Last season the Memphis Tigers won 24 games and finished in a three-way tie for third place in the American Athletic Conference due in large part to the presence of four senior guards. With those guards, led by Joe Jackson (14.5 ppg, 4.5 apg), having moved on the perimeter play is the biggest question that head coach Josh Pastner has to address before the regular season opener against No. 11 Wichita State on November 18.
Wednesday night the Tigers played their lone exhibition game, and the biggest takeaway from their 74-70 loss to Christian Brothers University is that they have a lot of work to do in advance of their meeting with Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and the rest of the Shockers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Memphis committed 21 turnovers, with transfer Kedren Johnson responsible for six and junior forward Shaq Goodwin committing four. Johnson also dished out four assists, with Markel Crawford being Memphis’ best distributor from a numbers standpoint (five assists, one turnover). Add in a 5-for-22 night from beyond the arc, and it should come as no surprise that Memphis had its hands full with the Division II Buccaneers.
Memphis has just one guard who enters this season with any experience at the Division I level, Johnson, so the growing pains are to be expected.
And in Christian Brothers, it isn’t as if the Tigers were taking on your standard rec league team either. Head coach Mike Nienaber welcomed back four starters from last season’s team, led by All-Gulf South Conference guard Trey Casey (17.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg). Casey scored 19 points Wednesday night and senior forward Sidy Sall played very well inside, accounting for game-highs of 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Goodwin and sophomore forward Austin Nichols led the way for Memphis, accounting for 18 and 17 points, respectively. Goodwin also grabbed a team-high ten rebounds.
Given the amount of production lost from last season, areas such as turnovers will be key for Memphis if they’re to contend in the American. The Tigers struggled to take care of the basketball Wednesday night, and when combined with their struggles shooting the basketball the end result was their first loss in an exhibition game since 1996.
1. Kyle Wiltjer (via Kentucky) and Byron Wesley (via USC), Gonzaga: Mark Few’s team still has questions to answer, mainly on the defensive end, but there’s no doubting that he’s added several transfers that make the Zags a top-10 caliber team. Wiltjer, the 2013 SEC Sixth Man of the Year, has had over a year to reshape his body. By the looks of last week’s viral video, his 3-point shot is still intact. Wesley, a graduate transfer who averaged 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds per game in 2013-2014, gives the Bulldogs another weapon on the perimeter.
2. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State (via UNLV): The Mayor’s success with transfers in Ames is well-documented. Next in line could be fifth-year senior Bryce Dejean-Jones. Iowa State graduated a lot of its scoring pop, and Dejean-Jones can help in that department, although he doesn’t need to be the top scorer like he was last season at UNLV. Hoiberg will look for the 6-foot-6 newcomer to be a wing who creates his shot, not one who will force it, as Dejean-Jones shot selection has been a problem in the past.
3. Rodney Purvis, UConn (via N.C. State): The reigning national champions add a former McDonald’s All-American to its back court alongside Ryan Boatright. At 6-foot-4, Purvis will give the Huskies size on the perimeter; someone who is not only capable of getting to the rim, but also a reliable 3-point shooting, knocking down 38.5 percent of his threes at N.C. State.
4. Anthony Lee, Ohio State (via Temple): The graduate transfer was highly-sought after, but picked the Buckeyes, adding size, scoring and rebounding to their frontline. At Temple, he recorded 11 double-doubles en route to 13.6 points and and American Athletic Conference leading 8.6 boards per game.
5. Kedren Johnson, Memphis (via Vanderbilt): Memphis went from a back court of four seniors in 2013-2014 to a set of guards with zero Division I experience. That was until Johnson, the Vandy transfer, got a waiver to play immediately. In 2012-2013, the 6-foot-4 Johnson averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. His experience on-the-ball should help the younger guards get adjust to the level of play.
6. Angel Rodriguez, Miami (via Kansas State): The Hurricanes new point guard took a year off to recover from a wrist injury and now is the key piece to a revamped perimeter for Miami, which includes fellow transfer Sheldon McClellan, four-star freshman JaQuan Newton and returners Deandre Burnett and Davon Reed. The former K-State floor general was second-team all-Big 12 in 2012-2013, averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per game.
7. Trevor Lacey, N.C. State (via Alabama): T.J. Warren took his ACC Player of the Year honors and his 24.9 points per game to the NBA, leaving plenty of shots available for the the newcomer. The 6-foot-3 Lacey averaged 11.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game as a sophomore.
