What’s plaguing Memphis?

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The final buzzer sounded at just past 9 p.m. ET as No. 15 Georgetown put the finishing touches on a 70-59 victory over Memphis at the Verizon center, wrapping up what was a crisp, two-hour basketball game.

It wasn’t until 10:45 pm, however, that Memphis head coach Josh Pastner finally emerged from his team’s locker room in the bowels of the Verizon Center. For the second time in the span of 10 days, the Tigers had a team meeting in an effort to cure what ails them, this one lasting just 15 minutes less than the game itself.

“We just had a team meeting and needed to air a few things out,” Memphis head coach Josh Pastner said after the game. “It was the right thing before we got to Christmas break. It was a good open discussion. I love those guys, no one in there is happy to be 6-5. Have we played a tough schedule? Darn right. But we’re too good to be sitting at 6-5.”

He’s right.

The Tigers are as talented as any team in the country. On paper, they are a top ten team. But there is a reason this group is sitting just a game over .500 heading into the Christmas break, the second straight season they have have stumbled out of the starting blocks.

And only one possession is needed to give you an idea of why.

With just under six minutes left in the second half of No. 15 Georgetown’s 70-59 win over Memphis, Joe Jackson missed an open three that could have cut what was once a 20 point lead to eight. He missed it, but Will Barton grabbed the offensive rebound. Barton’s follow-up attempt was blocked by Henry Sims, and the ball ended up on the floor. Three different Memphis players had a chance to pick up the loose ball, but it was Jason Clark that eventually dove on the floor and called a timeout, giving possession back to the Hoyas.

In the grand scheme of things, that single possession really didn’t mean all that much. The Tigers were still able to cut the Georgetown lead to as close as seven and they had numerous other possessions during a late-second half rally that could be pinpointed as critical failures in their comeback.

But that possession epitomizes what is currently plaguing the Tigers. The failure to execute and the inability to hit open shots is obvious. More importantly, however, the Tiger’s have a chronically inconsistent effort level, and that is why Memphis finds themselves in the position that they are in.

“You’re losing and there was bad energy,” Pastner said. “That’s been an achilles heel for us, we haven’t been able to sustain a 40 minute game of energy.”

“We can’t have energy for 18 minutes, its gotta be for 40. Basketball is a game of energy and if you don’t have the energy its hard to win at a high level.”

Its gotten to the point that the question has to be asked: will this team respond to Josh Pastner? Is he the kind of coach that is capable of lighting a fire under this group? Is he the guy that will convince them that, unless they are playing for 40 minutes the way they played in the final ten, they will continue to lose games?

Because at this point there can be no more team meetings.

“A lot was aired out, which I think was very good,” Pastner said. “But in the end I said ‘Guys, we can’t have this. We can’t have anymore meetings.’ We’ve gotta do our jobs and get the job done.”

Its time to put up or shut up. Either the kids that step foot on the basketball court in a Memphis jersey every night are going to decide that they are sick of losing and sick of being embarrassed by falling to teams they can — and should — beat, or they are going to continue to disappoint and underperform. Its up to the players to decide whether or not they make this loss and the resulting team meeting the turning point of their season.

“We just got to go out there and play for each other. That’s when we’re going to be a great team,” Will Barton said after the game. “Teams aren’t better than us talent wise, but talent can only take you so far. We gotta really play for each other and want each other to succeed. That’s when we are going to take off. You can’t have those bad vibes out there.”

And that’s where the frustration lies for Pastner.

In the end, there is only so much that he is going to be able to do. He’s can’t go out there and make the plays. He can’t be the one that boxes out on the defensive end of the floor or pulls the ball out and runs their half court offense when a transition opportunity isn’t there. When it is all said and done, all that Pastner is able to do is to prepare his team as well as possible and hope that they take what he says in practice, during film sessions and in huddles on the bench during games and turn it into victories.

And right now, that isn’t happening.

It doesn’t help matters that the Tigers have virtually zero veteran leadership on their roster. Charles Carmouche hasn’t played since the team got back from Maui. Wesley Witherspoon has become a shell of himself, going scoreless in three of the past five games and managing to see the floor for a whopping eight minutes in the last two. DJ Stephens has been sidelined with a bum knee and Stan Simpson has proven nothing except the fact that he is not ready to compete at this level of basketball. What that means is that Ferrakhon Hall, a junior that played just his third game with the Tigers after transferring in from Seton Hall midway through last season, is the only upperclassman that sees any kind of significant playing time right now.

With that much youth playing that many minutes, ups-and-downs are going to be inevitable. The problem is that the downs last far too long, that no one involved with this team seems to be able or willing to rip into this team when they need a fire lit under them. Its no secret that Pastner is one of the nicest coaches around. He doesn’t drink or curse and he’s young enough that he could easily be mistaken for a player if he showed up for a game in a jersey instead of a suit.

That’s just who he is, his defenders will tell you.

