Memphis failed in their first test of the season losing big to Oklahoma State, but passed their second one against a solid LSU team by the score of 76-69 in the semifinals of the Old Spice Classic. With the win, Memphis will now have another shot against Oklahoma State on Sunday evening.
Much of the talk about Memphis revolves around their guard play, namely Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, and Chris Crawford. Against LSU, however, freshman forward Austin Nichols was the story. Nichols finished with 19 points and pulled down eight rebounds to lead the Tigers. The fact that Nichols has gotten off to such a nice start as a freshman — he is averaging 17 points and 7.3 rebounds in the past three games — is of critical importance, especially considering that fellow freshman big man Dominic Woodson is still adjusting to the college game.
Woodson is a big body standing at 6-foot-10 and weighing 310 pounds, and young big men often take longer to develop than other players. When Shaq Goodwin went to the bench in the first half with foul trouble, Woodson came in and took a couple of bad shots and picked up two fouls. Pastner yanked him after the second foul and he never saw any time in the second half.
Memphis is a guard oriented team, everyone knows that. But, the emergence of Nichols in the frontcourt to go along with the already solid Shaq Goodwin, makes Memphis a much better team in the half court due to their post play.
Things looked bleak midway through the second half as LSU extended their lead to 57-49 on a Malik Morgan layup, but Memphis responded with a quick 11-2 run over a two minute stretch to take the lead 60-59. Nichols had key buckets on consecutive possessions to fuel the run.
The knock on Memphis and Josh Pastner has been their inability to win big games. Pastner has had little issue running through Conference USA with ease during the past two seasons, but earning victories in the non-conference portion of their schedule against quality opponents hasn’t been easy. With Memphis making the transition to the AAC and facing the likes of Louisville, UConn, and Cincinnati, they won’t have the luxury of feasting on mediocre competition.
Tonight was definitely a step in the right direction for Pastner and the Tigers. They responded well when LSU doubled their halftime advantage from four to eight midway through the second half and showed poise down the stretch, which hasn’t always been the case for Pastner-coached teams. On the surface, a win over LSU may not seem like much, but LSU was coming off a dominating win over St. Joseph’s and figures to be one of the top teams in the SEC.
In the championship game of the Old Spice Classic on Sunday, Memphis will look to avenge their 101-80 loss to Oklahoma State less than two weeks ago.
It’s a topic that has become all too common for hoops fans in the city of Memphis.
The Tigers entered the season with all kinds of hype and promise, finding themselves ranked in the top 15 based on the immense talent on their roster. And in their first marquee matchup of the season … they don’t show up to play.
On Tuesday night, the team with arguably the nation’s most talented back court got eviscerated by Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, getting smacked around as the No. 7 Cowboys took a sledgehammer to the Tigers, winning 101-80 in a game that certainly wasn’t as competitive as the final score would indicate.
It was embarrassing.
But it wasn’t unexpected, unfortunately. That’s what happens when you’re Josh Pastner and you’ve developed a reputation for the complete inability to win a big game. He’s now 0-13 against teams ranked in the AP top 25. He did win a game against St. Mary’s in the NCAA tournament last season — the Gaels were 48 hours removed from playing in the play-in game in a different city — and Randy Bennett’s club was ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll at the time, so in fairness, Pastner has beaten a top 25 team in his head coaching career. Barely.
It was also his first career NCAA tournament victory.
No. 11 Memphis was supposed to be different this season. They have four talented seniors in their back court with the addition of Michael Dixon, and those four were supposed to provide the leadership necessary to buck this trend of losing when the lights are the brightest. They were going to be able to spread the floor and create mismatches and rely on their bevy of offensive talent to be able to breakdown defenses and win games. Dixon, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson were going to give opposing back courts fits as they tried to handle the ball and run offense. There was going to be a mental toughness spurred on by the addition of Dixon, a bulldog of a lead guard that has been through enough ups-and-downs in his career to realize that no game can be taken for granted.
Instead, it was the same old stuff from the Tigers. That spread offense was a disaster, as Pastner’s team looked like they were running AAU sets offensively. Instead of having any kind of flow or movement on that end of the floor, the Tigers seemed content to simply swing the ball around the perimeter until one of their wings decided to try to beat their man one-on-one.