8. Katin Reinhardt, USC (via UNLV): After taking the second-most shots on UNLV as a freshman in 2012-2013, Reinhardt headed back to the state of California in hopes of being more than just a shooter. Despite his desires to have the ball in his hands, his biggest asset to Andy Enfield is his ability to hit from the outside. The Trojans were a Pac-12 worst 29 percent from beyond the arc last season.
9. Justin Martin, SMU (via Xavier): The 6-foot-6 wing is eligible immediately after graduating from Xavier. He posted 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, knocking down 50 3-pointers. He has also played in two NCAA tournaments, a place the Mustangs are looking to get back to for the first time since 1993.
10. Matt Carlino, Marquette (viaBYU): Steve Wojciechowski adds the former BYU guard to a back court that includes senior Derrick Wilson, potential breakout star Deonte Burton and redshirt freshman Duane Wilson. Carlino will see time on and off the ball, and will provide Marquette with a knockdown shooter.
13 MORE IMPACT TRANSFERS
Angelo Chol, San Diego State (via Arizona): Steve Fisher has had success with transfers in the past, and this season it could be Chol, the former Arizona Wildcat, who could never crack the loaded frontline.
*Cody Doolin, UNLV (via San Francisco): Dave Rice added a steady point guard (averaged 5.6 assists per game in 2012-2013) to a team that lost its starting five. Has been granted a fifth year of eligibility, but still waiting on a waiver to be allowed to play this season, although he is expected to receive it.
Justin Edwards, Kansas State (via Maine): Top scorer in the American East at 16.7 points per game in 2012-2013 could end up being a double-digit scorer for the Wildcats.
Byrn Forbes, Michigan State (via Cleveland State): Forbes will help combat the lose of Keith Appling and Gary Harris, averaging 15.6 points per game (42 percent from three) last season in the Horizon League.
Anthony Hickey, Oklahoma State (via LSU): Hickey hopes the change of scenery can help return to sophomore averages of 11.2 points, 3.4 assists and 2.9 steals per game.
Jabarie Hinds, UMass (via West Virginia): With Chaz Williams graduating, the West Virginia transfer will be inserted into a back court with returning starter Derrick Gordon and key reserve Trey Davis in what could end up being a three-guard set for the Minutemen.
Keith Hornsby, LSU (via UNC Asheville): Matched up with JuCo transfer Josh Gray in the back court, Hornsby gives the Tigers size at 6-foot-4 and a 3-point threat.
Stanton Kidd (via North Carolina Central) and Antawn Scott (via Grambling) Colorado State : Outside of San Diego State, the rest of the Mountain West is wide-open. The addition of Kidd and Scott can help the Rams separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Jermaine Lawrence, Manhattan (via Cincinnati): The former five-star recruit is a big addition to a Manhattan team looking to return to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.
Antoine Mason, Auburn (via Niagara): Only national player of the year Doug McDermott scored more points than Mason (25.6 ppg) last season, as the former Niagara standout joins fellow transfers K.C. Ross-Miller and Cinmeon Bowers this season for the Tigers.
Ahmad Starks, Illinois (via Oregon State): Senior guard Tracy Abrams tearing his ACL made the addition of Starks and Seton Hall shooter Aaron Cosby all the more important. Starks will be asked to run the offense this season in his first and only year with the Illini.
*TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma (via Houston): The 6-foot-8 forward is still waiting on a waiver to play this season. Would make the Sooners a real threat in the Big 12.
2014-2015 Season Preview: Ranking the biggest X-Factors
Kentucky’s buy-in: No team in the country has as much talent on their roster as Kentucky does, but the Wildcats may actually be too deep this season. They’re so deep, in fact, that John Calipari is considering using a platoon system — with five-man shifts — like he is coaching hockey. Eventually, someone’s minutes are going to get cut. Someone is going to have to accept the fact they’re a role player, nothing more than a screener or rebounder or defensive presence. If every Wildcat, from the Harrisons twins to Sam Malone, buys into this idea, Kentucky is going to be very, very tough to beat.
Gonzaga’s defense: Kevin Pangos, now that he’s healthy, is going to have a huge season. Kyle Wiltjer has had a year to develop his body and his game, making him the perfect stretch-four to create space in the paint for Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis. Gary Bell, Byron Wesley, Eric McClellan, Josh Perkins, Kyle Draginis. There’s plenty of talent on the Zags, but the issue will be on defense. When Pangos, Wiltjer and Karnowski are on the floor together, Mark Few will have three defensive question marks. Gonzaga is a Final Four caliber team if they get enough stops.