Honestly, I have no problem with that. To tell you the truth, its actually refreshing to see a coach at a big-time program that has values beyond winning at all costs. But you better believe the media in Memphis is sharpening their knives. He’ll only get a pass for so long before people start calling for his job, and in Memphis, when the media starts calling for your job, you’re in trouble. They ran off the football coach. The athletic director got it too.

And if things don’t start heading in the opposite direction soon for Memphis — like, for example, if the Tigers lose to Tennessee next month after losing out of top ten recruit Jarnell Stokes on Thursday night — the columnists are going to start coming after him.

If who he is is a coach that doesn’t win games at Memphis, he won’t be long for that job.

So what needs to change?

For starters, Pastner needs to find a way to start being the bad guy, and the easiest way to motivate a basketball player is by sitting him down. If a player isn’t performing the way he is expected to, than he can grab a seat on the pine. He’s already started that process with Witherspoon, who has become a complete non-factor and a sulking presence on the bench.

Next up is Tarik Black. Frankly, it is unacceptable for the starting center of any team to go an entire game without grabbing a rebound, and that is precisely what Black did on Thursday night against Georgetown. He fouled out after just 13 minutes of play, including a whopping three minutes and three fouls in the second half. Hall, in his absence, wasn’t exactly the second-coming of Dennis Rodman, collecting just two rebounds in his 22 minutes, but he brought an energy and a toughness to the interior that we haven’t seen out of Black all year long.

“I thought Ferrakhon gave great effort. He was battling and competing,” Pastner said.

Black wasn’t, and he hasn’t all season. Hall was, so next Thursday when Robert Morris comes to town, put him in the starting lineup.

“That’s what my niche is with this team,” Hall said. “That’s what I can do to help the team. I’m not a guy that’s going to come out and score 30 points. I just go out and I put my heart into it and I know that’s how I can affect the game.”

Jackson should be third on Pastner’s list. This was easily the talented point guard’s toughest outing of the season, as he finished 0-7 from the floor with four turnovers while sitting the final three minutes of the game, but it certainly wasn’t the first time he’s struggled this year. The issue with Jackson is that Pastner doesn’t seem to quite understand how to use him. He’s a scoring guard, but he’s very generously listed a 6’1″ (more like 5’10”) and needs to have the ball in his hands.

The bigger problem? Jackson doesn’t take failure well. When he misses a couple of shots in a row, it throws him off for the rest of the game, and not just offensively. It affects his defensive effort and his decision-making process with the ball in his hands. Jackson starts to think instead of react, and that, frankly, is the worst thing that can happen to a player as talented as him.

Memphis was at their best on Thursday when both Black and Jackson were strapped to the bench. The Tigers made their run in the second half when Pastner had both Bartons, Hall, Chris Crawford and Adonis Thomas on the court together. That team scrapped. They hustled. They turned defense into offense. They played with pride, and that’s something that we haven’t seen enough of this season from the Tigers.

“We’re playing good teams every night,” Barton said. “You just cant have nights that you take off. Thats a big past of it. We have some metal lapses. We’re just trying to get a feel for each other and get to know each other.”

“Every game, I’m not going to be able to just dominate the game. Its strategy. Teams aren’t going to let me kill them all the time. When I have my supporting cast helping me and they’re doing they thing, that’s just going to make the game easier for me. They focus on them and I can go right back to dominating the game. I need that from them on a more regular basis.”

The answer? Play the group that provides that help “on a more regular basis”. Play them together. As much as possible. Put that five on the floor to start. And maybe, when the rest of the Tigers start to see their minutes get cut, they’ll buy in.

Pastner’s right when he says that changes need to be made, that the Tigers are past the point of having team meetings.

But he needs to be the guy that creates the spark that leads to that change. He needs to get his team’s attention.

If they aren’t going to play his way, they aren’t going to play.

You’d be surprised how good of a motivator the bench can be.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Stanford, UConn next

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
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South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press women’s poll, as the Gamecocks keep close watch on the foot injury of reigning Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.

The Gamecocks received all 29 first-place votes in the poll, a day after Boston left a game with her injury. Coach Dawn Staley said Boston was “questionable” going forward but added that the “team doctor wasn’t too, too concerned.”

South Carolina’s next game is at home against No. 15 UCLA.

Stanford remained No. 2 after cruising through a tournament in Hawaii. It’s the 618th appearance for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, tying the late Pat Summitt for most all-time. Summitt’s teams only missed being in the poll 14 times during her Hall of Fame career at Tennessee.

UConn, Ohio State and Indiana rounded out the top five.

The Huskies are one of four Big East teams to be ranked this week as Marquette entered the poll at No. 24. It’s the first time the Big East has four ranked teams since the conference realigned in 2014. The league is 56-14 so far this season, including going 8-2 against ranked teams.

