Josh Pastner

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.

Report: Former Buckeye Mitchell headed to Arizona State

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 11: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes talks to Mickey Mitchell #00 against the Michigan State Spartans in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 11, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Yet another one of the members of the heralded 2015 Ohio State recruiting class won’t be playing at his second choice of school either.

Mickey Mitchell will transfer to Arizona State after initially planning on going to UC-Santa Barbara upon his exit from the Buckeyes, according to Scout.

Thad Matta lost four players from that top-10 five-man recruiting class with Austin Grandstaff, Daniel Giddens and A.J. Harris all also deciding to leave Columbus.

Grandstaff also did not play at his first choice after Ohio State, deciding to ultimately depart Oklahoma for DePaul after heading to Norman from OSU.

Mitchell, once a four-star recruit, appeared in 23 games for the Buckeyes as a freshman, averaging 2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He is expected to enroll at Arizona State in time for the next semester and will be eligible at the semester break next year for the Sun Devils.

Utah’s Krystkowiak reveals he had cancerous thyroid removed

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak had surgery this spring to remove his thyroid after cancer was discovered in it, he revealed Monday during his coach’s radio show, according to the Deseret News.

“I had my thyroid taken out this spring,” Krystkowiak said. “Found some cancer in it.”

Krystkowiak made light of the situation, mentioning it contributed to some weight game.

“It’s OK if I skip a meal from time to time,” he said. “I gotta watch the midsection. That’s one of the byproducts of not having a thyroid. I guess you get a little chunky.”

Krystkowiak, who has been at Utah since 2011, and the Utes are currently 6-1 with their lone loss coming to Butler. They travel to face Xavier on Saturday.

Bobby Hurley ridicules his Arizona State team’s effort in loss

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 16:  Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils yells to his players during their game against the UNLV Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center on December 16, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Arizona State won 66-56.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — A totally forgettable Arizona State performance in the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday night led to some truly unforgettable comments from head coach Bobby Hurley.

Hurley, who has a reputation for having something of a temper, teed off on his team in the press conference after the game, criticizing them as harshly as you’ll ever see a coach do in public. He called them “embarrassing” and the performance “disturbing”.

“I thought we competed for about eight minutes out of 40,” Hurley said. The Sun Devils were down 47-21 at the half, by as many as 42 points in the second half and eventually lost 97-64 to a Purdue team that scored 19 first half points against Louisville exactly a week ago. “It’s unfortunate that our team didn’t even come close to the energy that Jimmy V had in his life and his passion. We had no passion for playing. We did a disservice to this game and this event and what he represented.”

It’s not often that you see a coach publicly ridicule players like that. Humiliation isn’t always the best motivating tactic. Oftentimes, it’s the easiest way to lose a locker room.

Hurley wasn’t done.

“For a city that’s a blue-collar city and an arena that has so much tradition and so many good players that have played on this court — to look like that, it was embarrassing,” he said. “And then the cause, such a great cause that we’re playing for tonight. Did my players play as hard as the people that are going through what they go through in cancer, as families go through in their personal situations? I don’t think so.”

Oh, there’s more.

“That was really disturbing, how we competed,” Hurley said. “It’s not a reflection of my personality or the teams I’ve coached in the past, so we have to make some changes.”

For better or worse, this is the second time in Hurley’s tenure with Arizona State that he’s made national headlines. Last season, he went viral during a theatrical ejection in an Arizona State loss against in-state rival Arizona.

Hurley is trying to make Arizona State relevant, which is why he’s scheduling games against anyone and everyone in an effort to get his brand on national television.

And he’s succeeded in a sense.

After this rant, you’ll see his name on every sports website this morning.

I’m not so sure that’s the best way to build recruiting momentum.

CBT Podcast: Recapping Kentucky-UCLA, Player of the Year ranks, Cuse-UConn

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In the latest episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk podcast, I was joined by my former colleague Raphielle Johnson to discuss everything from Kentucky-UCLA to Syracuse-UConn to who deserves to be the Player of the Year after the first month of the season.

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You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

Return on Investment: Dixon era already paying dividends for TCU

Pittsburgh v Wichita State
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jaylen Fisher was in demand.

Not only is the Tennessee native talented, rated by most services as a four-star recruit, he suddenly became available when players of his caliber are in short supply, having decommitted from UNLV last spring.

The likes of Baylor, Ohio State, Florida and UConn were all interested. So, too, was TCU.

While rarely a player for prospects of Fisher’s pedigree, the Horned Frogs had a strong recruiting pitch, starting with a new coach, Jamie Dixon, taking over for his alma mater after 11 NCAA tournaments in 13 years at Pitt, plus the assistant who got him to commit to UNLV, Ryan Miller, joining the staff.

TCU, though, had a perception problem.

“Last year they didn’t charter (to away games),” Dixon told NBCSports.com in October, “and everybody else chartered.

“Everybody was using it against us in the conference, saying TCU doesn’t charter to games. I didn’t know that because they had told me we were going to charter to every game. So we had to address that and get that out there.”

Such is life at a place that has long prioritized football and baseball, with winter being the time before spring football, not basketball season.

That, though, may be changing.

TCU is investing in basketball, from chartered flights, to a new arena to Dixon himself. The race is on to climb out of the Big 12 cellar, get to the program’s first NCAA tournament in nearly two decades and then win its first game there in three.

“We’re trying,” senior Karviar Shepherd said, “to make basketball a big thing.”

