“If you’d asked me that a year ago, I would have said ‘if I didn’t have to negotiate this with the union, I would have raised the age minimum to 20 from 19,'” Silver told Patrick. When pressed on it, Silver said, “It’s a possible option. It’s on the table,” adding that it will be discussed by the union and in an owner’s meeting, and that he still doesn’t know what he thinks the best answer is.

But the big news is that he’s actively considering a change.

I wrote a long piece about the one-and-done rule and why the topic of what’s best for the kids is incredibly complicated. Owners don’t want to pay teenagers millions of dollars to develop; they’d rather let them develop in college and have an extra season or two on the back-end, when the player is in his prime. The players don’t want to spend a year in college, but the marketing and branding opportunities for them — not to mention to booster money that is floating around on a college campus — makes going to college a better option that going to the G-League, and that’s to say nothing of the fancy dorms, private flights and perks of being a celebrity on a college campus.

The truth is probably this: The NBA is trying to take control of basketball’s feeder systems. And I’m not just talking about making the G-League a better option than the collegiate ranks.

“It’s no longer an issue of 19 to 18 or 19 to 20,” Silver said. “I think it means that we as the NBA need to do something that we’ve avoided, which is getting more involved in youth basketball. If you sit with the folks from Nike or Under Armour or Adidas, they can tell you who the top 100 14 year olds are in the world, and there’s a fairly close correlation between the top 100 at 14 and the top 100 at 18.”

“Then I look at some of the players coming in internationally who are becoming full time professional basketball players, as we see in soccer, at 16 years old,” he added. “And they’re on a better development program and a more holistic one, in terms of injury prevention and monitoring in terms of control over them.”

This is a really nuanced decision, and again, if it interests you, I would encourage you to read what I wrote last week before listening to the hot take mafia work this story line over.

Because the fact of the matter is that there is a lot more to consider here than simply whether or not high school seniors should be allowed to go directly to the NBA.