No. 20 Memphis did not play particularly well in its first meeting with No. 24 UConn, with DeAndre Daniels scoring 31 points and the Huskies grabbing 52% of its missed shots in their 83-73 win. With that game as a reference point, two of the objectives for Memphis were clear entering the rematch with both involving their big men: limit Daniels’ looks, especially in pick-and-pop situations, and do a much better job on the boards.
The Tigers did both on Saturday afternoon, limiting Daniels to just eight points on 2-for-8 shooting and limiting UConn to just seven offensive and 23 total rebounds. But it still wasn’t enough, as Shabazz Napier scored a career-high 34 points and Ryan Boatright added 21 in leading the Huskies to the 86-81 overtime win.
So what was the problem for Memphis on Saturday? The free throw line. UConn was able to attempt 36 shots from the charity stripe, making 29, while Memphis finished the game 6-for-9. Regardless of how well a team shoots from the field or from three, making up that kind of difference is extremely difficult.
Josh Pastner’s team shot 54% from the field and 7-for-15 from beyond the arc, with all four of their talented guards scoring in double figures. Joe Jackson was excellent, scoring 24 points (10-for-17 FG) and dishing out seven assists with just two turnovers, and Geron Johnson snapped out of his two-game slump (4-for-13 FG) by making seven of his ten shots from the field. Johnson finished the game with 15 points to go along with eight rebounds, leading the way on the glass for the Tigers.
There will be lessons to be learned from this result, including how hard the Memphis big men hedge on ball screens, with an eye towards a possible third meeting in the American Athletic Conference tournament. But it’s hard to find much fault with the way in which Memphis played in Hartford, other than the struggles in getting to the foul line.
In conference play Memphis ranks fifth in the American in free throw rate, which comes as a bit of a surprise given how good their guards can be at attacking off the dribble. Moving forward, the Tigers will need to improve their standing in this area if they’re to fully take advantage of their offensive talent.
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.
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.
Off-guards are the term that we will be using for players that unquestionably play in the back court, yet spend most of their time off the ball. Some of these guys are spot up shooters, some of them are slashers and some of them are combo-guards that just so happens to share a back court with a a ball-dominating lead guard. Whatever the case, the bottom line is that they are all guards that play off the ball. Hence, off guards. Simple, right?
Here is our top 20:
1. Russ Smith (Louisville): Smith went from a wildly entertaining, wildly inefficient player as a sophomore to a guy that won KenPom’s Efficiency Player of the Year award as a junior. He’s a perfect fit for the system that Rick Pitino employs. He’s a terror as an on-ball defender and he’s impossible to keep out of the lane or to stop in transition. When he plays with a modicum of shot selection, he’s an all-american.
2. Gary Harris (Michigan State): We’ve written about it all summer long: the nation as yet to see the “real” Gary Harris, as he was a shell of himself as a freshman while battling a shoulder injury. Harris is more explosive than he gets credit for and could end up being the best player on title-contending Michigan State this season.
3. Tyler Haws (BYU): Haws came off of a two-year Mormon mission without missing a beat, averaging 21.7 points as a sophomore. The Cougars aren’t going to slow down their pace of play at all this season, so it should be fun to see what Haws can do with an offseason to work on more than just getting back into shape. He’s the best player in the country at moving without the ball.
4. Joe Harris (Virginia): Harris is the most underrated player in the ACC, having averaged 16.3 points as a junior for a Virginia team that played at as slow of a pace as anyone in the country. At 6-foot-6, Harris’ shooting ability makes him a nightmare to defend.
5. Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke): Due to the fact that he will be playing on a team that has plenty of perimeter depth and two other potential lottery picks (Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood), Sulaimon may not put up huge numbers this season. But don’t sleep on his talent.
6. Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): The biggest issue with Kilpatrick heading into this season isn’t his ability to score; he averaged 17.0 points as a junior. It’s that he may not have much help in that department with this Cincy roster.