“We’ve been trying to earn a little more respect,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said of the Big East. “Tried to schedule tougher non-conference (games). ‘Nova’s playing people. Us going to the Bahamas was great. Creighton’s doing what they’ve been doing since last season. Getting some of those quality wins is everything.”

North Carolina moved up two spots to No. 6 after rallying to beat then-No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight tournament. The Cyclones fell to eighth.

The Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Indiana returns home after winning two games in Las Vegas at a subpar venue that lacked basic necessities.

Notre Dame remained No. 7 while Virginia Tech and Iowa finished off the top 10. At No. 9, Virginia Tech has matched its best ranking ever and is in the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Tennessee fell out of the poll this week marking the 56th time in the 827-week history of the poll that the Lady Vols weren’t ranked. Kansas State also fell out with Gonzaga moving in at No. 23.

FALLING CARDINALS

Louisville dropped to 18th in the poll this week after falling to South Dakota State in the fifth place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. It’s the Cardinals lowest ranking since Jan. 11, 2016.

Louisville entered the top 10 in the preseason poll in 2017 and hadn’t been out since, a span of 98 consecutive weeks. It was the longest active streak.

“It’s a compliment to the consistency that we built here,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of being ranked in the top 10 for so long. “Obviously are goal would have been to stay in the top 10, but it’s a new team and growing.”

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.

No. 18 Alabama beats No. 1 North Carolina 103-101 in 4 OTs

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Mark Sears had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and No. 18 Alabama sent top-ranked North Carolina to a second straight loss with a 103-101 victory in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Sunday in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational tournament.

Jahvon Quinerly added 21 points off the bench for the Crimson Tide (6-1), who knocked off the top-ranked team for the first time since upsetting Stanford in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

“I was losing track of how many overtimes we were in there at the end,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. “A lot of credit to our guys. I thought they showed a lot of character when we could have folded.”

Charles Bediako had 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks, while Brandon Miller also scored 14 points.

Caleb Love led the Tar Heels (5-2) with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Armando Bacot contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds, and R.J. Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds in the second four-overtime game in North Carolina history. The other was a victory over Tulane in 1976.

“At the end of the day, Alabama made one more play than we did,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “I walked in the locker room and a number of the guys had their head down and I told them to pick their head up. I’m just as disappointed (as the players) in terms of the final outcome, but I couldn’t be any more proud about the way they competed.”

Bediako gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good on a layup with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime.

The Tar Heels, who lost to Iowa State in the semifinals, led by as much as eight in the second half before Alabama came back to tie it. The Crimson Tide retook the lead on a pair of free throws from Gurley with 2 minutes remaining, and later tied with another free throw from Sears with 51 seconds remaining in regulation.

Alabama starting forward Noah Clowney took a hard fall on a dunk attempt four minutes into the first half and had to be helped off the court. He did not return.

The Crimson Tide were 16 for 38 (42.1%) from 3-point range, with Sears making seven.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: The Tar Heels figure to take a deep drop in the Top 25 poll.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide bounced back nicely following their loss to No. 20 UConn in the semifinals, beating a top-ranked team in the regular season for the first time since a 66-64 victory over eventual national champion Arkansas on Jan. 8, 1994.

UP NEXT:

North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to Bloomington to face No. 11 Indiana on Wednesday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide return home to face South Dakota State on Saturday.

Clingan lifts UConn past Iowa State for Phil Knight title

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Donovan Clingan had 15 points and 10 rebounds to power No. 20 UConn to a 71-53 win over Iowa State in the championship game of the Phil Knight Invitational on Sunday night.

Tristen Newton scored 13 points for the Huskies (8-0), who went 20 for 25 at the free-throw line. Alex Karaban and Andre Jackson, Jr. each had 10 points.

Osun Osunniyi led Iowa State (5-1) with 14 points. Tamin Lipsey had 12 points and Jaren Holmes finished with 11.

“They were the more aggressive team,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We wanted a physical game. We didn’t want a physical game with them getting the rebounds and then also us putting them on the foul line. Lesson that we’ve got to learn is we need to embrace being the aggressor at both ends of the floor at all times.”

The Huskies had more offensive rebounds (20) than the Cyclones had total rebounds (19), and capitalized on that disparity with 20 second-chance points.

“Those guys are tough,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “T.J.`s an excellent coach. They grind people up. To outrebound them, it just speaks to how tough we were.”

Clingan, who was named tournament MVP, scored eight points to help UConn to a 38-28 lead at the break.

Iowa State closed to 53-48 on Holmes’ 3-pointer midway through the second half. But Karaban made a 3 and a dunk, and Newton’s jumper made it 60-48 with 7:13 remaining.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies couldn’t have asked for a better showing in Portland, winning all three of their games.

Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up nice wins over Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina in the earlier rounds but ended with their first loss of the season.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies return home to face Oklahoma State on Thursday.

Iowa State: The Cyclones return home to face North Dakota on Tuesday.