2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 13 Memphis Tigers

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 31-5, 16-0 Conference USA (1st); Lost to Michigan State in the Round of 32

Head Coach: Josh Pastner (5th season at Memphis: 106-34 overall, 52-12 CUSA)

Key Losses: Adonis Thomas, D.J. Stephens, Antonio Barton, Tarik Black

Newcomers: Michael Dixon, Kuran Iverson, Nick King, Austin Nichols, David Pellom, Dominic Woodson, Markel Crawford

Projected Lineup

G: Joe Jackson, Sr.
G: Michael Dixon, Sr.
G: Geron Johnson, Sr.
G: Chris Crawford, Sr.
C: Shaq Goodwin, So.
Bench: Austin Nichols, Fr.; Nick King, Fr.; Kuran Iverson, Fr.; David Pellom, Sr.; Dominic Woodson, Fr.; Markel Crawford, Fr.

They’ll be good because …: Josh Pastner has one of the best back courts in the country, if not the best. Joe Jackson, Mike Dixon, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford are talented enough that they can give opponents fits, especially if Pastner is able to utilize the four-guard looks and uptempo style that he wants to play. If all goes according to plan, the Tigers will look an awful lot like Missouri from the 2011-2012 season, playing four guards while hoping that Crawford will be able to hold his own in the paint while utilizing his three-point stroke to create nightmarish mismatches for opponents.

Even if the four-guard lineup doesn’t work out as well as Pastner hopes, the Tigers still have more than enough talent on their roster. Center Shaq Goodwin is back for his sophomore campaign and will be joined by five-star power forward Austin Nichols as well as four-star recruits Dominic Woodson (center), Kuran Iverson (combo-forward) and Nick King (small forward). There may be a lot of youth there, but four senior guards leading the way should help nullify that issue.

source:
Memphis Athletics

But they might disappoint because …: Memphis always seems to disappoint. The standard operating procedure for Memphis the last couple of years has been to struggle against quality opponents during non-conference play only to turn into an overwhelmingly dominant team once Conference USA play kicks off. They look like a different team for a few months before reverting back to their old ways come tournament time. There’s a reason that Pastner has a .757 winning percentage with just a single tournament win and no top 25 wins to show for it.

How might Memphis struggle? Crawford can’t matchup with fours, which creates a logjam in the Memphis back court as Jackson, Dixon and Johnson struggle to deal with the playing time crunch. Goodwin doesn’t make the improvement that he’s expected to make as a sophomore, and Pastner’s recruiting class, while talented, isn’t yet ready to contribute in a league like the AAC. I don’t think it’s crazy to think that the Tigers could end up back in the 8-9 game with yet another Round of 64 loss on their resume.

Outlook: With Memphis heading into the AAC this season, this is the year for the Tigers to buck the trend of disappointing losses and struggles against top flight competition. One of the biggest reasons for that is the presence of Dixon on this roster. He’s a bulldog on the court, a tenacious defender and competitor that would have been one of the best guards in the country a season ago if he hadn’t had his off-the-court issues at Missouri. He’s a leader, a tough guard that can play on the ball or off the ball. The Tigers have had their issues in that department in the past, which is part of the reason that Dixon is such an important addition.

Personally, I think that this experiment will be a success for Pastner for two reasons:

  • 1) Everyone in the back court can really shoot the ball, with Johnson’s 35.0% three-point clip the worst of the group. They’ll be able to spread the floor. Jackson, Dixon and Johnson are all more than capable of penetrating and creating off the bounce, and they’ll have plenty of lanes to do so.
  • 2) The guards are also excellent defenders. Dixon is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and Jackson and Johnson aren’t too far behind him. They’ll force turnovers, they’ll get teams playing faster than they are comfortable doing, and they’ll take advantage of their quickness in the open court.

There are certainly issues at play, none bigger than how Memphis will defend post players and if they can rebound the ball. But like that Missouri team, their strengths will more than compensate for the question marks.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.