Memphis Tigers Head Coach Pastner talks with Johnson and Black during a time out during the first half of their third round NCAA tournament basketball game against the Michigan State Spartans in Auburn Hills

Josh Pastner: ‘We have a long way to go’

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Josh Pastner has a highly-touted recruiting class, couple that with recent news that Missouri transfer Michael Dixon is eligible to play this season, and Memphis once again has high expectations in the preseason.

Though, during Monday’s media session, Pastner made it clear that for all the potential this team has, still has a lot of room for improvement.

“We have some work to do,” Pastner said. “We have a long way to go. We’re not near a finished product at all. There’s some strengths, and we have some weaknesses. We’ve got to get a lot better in a lot of different areas.”

The strength is clearly the guard play with Dixon, Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford, a quartet that some argue is the best in the country.

“I don’t think if I could (coach) another 35 years, that I will have another team where I have four senior guards,” Pastner added. “Not just senior guards, but these are four guys who have been on teams that won 30 games and have played major minutes.”

The Tigers will still be matched up with some of the nation’s other top guard play including UConn and Louisville, who are now conference foes in the brand-new American. The Tigers face the Huskies and Cards twice this season, and their inaugural conference schedule is anything but favorable from the start.  Memphis begins league play on the road in South Florida, then the four following games include home against Cincinnati, on the road at Louisville and Temple, wrapping up against UConn in the FedEx Forum.

Before the Tigers even get conference play, they have an out-of-conference slate that features Oklahoma State (another premier backcourt), Florida and potentially an improved LSU team.

Memphis is predicted to be at the top of the conference and rightfully so. Though Pastner and his Tigers have succumbed to preseason hype in the past (remember last season’s Battle 4 Atlantis performance?). He took some heat off when he won an NCAA tournament game, though he still doesn’t have a top-25 win under his belt. He has several tough out-of-conference games and a much more difficult conference schedule, so maybe calming the hype around his program this preseason isn’t the worst decision.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.