Coach: Josh Pastner
Career record: 75-29 at Memphis
Best NCAA Tournament finish: Round of 64 at Memphis in 2011 and 2012
Years at current school: 3
|Vital Info: No. 18 Memphis|
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Last season's record: 26-9 (lost to Saint Louis in the Round of 64)
Notable returnees from last season: Joe Jackson, Tarik Black, Chris Crawford, Adonis Thomas, Antonio Barton, Ferrakohn Hall, D.J. Stephens, Stan Simpson
Notable losses from last season: Will Barton, Wesley Witherspoon
Notable newcomers: Shaq Goodwin, Geron Johnson, Damien Wilson
Projected starters: G: Joe Jackson, G: Chris Crawford, F: Adonis Thomas, F: Shaq Goodwin, F: Tarik Black
Why this team will be good: Josh Pastner, for the first time in his career, has a roster that's both talented and experienced, and the experienced part should be the reason why Memphis goes from good to possibly great. The Tigers will start three juniors who have all played major minutes for two years -- namely Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Tarik Black. Meantime, Adonis Thomas is a sophomore who projects as a star on the wing, and it should be noted that Pastner is now experienced, too. Yes, he's still just a 35-year-old man who looks 25. But the baby-faced super-recruiter has developed over the past three seasons and learned how to handle issues both on and off the court. He sounds comfortable and seems capable of leading this roster to one last Conference USA title before the Tigers move into the Big East.
Why this team might disappoint: Though Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford are both experienced and capable of playing point guard at the high-major level, neither has consistently shown they can be, well, a consistent and reliable point guard. Jackson is a great scorer but he's not a natural facilitator. Crawford is a great passer and good shooter, but he's not a natural point guard, either. So if there's a reason to be concerned, that would be it. Also: Can and will Shaq Goodwin rebound? Josh Pastner better hope so because the Tigers' best rebounder last season was Will Barton, and it no longer matters that he was a 6-foot-5 guard who should've never been able to grab more rebounds than Memphis' bigs. What matters now is that Barton is in the NBA. So Memphis needs somebody to step in and secure missed shots. If not Goodwin, then who? (Maybe Tarik Black, I guess. But he's been a subpar rebounder through two years of college.)
Bottom line: The gap between Memphis and everybody else in C-USA -- except for maybe Marshall -- is so wide that the Tigers are going to post a great record. That's not even up for debate. The question is whether Memphis can record its first win over a Top 25 opponent in the Josh Pastner era because, believe it or not, there are still zero to date. The Tigers will get a shot to correct that statistic early in the Bahamas against VCU. Win or lose that game, and they'll get Duke or Minnesota next, then maybe Louisville or Missouri (and they get Louisville at FedExForum in December). It's hard to imagine Memphis not winning some of those games, which means the most likely scenario has the Tigers in the Top 25 entering league play, at which point they'll roll, make the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season and then probably advance, perhaps to the Sweet 16 and beyond.
Quote from an opposing coach in the league: "Josh has done a great job replacing Cal, and now he's got some veterans on his roster. They're going to be really good -- especially if Joe Jackson takes that next step and Shaq Goodwin establishes himself as a presence early. I think this will be the season Josh breaks through."