Team Preview: 2014 Memphis Tigers
By: Rob Kirkaldy
2012-13 Record: 31-5 (16-0 in Conference USA)
Coach: Josh Pastner (112-35)
Like birthday candles and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Memphis has a tendency to get blown out every year. After a strong regular season, the Tigers collapse in the first or second round and watch the rest of the tournament back home in Memphis.
In the last five years, Coach Josh Pastner has proven that he’s definitely the guy you want leading your Conference USA team but perhaps someone you’d like to leave at home once March Madness is underway. Terrific regular season records can’t make up for the fact that Pastner’s Memphis squads have recorded only one win in the tournament over the last five years.
So with Memphis leaving the relative safety of Conference USA, can they compete in the new American Conference?
Strongside: The team has placed well in preseason rankings and is off to a 4-1 start in out-of-conference play, and guards Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon Jr. are as good without the ball as they are on offense. After a crucial rematch with Oklahoma State at the Old Spice Classic, Memphis should cruise into the New Year.
Weakside: The recent wins have confirmed what pundits already knew about the team (strong backcourt, solid big man in Shaq Goodwin), but the loss to Oklahoma State frightened FedExForum faithful. In the 101-80 loss, fans saw how an off night for the backcourt will impact this team (spoiler alert: they’ll lose). And unless Jackson, Johnson and Dixon (which sounds like a reputable law firm rather than a top-five backcourt) intend to stand on one another’s shoulders, they won’t be able to compensate for a lack of size up front. If the team is going to succeed against top-25 rivals, Memphis will need more regular contributions from freshmen Austin Nichols and big man Dominic Woodson. But Woodson is still adjusting to the bright lights of the NCAA. So if Shaq Goodwin finds himself in foul trouble, Memphis begins to look like conference rivals UConn: strong backcourt, hopeless in the post.
All told: Welcome to the jungle. AAC is not Conference USA. Memphis could be in for a world of pain when conference play begins; Cincinnati, Louisville, Temple and UConn are all on the schedule before the middle of January. If Josh Pastner wants to shake his team’s reputation as bridesmaids, he’ll need steady contributions from freshmen players come January. Otherwise, I look forward to playing in the Memphis Tigers-Toronto Maple Leafs Golf Tournament once both teams are eliminated from contention.
Rob Kirkaldy is a lifelong basketball fan who has contributed work to a number of Canadian publications. He’s lived and worked in four countries, on one planet.