This preview and more on Memphis and the American are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 20 Memphis Facts & Figures
Last season: 31-5 (16-0 Conference USA)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 32
Coach: Josh Pastner (106-34 at Memphis)
American projection: Second
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
Josh Pastner is wired to be positive regardless of the circumstances. So each time he was asked about Conference USA over the past four years, the Memphis coach would explain that the league is good because every team has good players, and he always did it with emotion.
But Pastner couldn’t have possibly really believed it. The proof was in the seeds his Tigers received. “We had 30 wins on Selection Sunday last season, and we were a six seed,” Pastner says. “We won 26 the year before, and we were an eight seed. Year before that, we had 25 wins and were a 12 seed. So hopefully that’ll change with the move to the American Athletic Conference.”
Truth is, it should.
Conference games against East Carolina, Marshall, Rice and Tulane have been replaced with games against Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Temple. That alone will increase the Tigers’ strength of schedule and give them a chance to accumulate more quality victories than normal. And the good news is that Pastner has the roster to win big in this transitional year.
The Tigers’ top three frontcourt rebounders from last season — D.J. Stephens, Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas — are gone, meaning Shaq Goodwin will be asked to have a breakthrough year in which he looks more like the McDonald’s All-American he was in high school than the inconsistent freshman he was last season. Might a better body help? Pastner believes so and is thus thrilled that Goodwin has lost 20 pounds to become a leaner and more athletic version of himself.
“Shaq is playing above the rim now,” Pastner says. “Last year he played at the rim. But I want him above the rim, and that’s where he’s going to be.”
Freshman Austin Nichols, a highly touted local product who chose Memphis over Duke, is expected to start next to Goodwin. George Washington transfer David Pellom should provide experienced depth up front, and freshman Dominic Woodson will serves as an emergency post player. Freshmen Nick King and Kuran Iverson could emerge as stars on the wing. They might actually be the Tigers’ top two NBA prospects.
Whether Memphis exceeds or falls short of expectations will largely be determined by the performance of the guards. It all starts with Joe Jackson, the reigning C-USA Player of the Year who shot 51.9 percent from the field and 44.7 percent from 3-point range last season while averaging a team-best 13.6 points and 4.8 assists per game. He was, in a word, terrific. And the Memphis native is now on pace to go down as one of the most accomplished players in school history.
“Just look at his hardware,” Pastner says “He’s been the MVP of two conference tournaments. He was the C-USA Player of the Year last season, and he has a chance to be one of the top five scorers in Memphis history.”
The rest of the backcourt isn’t bad, either.
Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson give Pastner two more senior guards who have started at the Division I level, and Missouri transfer Michael Dixon, provided he gets a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately, will give Memphis a total of four senior guards who have averaged double-figures in points at the high-major level. Then there’s sophomore Damien Wilson, freshman Markel Crawford and freshman Pookie Powell. All three are capable of contributing, though Crawford is recovering from ACL surgery and Powell could be an academic casualty.
Nick King and Austin Nichols are the prizes of the recruiting class. Nichols is a 6-8 power forward. King is a 6-6 small forward. Both are expected to play major minutes, along with power forward Kuran Iverson. Markel Crawford is a hard-nosed guard who has a chance to be good in time. But he’s recovering from ACL surgery and might have trouble cracking the rotation as a freshman. David Pellom is a fifth-year transfer from George Washington who projects as the Tigers’ first post player off the bench.
Factoid: 2.65. Memphis signed Josh Pastner to a contract worth $2.65 million annually after last season in an attempt to prevent schools from trying to lure its young coach. The salary ranks top-10 nationally.
The quality of the veteran backcourt combined with the depth throughout the roster is why the Tigers should finish in the top three of the AAC. But they still have to do it, and skeptics will remain until they do so because Pastner only has one victory over a top-25 opponent through four years, and he’s never advanced past the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. In other words, he’s recruited brilliantly and won lots of games, but very few of those wins have come against quality competition. Such can be attributed, on some level, to the lack of opportunities C-USA provided. But this move to the American leaves Pastner with no excuses to approach Selection Sunday with anything other than a resume that ensures Memphis receives its highest seed since the John Calipari era.
2013-14 Preseason Top 25