Memphis, four guard lineups, and the importance of Chris Crawford

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ESPN’s two big-name news-breakers both wrote about Memphis and Michael Dixon on their personal blogs this morning. Andy Katz said that the Tigers are hopeful that they’ll get word on Dixon within the next two-to-three weeks, while Jeff Goodman praised Dixon’s leadership ability and called him the key to the Memphis season.

But we’ve heard that before.

Dixon has a commanding back court presence that Joe Jackson has never developed. NCAA decisions are always expected in the next week or two. None of that is new.

What was interesting, however, was the fact that both Katz and Goodman emphasized the idea of Memphis spending a lot of time in a four-guard lineup next season; Dixon and Jackson handling the ball with Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford playing the role of the team’s ‘forwards’.

That team will be fun to watch, and it may even evoke some memories of the 2012 Missouri team that Dixon was a part of that won 30 games and the Big 12 tournament before getting knocked out in the opening round of the NCAA tournament by Norfolk State. Assuming Dixon is eligible, the Tigers will get up and down the floor quite a bit. Both Johnson and Dixon are excellent on-ball defenders, and all four guards are capable scorers that can handle the point but thrive when allowed to attack the basket. There may be an issue of enough shots to go around, but if the Tigers are getting up and down the floor, there may be plenty of shots available.

The key to that lineup, however, will be Chris Crawford. What made Missouri so good in their four-guard lineup — and the reason that North Carolina was able to make their run late last season — was the presence of a bigger guard that can knock down threes while holding their own in the post against opposing fours. For Missouri, that player was Kim English. For UNC, it was Reggie Bullock.

They created a mismatch on the offensive end without being too much of a defensive liability.

Crawford’s 6-foot-4. He shot 39.9% from three last season. He’ll be the difference-maker if and when Pastner decides to go with four guards.

Boise State loses guard Harwell to torn ACL

Leon Rice
Associated Press
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Expected to be one of the favorites in the Mountain West this season, Boise State’s perimeter ranks have shrunk by one player due to injury. Thursday it was reported by the Idaho Statesman¬†that freshman guard Malek Harwell will redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in practice. Along with fellow freshman Paris Austin, Harwell is expected to be a key part of the Broncos’ future beyond the upcoming season.

Now, instead of competing with an experienced backcourt that includes four redshirt seniors, Harwell will work to get his knee back to full strength for the 2016-17 season.

Among the guards who will play significant minutes this season are Anthony Drmic, who took a medical redshirt last season, Montigo Alford, Mikey Thompson and grad transfer Lonnie Jackson (Boston College). Chandler Hutchison, who started in Boise State’s final 18 games of the 2014-15 season as a freshman, will also compete for playing time.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.