How’d that work out? Their vaunted back court combined to go 8-for-34 from the floor with ten turnovers. Dixon and Johnson were especially bad, finishing 2-for-20 combined. As a team, the Tigers were 2-for-24 on shots outside the paint.
As bad as they were on that end, Memphis was worse defensively, allowing Smart to basically do whatever he wanted to.
At some point, that’s forgivable. Everyone has off-nights, and when one of the best players in the country gets into the kind of rhythm that Smart was in last night — he scored 24 points in the first 12 minutes of the game — that’s tough to deal with.
What’s unforgivable is the fact that Memphis rolled over and took it.
I don’t know if it’s right to say they quit last night. I think the more accurate description is that they were resigned to their fate, like the culture of the Memphis locker is the expectation of a loss. They took their beating without really fighting back. That’s a bad sign for a team playing in a league that now includes Louisville and UConn and Cincinnati.
So what’s the answer?
I don’t know, but one thing that’s clear is that the people of Memphis are tired of asking the same question, over and over, year after year.
Since it doesn’t involve freshmen destined to be top five picks and since it’s not being dubbed the single greatest basketball event ever held outside the month of March, but Tuesday night will feature one of the most intriguing matchups of the young season.
The No. 11 Memphis Tigers are headed to Stillwater to take on No. 7 Oklahoma State.
In and of itself, that’s enough for me to tell each and every one of you college basketball fans that you need to tune in. When two top ten (well, top 11, but close enough) teams take the court, you watch. It’s that simple.
But there’s so much more going on here, enough that I’d say there is just as much intrigue and just as many storylines heading into this game as there were for either of the matchups in the Champions Classic.
Let’s start with Memphis, who will be playing their first meaningful game with Michael Dixon as a member of their team. If you’ve forgotten, Dixon was suspended from Missouri before playing a game last season as a result of a couple of accusations of sexual assault. He was never charged, however, and Pastner brought him in for his senior season. When the NCAA granted him a waiver, Memphis was given a gift: one of the best all-around guards in the country.
Dixon brings a level of toughness and a brand of leadership that Pastner’s back court really hasn’t had before. And with Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford joining him, the Tigers all of a sudden have one of the most formidable back courts in the country. Add in the likes of Shaq Goodwin, Austin Nichols, and the rest of Pastner’s latest loaded recruiting class, and there is as much hype and potential on this Memphis roster as there as ever been.
Which is what makes this game so important.
For as many games as Pastner has won, for as many talented recruits as he has brought in, Pastner really doesn’t have anything to show for it. He’s won one NCAA tournament game. That came against St. Mary’s in the Round of 64, when the Gaels had to win a play-in just to get that far. At the time, the Gaels were ranked 25th in the Coaches Poll — and unranked in the AP poll — so not only is Pastner’s only NCAA tournament win, but it would also count as his only win against a ranked team.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that Memphis has won a lot of games during Pastner’s tenure, but they’ve yet to do anything of substance. They’ve yet to make a statement. They’ve yet to have that win that makes you say, ‘Damn, maybe this team is better than I thought.’
Methinks going into Gallagher-Iba and beating the Pokes would suffice.
But that’s not going to be an easy thing to do.
Let’s gloss over, for a second, the fact that Oklahoma State is a top ten team and a legitimate contender for the Big 12 title this season. You don’t need me up on my high-horse trying to tell you that Travis Ford’s club is really talented this season, and that winning on a really talented team’s home court is not an easy thing to do.
What I may need to do is remind you that Oklahoma State has a kid on their roster named Marcus Smart, a guy that could have been the No. 1 pick in the draft had he left as a freshman. A kid that is as competitive as anyone in the country. A kid that is coming off of an all-american season and has been completely overlooked in regards to the Player of the Year race and the conversation for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
This is his moment.
This is his chance to prove to the nation — to show the folks that have been discussing Andrew Wiggins vs. Jabari Parker and Julius Randle vs. Aaron Gordon — that they’ve overlooked someone.
He’ll be ready to play. You better believe that.
Put it all together, and what you get is a game in mid-November between two of the top 11 teams in the country where both programs have quite a bit to play for.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 6 Arizona at San Diego State, 10:05 p.m. (CBS Sports)
The Wildcats will get their biggest test of the season tonight when they face off with Steve Fisher’s Aztecs. Both teams are still trying to figure out their rotations and the best lineups to work with. Sean Miller has started Aaron Gordon at the four, with three guards and Kaleb Tarczewski on the bench, and at the three. He even had the uber-athletic big man playing the two at one point on Monday night.
