Memphis coach Josh Pastner knows that the level of success his team achieves this season likely depends on the play of his four talented senior guards.
Pastner hopes that foursome can bounce back from a collectively poor effort and help the No. 11 Tigers rebound from a blowout defeat Saturday night when they host winless Nicholls State.
Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson are Memphis' top returning scorers - all averaged at least 10.0 points last season - and with the addition of Missouri transfer Michael Dixon Jr., the Tigers (1-1) are facing some lofty expectations. All four scored in double figures in the season opener despite playing less than 30 minutes apiece, combining for 53 points on 55.9 percent shooting in a 95-69 win over Austin Peay on Nov. 14.
However, on the road against preseason All-American Marcus Smart and seventh-ranked Oklahoma State on Tuesday, the quartet totaled 21 points on 8-of-34 shooting (23.5 percent) in the 101-80 defeat. Johnson and Dixon went a combined 2 of 20 from the field, missing all seven of their 3-point tries, and committed half of the team's 14 turnovers.
"We can have a great year, (because) we have a great team, if our four senior guards play at the level of my expectation. If they play like that then they can be dangerous," Pastner said.
"If they play like (Tuesday) then it's going to be a different deal, but I just didn't see those guys playing like that. I could see one guy to play poor, but not all four."
While those upperclassmen in the backcourt disappointed, Pastner saw two underclassmen play well in the frontcourt. Freshman swingman Nick King had 23 points with eight rebounds off the bench, and 6-foot-9 sophomore Shaq Goodwin added 13 and seven.
"They way our offense is designed, you've got to move the ball a few times and get it inside," Dixon said. "Our big guys did a good job in there for the most part. That's something we're going to work on as far as getting it inside to them more.
"This hurts, and we played bad, we played horrible. But you got to move on."
Memphis allowed the Cowboys to shoot 49.2 percent and Smart to score a career-high 39 points, but Pastner expects his team to learn and improve from that test.
"This was a good opportunity for us to see where we were at," he said. "That's why we play the game, we got our (behind) kicked, but that's why we play the game early so we'll have to get better. We have (a) course (of) correction, it's a long season.
"We have to focus on Saturday."
It's unlikely Nicholls State (0-3) will provide anywhere near the same type of challenge Oklahoma State did as the Tigers try to run their home winning streak against unranked opponents to 24 games.
The Colonels have averaged 64.7 points and shot 39.9 percent while losing to Auburn, North Texas and Troy on the road by an average of 17.0 points. Guard Dantrell Thomas averages a team-leading 16.3 points, and led them with 14 and eight rebounds in a 77-62 loss to Troy on Tuesday.
Nicholls State is a combined 19-44 over the past two-plus seasons, including three losses to ranked foes by an average of 38.4 points.
Memphis won 92-72 in the teams' only meeting Dec. 21, 1994.