Although some might think that the Memphis Tigers’ (24-10, 13-3 C-USA) second place finish and trip to the NIT translated into disappointing season, it was actually a pretty good accomplishment as the team had to deal with coach John Calipari’s move to Kentucky. Rookie head coach Josh Pastner did a good job of keeping the team on track overall and in recruiting for the next season. Of course, the disappointment came from the fact that Memphis in the four seasons before had made it to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 once, Elite Eight twice and Title Game Once. Plus they had dominated their conference. For those who want to know when the Tigers will get back to the top of C-USA and also appear next at the Big Dance, the answer is this year.
Six-foot-nine Will Coleman (6-9, 245 lbs., SR, #0, 7.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 0.3 apg, 23.0 mpg, .619 FG, .000 3PT, .616 FT) is back for his senior year. The junior college forward had a tough time adjusting to his new surroundings last year but in the final third of the season, he started to breakout and in the final four games, Coleman averaged 13.5 PPG and 10.8 RPG. With double-double potential and some excellent shot blocking chops on defense, Coleman, who was 27th nationally in shot blocking percentage (9.6%), will be a major factor in how well Memphis performs.
It’s hoped that center Angel Garcia (6-11, 245 lbs., JR, #41, 6.8 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 0.2 apg, 9.3 mpg, .524 FG, .414 3PT, .750 FT) has fully recovered from his torn ACL. In limited play and still nursing the injury, he was spectacular last season, scoring 81 points in 112 minutes. With his ability to hit from inside and outside, Garcia looks to be one of the team’s primary scorers.
Who else will get the nod in the frontcourt? Wesley Witherspoon (6-9, 201 lbs., JR, #11, 12.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 25.6 mpg, .467 FG, .430 3PT, .764 FT) is a front and backcourt swing who could play in a forward spot. Witherspoon, like Garcia, has fine outside scoring chops. Last season, he earned third-team All-C-USA honors and showed marked improvement. He also brings some good defensive skills to the floor as a ball stealer and a potential shot blocker. If not Witherspoon then perhaps a frosh player will start. But that’s less likely.
At the point spot, Memphis will start freshman Joe Jackson. Jackson, who is one of three top 20 recruits to join the Tigers, is a McDonald’s All-American who can flat out score. With Memphis losing its top four three-point men, his sharpshooting will be needed. In adjusting to the college game, Jackson will need to pass more and setup his teammates. Although he is no taller than six-feet, he’s an above the rim player who brings an amazing amount of energy to the court. Jackson will be asked to perform at a high level immediately and it’s fairly certain that he will come through.
Joining him in the backcourt will be one of the other top 20 recruits. The most likely player to get the shooting spot was thought to be frosh Will Barton. But chances are Barton, who was ruled to be academically ineligible to play, will not win his appeal. That means sitting out at least a semester.
But there’s another freshman who can also start. That’s the team’s third top 20 recruit, Jelan Kendrick. He’s a versatile performer with some rough edges. But Kendrick may need more work.
There’s at least one other option—transfer Charles Carmouche who came over from New Orleans. Last season, he had 12.6 PPG and 4.8 RPG. Carmouche offers quickness, good scoring potential and fine skills on defense.
There’s a wealth of backup coming off the Memphis bench this season. Freshman forward Tarik Black has a big 6-8, 252-pound frame that he can use to bang the boards. In the guard spots, first-year player Chris Crawford could contribute quite a bit quickly. He’s said to have a downtown shot that hits from the NBA’s three-point arc consistently. Plus, he’s known as a fine passer. Another guard, Antonio Barton, who is Will Barton’s brother, brings fine quickness and a 6-9 frame to the point guard spot. He will probably see some action.
The team’s offensive efficiency was 114.7, which made them 21st nationally. They earned 33.2% of their points on threes. Their three-point success rate was 38.8%, which was 20th in the country. This was a hotshot club when it came to the long ball.
The team went to the foul line a lot as they got 22.3% of their points at the charity stripe, hitting 64.9% of their attempts. It was from the two-point mark that they were low. While most teams will generate between 48% and 52% of their points via the two, the Tigers created just 44.4% (331st) of their scores from that area. They were a good field goal team, making 50.6% (70th). If their new three-point guys can’t come through, look for them to try more inside and midrange shots this season.
With a defensive efficiency of 97.9 (109th), the Tigers proved to be fairly effective. They were 15th nationally on block percentage (13.7%) and 30th in steals (12.1%). The team’s turnover percentage was 22.6%, making them 52nd in that category. They were, however, deficient in rebounding, snaring just 36.4%, which was 305th in the country. It’s doubtful that stat will change much this season.
Head coach Pastner (24-10 in one year at Memphis and overall) is excited about the incoming class but also knows that they need to be able to perform as advertised. The young guys will have to come through as the coach has lost major contributors through loss of eligibility, defection and early departure for the NBA. Also, although some teams excel with starting freshmen in major roles, those players are often deemed to be NBA-ready. The incoming class for Memphis is extremely talented but relatively immature and unpolished. Pastner’s mentoring skills will be tested. The good news is he seems to be pretty realistic about the whole situation. The head coach is cautiously optimistic and yet very excited.
This is a young team. Only two of the club’s 12 scholarship players will be 21 this season. Yet, there is a lot of talent. With one of the finest recruiting classes in the nation and some solid returning guys expect the Memphis Tigers to once again be the top cat in C-USA.
A trip to the NCAA Tournament will be a certainty. How well will they do? A good test will be their nonconference schedule that has them playing Miami, Kansas, Gonzaga and Tennessee. If they can make a game of it with two of those teams, keeping it close, and beat at least one other that will be a major sign that this club can be competitive outside of their league. When it comes to March Madness, the Tigers may go deep. Once again, so much depends upon their new guys. What’s expected is a two and out performance. Within C-USA, however, look for them to be the team to beat. With a national ranking of fifth, the Tigers are back on track.
Maddux Sports is releasing their first college basketball picks of the season. Last year was another wallet stuffing year and this year figures to be more of the same. Visit the NCAA basketball picks page of the site to get signed up for these easy college basketball point spread winners.