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 21: Head coach Trent Johnson of the TCU Horned Frogs reacts during the second half of the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on February 21, 2015 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Since bolting the Mountain West for Big 12 to pursue football glory, basketball has been a disaster for TCU.

The Frogs have won eight conference games in four years, going 0-for-2014 with 18 league losses that season. The highwater mark came in 2015, when they went 4-14 and finished a game ahead of last. They’ve finished last in attendance every year, averaging fewer than 5,000 fans per game.

“I came in knowing that it was going to be that way, kind of,” Shepherd, a four-star recruit in 2013, said. “I didn’t know it was going to be that intense, but it happened.”

Losses were only part of the ignominy for the Horned Frogs.

The school’s largest public pronouncement of caring about basketball also caused the program to appear its most unimportant.

They spent 2014-15 playing in a high school gym.

Certainly, it was an ends justify the means situation as TCU was displaced by a $72 million renovation to the outdated Daniel-Meyer Coliseum (now Schollmaier Arena).

But a season’s worth of games at the Wilkerson-Greines Athletic Center, home of the Fort Worth Independent School District, was no picnic.

“Playing at the high school was more like an away game,” Shepherd said. “We didn’t have that much of a crowd come in.

“It was kind of compact, orange all over. We had to get through it.”

TCU's Jalen Fisher, left scrambles for a loose basketball against Washington's Markelle Fultz during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, No. 30, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Bob Haynes/Star-Telegram via AP)
Bob Haynes/Star-Telegram via AP

The Horned Frogs now hope the growing pains have been worth it.

They spent last year in the Schollmaier Arena, a modern facility that helps keep pace with the rest of the league. The losses eventually proved too much for the school to stay with Trent Johnson, but their decision to act aggressively with his dismissal allowed them to pursue Dixon, who not only won at the highest levels at Pitt but graduated from TCU in 1987 after winning back-to-back Southwest Conference titles.

“Losing a coach that’s been with you for three years, any coach, that’s hard to do,” Shepherd said. “(Dixon) came in with a positive attitude, which helped us and guided us in to what he wanted to do.”

Dixon status as not only an alum, but one with connections to one of the few successful eras of TCU basketball is something that makes him uniquely qualified to turn the Frogs from cellar-dwellers to contenders.

“I think it gives more passion,” Shepherd said. “It’s TCU for TCU. He has that type of thing going on. He wants to do the best for his community, which is TCU.”

Dixon’s degree makes for a nice recruiting pitch, too.

“I think it brings something different,” he said. “Not many coaches out there are coaching at the place they went to school. I made the choice to come there. I had choices to be at other great places, other great programs, move to other great places and I think I‘m recognizing it more.

“I don’t think I saw it initially but now that I’ve been at it and I’ve seen and I’ve looked around, you can sell, you can talk about a different experience than the other coaches can. We talk about once you go to TCU, it’s not a four-year decision, it’s a decision for life.

“There’s no better example than myself.”

FILE - In this March 22,, 2016, file photo, TCU's new men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon acknowledges the crowds response as he was introduced during an NCAA college basketball news conference, in Fort Worth, Texas. Dixon’s Horned Frogs have started 4-0 in his first season but have gone 8-64 in Big 12 play over the past four years. (Ron T. Ennis/Star-Telegram via AP, File)
Ron T. Ennis/Star-Telegram via AP, File

TCU’s investment in basketball appears to be initially paying off. The Frogs are 8-0 heading into tonight’s matchup with their crosstown counterpart, SMU, tonight. The schedule they’ve conquered to remain unbeaten is no Goliath, but when you’ve spent as much time as TCU has with that zero on the front end of your record, strength of schedule is of little consequence, at least at this point.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Dixon said at Big 12 media day before the season. “The administration is expressing that and there’s some things that I have to bring to their attention, too as well.

“And then there’s things that are happening over time. Next year there’s going to be something that’s hot that everybody’s going to do and you’ve got to stay up with that. That’s what I learned at Pitt. You’ve got to stay up with the times and advantages because it’s a war out there.”

The real war is always on the recruiting trail, where it looks as though TCU is making up ground in the talent-rich Lone Star State. Kevin Samuel, a four-star center from Houston, and R.J. Nembhard, a four-star guard from right outside Dallas, are both signed for the 2017 class.

The Horned Frogs may be seeing early returns, but their true return on investment won’t be known for some time. TCU, even with a fast start, wouldn’t appear to be on an NCAA tournament track this season. Building a program, especially one with little previous historical tradition and playing in one of the country’s toughest league, takes time.

“You don’t want to say, that’s how we did it at Pitt. You don’t want to say that every sentence,” Dixon said, “but we’ve had experience building something from nothing. That’s the reality of it at Pitt. We need to do that.”

Part of that begins with changing perception. An 8-0 start – and potentially a win against SMU – would helps in that department. Dixon, though, has already begun to change the way TCU is thought of.

Before they got Samuel and Nembhard, the Horned Frogs got Fisher, getting out in front of any aircraft-related negative recruiting.

“When you’re picked 10th and you finish at the bottom,” Dixon said, “we’re easier to take shots at. They can find them and people are more apt to believe it too.”

So are the darkest days now behind TCU?

“The losses that we had,” Shepherd said, “it built character within each player, just knowing where we came from, where we want to be and where we’re going.

“It builds character.”

With the character secure, it’s now on Dixon and TCU to build a program.