|Memphis has dropped two down in the Bahamas. The fans are unnerved, but does it mean much for March? (US Presswire)|
NASSAU, Bahamas -- Memphis coach Josh Pastner spent the majority of his news conference after the Tigers' Friday loss to Minnesota, which came on the heels of a setback against VCU on Thursday, complaining about his guard play. Junior Joe Jackson logged just seven minutes, and fellow Memphis native Chris Crawford was completely ineffective -- both shooting the ball and also running the team.
Pastner sorely needs quality guard play. Someone like, say, Andre Hollins.
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But Hollins, who erupted for a career-high 41 points on 12-of-16 shooting and a 5-for-5 performance from beyond the arc, opted to leave the city of Memphis coming out of White Station. He ultimately chose Minnesota over Stanford.
"Because they had Joe," Hollins admitted after scorching his hometown team.
Pastner invested just about everything in Jackson. This was the favored son, the next Penny Hardaway. The one who would keep this program among the elite. Unfortunately, it hasn't quite worked out that way. Jackson has been tough to figure in his two-plus seasons with the Tigers, benched at times for his poor performance and mental instability -- and dominant two straight years come Conference USA tourney time.
"He's a great kid," Pastner said. "It's hard to watch him struggle like this because I really want him to do so well. I don't know what it is."
Jackson appeared to have checked out Friday afternoon, one day after committing seven turnovers against VCU's unrelenting pressure defense. Pastner ultimately decided to go in a different direction against the Gophers, one that had Crawford and newcomer Geron Johnson -- who was cleared by the NCAA to play his first game -- in front of Jackson.
Crawford, considered a terrific shooter, was 2-of-8 from the field and finished with five points. Johnson had four points, three turnovers and one assist in 22 minutes. The Tigers, who fell to 2-2 on the young season, finished with 10 assists and 16 turnovers.
Pastner knows the city of Memphis. He understands its passion for the Tigers' program and that many clearly question whether he should be the head coach. Give him credit because he doesn't deflect the questions.
"After every loss, they want me fired," he said. "In my time, we've won 77 games and had a total of 30 losses. I've been fired 30 times. … There's no need to hit the panic button. It's a long journey."
And one that Pastner has experienced a couple of times already.
Memphis has underachieved in the non-conference portion of its schedule in each of its past two years, but Conference USA has been the ultimate remedy for any and all issues. Don't worry, Tiger Nation, because that will be the case -- for one more season, anyway. The league downright stinks this year. Marshall -- slated to be the most significant threat to Memphis, has already lost to Hofstra, South Dakota State and Villanova. Central Florida has virtually no depth due to its postseason ban and recently lost to Middle Tennessee State.
"It's a little gloomy," Memphis big man Tarik Black said on Friday. "But it's on our backs."
Black and fellow bruiser Shaq Goodwin haven't been the issue, though. They combined for 25 points and 11 boards in the loss to Minnesota. Projected first-round pick Adonis Thomas wasn't the best player on the court (that honor clearly went to Hollins), but he was solid with a dozen points and six rebounds. D.J. Stephens brought energy and also production (15 points, seven rebounds).
"Our guard play has to be better," Pastner said over and over after the setback. "They aren't producing."
On either end of the court. Whether it's Jackson, Crawford, Johnson or Antonio Barton, these guys aren't shooting well, distributing or guarding. VCU lit it up from the perimeter a night earlier, and Minnesota made 43 percent of its shots from long distance.
Pastner can recruit. He has managed to keep most of the elite local talent home (i.e. Adonis Thomas, Austin Nichols) -- and also has landed talented out-of-state kids (i.e. Will Barton, Kuran Iverson). But the question remains whether he's the right fit for this program and these players.
Pastner is searching for answers, especially with his backcourt.
All he'll need to do is remain patient. East Carolina comes to town on Jan. 9 for the beginning of league play.