D’angelo Russell, Ohio State: Aaron Craft is Ohio State’s biggest loss, but right up there, oddly enough, is the loss of LaQuinton Ross. The Buckeyes struggled to score last season, and Ross was their most consistent offensive weapon. Russell heads to Columbus with the reputation of being a big time scorer, and while the Buckeyes should, once again, be stout defensively, they’ll need Russell’s pop on the offensive end.
Devonte’ Graham, Kansas: How long have we been asking questions about the Kansas point guard play? That won’t change this season, as Graham, a freshman, and sophomores Frank Mason and Connor Frankamp will try to take the reins. Graham is the most talented of the three, however, and is expected to take over the role.
Dwayne Polee, San Diego State: Someone is going to have to replace the offensive production that San Diego State loses with the graduation of Xavier Thames. Polee is not the most talented offensive player on the roster, but he showed quite a bit of promise at the end of last season. SDSU reaches a new level if he becomes a threat as a scorer.
Mark Donnal, Michigan: Michigan’s perimeter is loaded this season, but with Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford all departing, Donnal, a redshirt freshman, is now the veteran presence in the paint for John Beilein. Should I mention that he’s also known as being a shooter, and that he redshirted strictly to add strength?
Bryce Alford, UCLA: Alford had promising moments as a freshman with the Bruins, but there were also times where he looked best-suited to being an offensive sparkplug off the bench. This year, the sophomore son of head coach Steve Alford will be handed the reins.
UConn’s big men: UConn has a number of x-factors this season — Can Ryan Boatright be Shabazz or Kemba? How good will Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton be? Is this Omar Calhoun’s bounceback year? But more than anything, UConn’s front line is where the questions lie. Amida Brimah is a terrific shotblocker with the strength of a stalk of bamboo, and Philip Nolan added 25 pounds of muscle but was ‘just a guy’ last season. Losing Deandre Daniels’ inside-outside ability will hurt quite a bit, and while UConn’s guard situation will work itself out, the Huskies need big minutes out of their big men to win the American this year.
Kansas State’s transfers: Marcus Foster has a shot to be a first-team all-american this season, but there are still some questions with his supporting cast. Wesley Iwundu, Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas are all expected to take a step forward, and Malek Harris is a four-star addition, but it is a trio of transfers that could make the difference. Justin Edwards could end up being a double-figure scorer on the wing, while Stephen Hurt and, to a lesser extent, Brandon Bolden give Bruce Weber some much-needed height in the paint.
Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State: There’s no questioning Dejean-Jones’ ability to score. He can fill it up when he gets on a roll. His problem is shot selection, and while Iowa State likes to get up and down the floor, Dejean-Jones is going to be the second or third option offensively for the Cyclones. Can he accept that role?
Here are 10 more x-factors
Kaleb Joseph, Syracuse: For the third straight season, Syracuse will have just one point guard on their roster, and a freshman to boot. If he Tyler Ennis 2.0?
Chris Walker, Florida: A supreme talent at 6-foot-10, for sure, but does he have a clue about how to play basketball?
Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, Duke: Cook is the senior starter. Tyus Jones is the hot-shot freshman. Both are talented point guards. Can they play together? What if one has their minutes cut?
Kedren Johnson, Memphis: Johnson, who averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 boards at Vanderbilt in 2012-2013, is the only guard for Memphis that has ever played Division I basketball.
Wayne Blackshear and Shaqquan Aaron, Louisville: Montrezl Harrell is an all-american, and Terry Rozier might join him this season. Can Blackshear and/or Aaron provide production from the wing?
Yannick Moreira and Keith Frazier, SMU: With no Emmanuel Mudiay, Larry Brown needs these two to improve. Moreira looked great at the FIBA World Cup, while Frazier was a McDonald’s all-american but couldn’t earn a starting spot as a freshman.
Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn was the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2012, but he’s yet to be healthy at Providence.
Cullen Neal, New Mexico: Neal was impressive at times as a freshman despite playing on a team with three pros while still recovering from an emergency appendectomy.
Robert Hubbs, Tennessee: The most talented player on a depleted Tennessee roster struggled with injuries as a freshman.
Texas using a 2-3 zone: How effective can Texas be defensively when they have Myles Turner, Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley on the floor together?