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.
It isn’t uncommon for players to pick up some bumps and bruises during preseason practices, with the hope being that any medical issues that may arise don’t turn out to be serious. Count Memphis among the teams who are currently dealing with this, as it was reported Wednesday that two players are expected to miss about a week of practice as they recover from injuries.
According to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commecial Appeal, sophomore forward Austin Nichols and sophomore guard Avery Woodson will be sidelined for the next week or so. Nichols, who will pair up with junior Shaq Goodwin to lead what should be one of the better front courts in the country, is dealing with a shoulder sprain while Woodson suffered a concussion as a result of his catching a Trahson Burrell elbow to the face.
The good news is that given the reported timetables neither Nichols nor Woodson is expected to miss any game action. But to not have two expected contributors adds a wrinkle to the process of getting this talented group to mesh together for head coach Josh Pastner.
The front court won’t lack for depth or talent, with Nichols and Goodwin being joined by Burrell, fellow junior college product Chris Hawkins and Southern transfer Calvin Godfrey. Memphis will also have wings Nick King and Kuran Iverson in the mix. The backcourt is where the questions lie in light of the team losing four senior guards at the end of last season.
Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson gives the Tigers a player with Division I experience, with players such as Woodson, Pookie Powell and Markel Crawford among the options competing for minutes.
1. Kadeem Allen, Arizona: The NJCAA National Player of the Year tallied 1,425 career points in his two first-team All-American seasons at Hutchinson Community College (Kansas). While the 6-foot-3 power guard likely won’t be in the starting five, he will a key scoring option coming off the bench. This past season with the Blue Dragons, he averaged 25.9 points per game.
2. Cinmeon Bowers, Auburn: An NCAA show-cause penalty didn’t stop Bruce Pearl from landing one of the top JuCo recruits in the country this past spring. The former Florida State signee averaged 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds last season at Chipola Junior College (Florida) The Tigers lose their top scorer and their top rebounder from last season’s 14-16 team. Bowers can help in those departments, especially on the glass, where Auburn had one of the worst rebounding teams in the SEC.
3. Josh Gray, LSU: No Andre Stringer and no Anthony Hickey this season for an LSU program looking to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. At Odessa College last season, Gray averaged 33.8 points and 5.9 assists per game. The former Texas Tech floor general, who averaged 9.3 points a night in 2012-2013, is joined by UNC Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby. The brand-new back court should compliment the frontline of sophomores Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin.
4. Jordan Goodman, New Mexico: After three commitments and a stint in Harcum College (Pennsylvania), the 6-foot-9 Goodman is set to begin his first season with the reigning Mountain West tournament champion. Goodman, a first-team All-American, has yet to be cleared for full-contact drills after having knee surgery this summer, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
5. Stephen Hurt, Kansas State: The former Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year used a year at Northwest Florida State to catapult himself into a highly-sought after forward. After committing to K-State, he’ll join a team looking to push back up the Big 12 Conference standings. The 6-foot-11 center averaged 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in his lone season in the JuCo ranks after transferring from Lipscomb.
6. Trahson Burrell & Chris Hawkins, Memphis: Josh Pastner brought in several JuCo recruits who could be contributors this season. The 6-foot-7 Burrell was cleared last month after posting 25.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game at Lee College (Texas). Hawkins, a JuCo forward, averaged 12.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Tigers in their four games in Canada this summer.
7. Ivan Cruz Uceda, Miami: At 6-foot-10 Uceda gives the ‘Canes an inside presence. The ex-Harcum forward made an immediate impact on the glass in Miami’s trip to Spain, pulling down 11.0 boards per game. Uceda’s debut with Miami will be delayed until the second semester due to an NCAA rule.
8. Octavius Ellis, Cincinnati: Mick Cronin needs to replace the production left behind by Justin Jackson on the Cincy frontline. The 6-foot-10 forward Ellis, back in Bearcat uniform, averaged 14.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks as a first-team All-American at Trinity Valley Community College (Texas). He arrives in Cincinnati with another JuCo big, Coreontae DeBerry.
9. Dwayne Benjamin & Michael Chandler, Oregon: Three players dismissed and two more failing to enroll leaves plenty of opportunities for newcomers to make an impact on this Oregon team. The 6-foot-10 Chandler, a former four-star recruit, is the projected starting center while Benjamin can help out on the wing along with freshman Dillon Brooks.
10. Jeff Newberry, Oklahoma State: Phil Forte is back, but Marcus Smart and Markel Brown leave big holes to fill. Insert JuCo guard Jeff Newberry and LSU transfer Anthony Hickey. The 6-foot-2 Newberry could end up playing either guard position this season for Travis Ford’s new-look perimeter.
TEN MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Sam Cassell Jr., UConn: Son of the longtime NBA point guard adds depth to the UConn back court. Cassell was a first-team All-American in his only season at Chipola.
Gary Payton II, Oregon State: The son of the Hall of Famer enrolls as his father’s alma mater, where after a coaching change he will be looked upon to contribute right away.
Kevin Punter, Tennessee: The State Fair Community College product committed to Tennessee and new head coach Donnie Tyndall. Punter averaged 20.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.
Torian Graham and Devonta Pollard, Houston: The two-time N.C. State commit is joining Kelvin Sampson at Houston. Graham was once ranked No. 67 overall by Rivals. Former McDonald’s All-American and Alabama forward Devonta Pollard is also an addition for the Cougars this season.
Carlos Morris, Minnesota: The 6-foot-5 combo guard averaged 14.7 points 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for Chipola. The former Rivals 150 guard can crack the Golden Gophers’ starting five.
Tom “Bush” Wamukota, Wichita State: The Shockers have a pair of All-American-caliber guards, but the 6-foot-11 Wamukota could be a lift on the frontline alongside Darius Carter.
Keith Thomas, St. John’s: The nation’s leading rebounder this past season at Westchester Community College (New York) hauled in 15.7 boards per game in addition to his 15.3 points a contest.
Willie Atwood, Arizona State: A season after returning to the NCAA tournament, the Sun Devils will bring in seven newcomers, four of whom are from the JuCo ranks. The 6-foot-8 Atwood was a All-American honorable mention selection, averaging 20.8 points per game for Connors State College (Oklahoma).