SDSU is in a tougher situation, as they are replacing so many important pieces from a season ago, most notably Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. Is Winston Shepard ready to take on a bigger role this season? Will he be able to shoot the ball at all? The highlight of this one may be the matchup between Josh Davis and Aaron Gordon.
WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Texas Southern at Miami, 7:00 p.m.
Mike Davis has himself some talent at Texas Southern this season. Aaric Murray ended up enrolling at the school after flaming out at both La Salle and West Virginia. Ray Penn, who started at Oklahoma State, is on the roster as well. And Miami? They lost to St. Francis NY and got taken to overtime by Eric Ferguson-less Georgia Southern
MID-MAJOR MATCHUP OF THE NIGHT: North Dakota State at St. Mary’s, 11:30 p.m.
This is about as good as it gets at the mid-major level this time of the year. NDSU is the favorite to win the Summit this season, as they bring back essentially their entire team from last season, including potential Player of the Year Taylor Braun. But the Gaels are the Gaels, and if there is anything we know about St. Mary’s, it’s that they keep winning even when they lose their star. Ask Omar Samhan and Mickey McConnell is Matthew Dellavedova’s loss will kill this team. They’ve already beaten Akron and Louisiana Tech at home.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1) The No. 13 Memphis Tigers kick their inaugural season members of the American off tonight at 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3) against Austin Peay. This will be the debut of Missouri transfer Michael Dixon.
2) Boston College is good enough to make it back to the NCAA tournament this season, but it’s not going on that well this far. They’re 0-2 on the season with losses to both Providence and UMass. It doesn’t get much easier on Thursday night as the Eagles will take on Toledo at 7:00 p.m.
3) Northwestern heads out to Palo Alto to take on Stanford at 11:00 p.m. tonight on ESPN2 in a battle of former Duke assistant coaches. The Cardinal are coming off of a loss to BYU at home.
4) You want another upset pick? How about UC-Irvine at Washington. The Huskies will be without another big man as Jernard Jarreau tore his ACL, and the Anteaters are a favorite to win the Big West.
5) Texas Tech plays at Alabama at 9:00 p.m. on ESPN2 in a game that would probably be better if the football teams were playing basketball. I kid, I kid.
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
Detroit at No. 19 UConn, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
William & Mary at No. 16 Wichita State, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
UMES at Iowa, 7:00 p.m. (BTN)
Yale at Rutgers, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Temple at Towson, 7:30 p.m.
Indiana State at Belmont, 8:00 p.m.
American Athletic Conference 2013-14 Preview: Louisville comes back strong
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. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
The inaugural year of the American Athletic Conference — or American as they prefer — features the defending national champions in Louisville for only one year before they leave for the ACC, but it should make for some great competition at the top as the Cardinals, Memphis and UConn will slug it out for the AAC title.
Cincinnati, Temple, South Florida, Houston and SMU all have talented pieces in place for potential NCAA Tournament runs while Central Florida and one-year AAC member Rutgers (Big Ten next season) are at the bottom.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. The champs are still loaded: Louisville loses senior leader Peyton Siva, defensive stopper Gorgui Dieng and forward Chane Behanan is suspended, but the Cardinals still return Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell and Kevin Ware should be up to speed soon. Wayne Blackshear is also finally healthy and Chris Jones is the top junior college transfer in the country.
2. Best backcourt won’t be crowned overnight: Between Louisville (Smith, Jones, Ware and Terry Rozier), Memphis (Joe Jackson, Mike Dixon, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson) and UConn (Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun) can all vie for the honor of the best backcourt in the American — and maybe the country — but that claim will have to be decided on the floor.
3. The return of UConn: Tournament-ineligible last season due to a poor APR, the Huskies have the talent to make a postseason run behind their aforementioned experienced backcourt and the late-season play of junior DeAndre Daniels. The key for the Huskies will be finding an interior presence somewhere, be it Tyler Olander, Phil Nolan or Kentan Facey.
4. SMU has a lot of new (and talented) pieces: Led by McDonald’s All-American shooting guard Keith Frazier, Larry Brown will have quite an infusion of talent in year two at SMU. But how will they all integrate together? JuCo center Yanick Moreira, Illinois State point guard transfer Nic Moore and freshman two-guard Sterling Brown are also potential key pieces.
