On Tuesday afternoon, Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com posted a list of his top ten teams with the most to prove this season.
Brennan has Kentucky at No. 1, a number that I’m not sure that I can get behind.
The Wildcats are coming off of an ugly season, one which saw them underperform throughout the year, lose in the first round of the NIT and proceed to shed two of their more disappointing player through transfer. For a program designed to build around a new crop of freshman every season, that’s a tough blow to take.
But it’s also important to remember that Kentucky is now all of 18 months removed from winning a national title using this exact same formula. They’ve already proven that stocking up on McDonald’s all-americans every year can lead to regular season and postseason success; remember, that national title came a year after Coach Cal led the Cats to the Final Four in 2011.
Part of the reason that expectations are so high for this group is that it’s been done before.
The same cannot be said for the folks down in Memphis, TN. (The Tigers were fourth on Eamonn’s top ten list.)
Josh Pastner has quickly established himself as one of the most impressive recruiters in the country, slowly but surely stockpiling enough talent on his roster that preseason top 15 rankings have become the norm.
But what does he have to show for four years of accumulating of prep phenoms? A pair of league titles in the watered down Conference USA, three trips to the NCAA tournament, a single tournament win and zero wins over teams ranked in the top 25. Talents like Joe Jackson and Adonis Thomas that failed to live up to their immense hype. For all the hype and attention the Tigers get, their results, on paper, aren’t that much different from a program like Belmont, a strong mid-major program overmatched against the big boys.
This season, Memphis have arguably their most talented roster in the Pastner-era. They are making the jump to the AAC, which pits them against UConn, Temple and, for one season, Louisville. They have arguably the best back court in the country, a four-headed monster headlined by Jackson and Missouri transfer Mike Dixon. Their front line has big bodies in the middle with a couple of talented combo-forwards to balance everything out.
Pastner and Memphis, on paper, look like a top ten team.
But this is Memphis. Their reputation precedes them.
And this may be Pastner’s best chance to change the perception of his program.