7. P.J. Hairston (North Carolina): It’s unclear when we will actually see Hairston take the court this season, but what’s undeniable is that the junior is a major talent. We’re going to go ahead and assume that whatever punishment he receives is minimal enough that it won’t hurt his season.
8. Jordan McRae (Tennessee): McRae is the leading scorer and the No. 1 perimeter threat for a Tennessee team that should be the third best team in the SEC. The senior averaged 15.7 points a season ago.
9. Aaron Harrison (Kentucky): The unheralded Harrison, Aaron has been drawing rave reviews from people that have watched Kentucky practice and play early on this season. His ability to shoot from the perimeter will be key to providing space inside for Kentucky’s massive front line.
10. Markel Brown (Oklahoma State): For all the hype that Marcus Smart gets, there were plenty of times last season where Brown carried the Pokes. The 15.3 points he averaged went a long way towards proving he’s more than just a dunker.
TEN MORE NAMES TO KNOW
11. Nik Stauskas (Michigan): One of the nation’s most lethal shooters, expect Stauskas to showcase his athleticism and driving ability more this year.
12. Wayne Selden (Kansas): Selden is a big, physical guard that attacks the rim. The freshman will be a perfect compliment to Andrew Wiggins on the wing.
13. C.J. Wilcox (Washington): He’s doesn’t get much publicity playing for a mediocre Washington team, but Wilcox can flat-out score.
14. Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss): We love Marshall. He’s entertaining and loves to shoot. But there’s more to basketball than being a gunner that averages 20.1 points.
15. Jordan Adams (UCLA): With all the hype surrounding Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, not many people noticed the outstanding season Adams had.
16. Travis Bader (Oakland): Bader may be the only guy that can get up as many threes in a game as Marshall Henderson. He’s 101 away from J.J. Redick’s career record.
17. Danuel House (Houston): The former top 25 recruit averaged 12.4 points as a freshman and will take over a bigger role with Joseph Young gone this year.
18. Keith Frazier (SMU): The McDonald’s all-american will be SMU’s go-to scorer this season.
19. Geron Johnson (Memphis): Johnson was a risky addition for Pastner, but he’s a talented athlete and a tenacious defender.
20. Nick Johnson (Arizona): Johnson was a highly-regarded recruit that hasn’t quite lived up to his hype just yet. Arizona will need him to be an effective perimeter scorer.
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
– 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.
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.
Incoming Memphis freshman Pookie Powell is enrolled in classes, but will redshirt for the 2013-14 season, his head coach Josh Pastner announced today.
This is a win all the way around.
Prior to even being admitted to Memphis, it was questionable whether the Top 100 recruit, according to Rivals.com, would qualify academically. PawOfTheTiger.com reported back in April of 2013 that it wasn’t so much Powell’s high school grades that were an issue, but rather his ACT score. Fast forward several months, and Powell qualified and is good to go at Memphis. That’s a win, in and of itself for Memphis basketball.
Even though he is eligible, Powell probably was not going to receive many minutes this coming season, considering Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson are all ahead of him.
The fact that Powell can learn Pastner’s system and style of coaching without using up a year of eligibility, along with being able to focus on getting on a good track academically without the pressures of playing as a freshman, another win for all parties.
Memphis junior guard Geron Johnson has been suspended by the NCAA for three games for receiving impermissible benefits prior to his enrollment at the school, the university said in a release Friday.
According to the release, the NCAA’s suspension is “the result of extra benefits received by Johnson from a family friend who assisted the family with his educational expenses prior to his enrollment at the University of Memphis.”
Johnson played his first two years of college basketball in junior college and committed to the Tigers in February. Prior to his commitment, he reportedly had interest from other high-major programs that include Kansas, Pittsburgh, and others.
Memphis opens its on Monday, Nov. 12 against North Florida, which marks the first game Johnson will sit out. He will also miss games against Samford on Nov. 17 and Virginia Commonwealth on Nov. 22.
Coach Josh Pastner and the Tigers were chosen to repeat as champions of Conference USA in the league’s preseason coaches’ poll. This is the final season for Memphis in the C-USA before it moves to the Big East for the start of the 2013-14 season.