5. The American has talent from top-to-bottom: The heavy-hitters Louisville, Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati should compete for NCAA Tournament bids right away but other teams in the league could surprise thanks to a lot of returning talent. Temple, South Florida, Houston, and SMU all have a lot of pieces and with it being a new league one — or more — could thrive right off the bat.
PRESEASON AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Russ Smith, Louisville
An explosive off-guard with the ball, Smith averaged 18.7 points per game last season but must be more of a leader if Louisville is to remain in national title talks. A key question with Smith will be whether or not he embraces his role on this team — ‘Russdiculous’ actually works in Louisville’s system — or if he spends his senior season trying to prove he can be a point guard to NBA teams.
THE REST OF THE AMERICAN’S FIRST TEAM:
Shabazz Napier, UConn: Experienced senior guard can score or run an offense and remains one of the nation’s most underrated guards.
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: Averaged 17 points in the Big East and remains Cincinnati’s No. 1 scoring option.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Breakout postseason and summer for the sophomore big man could lead to big season.
Ryan Boatright, UConn: Explosive junior guard can score and push tempo with best of them.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Joe Jackson, Memphis
Luke Hancock, Louisville
TaShawn Thomas, Houston
Michael Dixon, Memphis
Isaiah Sykes, Central Florida
BREAKOUT STAR: Omar Calhoun (UConn)
Calhoun is poised for a big year after a strong freshman season where he averaged 11.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5 wing will have the benefit of playing with two of the conference’s top five returning scorers and assists leaders in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and the trio will be tough to guard.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Larry Brown (SMU)
It’s not the kind of pressure from fans or administration, but time is not on SMU’s side. Their last NCAA Tournament? 1993. Some of the Mustang players weren’t born yet. Head coach Larry Brown is 73, which means that his time in Dallas is limited. Brown will have a few years to win at SMU and he gets a major talent influx this year with transfers and a strong recruiting class.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : This new league was better than we thought.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The battle of the backcourts between Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
December 28th, Louisville at Kentucky
November 19th, Memphis at Oklahoma State
December 14th, Cincinnati at Xavier
December 2nd, Florida at UConn
February 8th, Gonzaga at Memphis
1. Louisville: The champs return a number of talented pieces and add best junior college guard Chris Jones and get a healthy Wayne Blackshear. How soon does Behanan return from suspension?
2. Memphis: Incredibly experienced senior-laden backcourt leads a talented group that needs Shaq Goodwin and its talented freshman class to mature quickly.
3. Connecticut: Napier and Boatright are as good any backcourt in the country but how much have Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels improved?
4. Cincinnati: After Sean Kilpatrick who scores for the Bearcats? Mick Cronin’s bunch will still defend like crazy but questions on offense linger.
5. Temple: Fran Dunphy’s teams always compete and even without Khalif Wyatt, Will Cummings and Anthony Lee still gives them plenty.
6. South Florida: One-two punch of playmaking guard Anthony Collins and forward Victor Rudd gives the Bulls a nice foundation going forward.
7. Houston: TaShawn Thomas returns from a 16.9 and 9.8 junior campaign and Danuel House should make the leap on the wing as a sophomore.
8. SMU: A lot of new talent and transfers for the Mustangs, but how does it all mesh together in a new league?
9. Central Florida: Six of top seven return, including first-team All-Conference USA guard Isaiah Sykes.
10. Rutgers: The Eddie Jordan era begins in New Jersey as the Scarlet Knights look to turn around their program.
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. To see the rest of our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
Basketball has five positions, but the way that the sport has grown, particularly at the collegiate level, has produced hybrid players, unusual roster makeups and far too many teams with players that don’t fit into a typical positional category. Few teams actually field a traditional starting five, which is why CBT decided to make our positional rankings reflect that.
Lead guards are the term we will use to define a team’s primary ball-handler. Different systems require different qualities from their lead guards, with some needing the floor general to be a primary scoring option while other systems prefer a player who will primarily play the role of distributor. This list will include “true” point guards, combo-guards, shoot-first point guards and everything in-between, so long as it is the player that gets his team into an offensive set.
Here is our top 20:
1. Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State): Smart surprised more than a few people with his decision to return to Stillwater for his sophomore campaign, and he’s a big reason why the Cowboys are expected to contend in the Big 12. Smart averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game as a freshman, and he should be even better as a sophomore.
