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.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.