2. Jahii Carson (Arizona State): The electric Carson was a huge reason why the Sun Devils were able to entertain thoughts of an NCAA tournament bid for much of the 2012-13 season. After averaging 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per game as a freshman, it’ll be interesting to see what Carson can do for an encore as he looks to lead Arizona State to its first NCAA appearance since 2009.
3. Aaron Craft (Ohio State): Craft’s been praised for his defensive prowess throughout his time in Columbus, and the departure of Deshaun Thomas could mean more points from the senior. As a junior Craft, whose three-pointer pushed the Buckeyes past Iowa State in the Round of 32, posted averages of 10.0 points, 4.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game.
4. Shabazz Napier (UConn): Napier was asked to lead the way for a program ineligible for postseason play last season and he certainly didn’t disappoint, posting averages of 17.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. Now back in the postseason mix, the senior should receive even more national attention.
5. Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado): The 6-foot-6 Dinwiddie may be the best on-ball defender in America, and offensively he’s developed into one of the tougher match-ups at the position as well. Dinwiddie averaged 15.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as a sophomore.
6. Andrew Harrison (Kentucky): Kentucky fans expect things to be far different this season, with Andrew Harrison being one of the many reasons why. Andrew, teaming up with twin brother Aaron, averaged 15.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists as a senior in high school and is one of the nation’s best newcomers.
7. Quinn Cook (Duke): With the senior trio of Curry, Kelly and Plumlee gone the Oak Hill Academy product will be one of the leaders for the Blue Devils. Cook took a major step forward as a sophomore, averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 assists per game and ranking second in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio.
8. Semaj Christon (Xavier): Christon was phenomenal in his first year with the Musketeers, posting averages of 15.2 points and 4.6 assists. As he becomes a better shooter and cuts down his turnovers, he’ll only get better. I know Doug McDermott is in the Big East now, but don’t be surprised to see Christon in contention for Big East Player of the Year is Xavier has a big season.
9. Michael Dixon Jr. (Memphis): Dixon didn’t play at all last season after being dismissed from the Missouri program. But his arrival at Memphis is expected to pay dividends for Josh Pastner’s Tigers, as Dixon was Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 (13.5 ppg, 3.3 apg).
10. Kendall Williams (New Mexico): The reigning Mountain West Player of the Year will once again lead the way for the defending Mountain West champs. Williams, who scored 46 points in a win at Colorado State last season, averaged 13.3 points and 4.9 assists per game in 2012-13 and his assist-to-turnover ratio ranked third in the Mountain West.
TEN MORE NAMES TO KNOW
11. Chaz Williams (UMass): Williams nearly made the decision to go pro during the summer after averaging 15.5 points and 7.3 assists, and his return to Amherst makes the Minutemen a player in the Atlantic 10 race.
12. Justin Cobbs (California): With Allen Crabbe off to the professional ranks, Cobbs will get a chance to show the country how good he really is.
13. Deonte Burton (Nevada): The Wolf Pack won’t get much attention in the Mountain West race this season, but Burton certainly is worth watching. He averaged 16.3 points as a junior.
14. Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga): Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris overshadowed Pangos last season, but don’t forget about just how good he was as a freshman.
15. Jerian Grant (Notre Dame): Grant is the best guard in one of the best perimeter attacks in the country. Eric Atkins, his back court mate, could very easily be listed here as well.
16. Trever Releford (Alabama): Releford’s role as a point guard will only increase this season with Alabama losing guys like Trevor Lacey and Devonta Pollard.
17. Joe Jackson (Memphis): Jackson was Conference USA Player of the Year, the best player on a team that won more than 30 games and posted huge numbers — 13.6 points, 4.8 assists, 51.9% FG and 44.7% 3PT.
18. Chris Jones (Louisville): Just how good will Jones end up being remains to be seen, but he has plenty of hype as the JuCo transfer tries to replace Peyton Siva.
19. Elfrid Payton (Louisiana-Lafayette): Payton’s numbers in the Sun Belt last season — 15.9 points, 5.6 boards, 5.5 assists, 2.4 steals — were legitimized when he made the U19 USA team.
20. Olivier Hanlan (Boston College): Hanlan is one of the most underrated players in the country. He averaged 15.4 points as a freshman for one of the ACC’s sleeper teams.