2011-2012 College Basketball Preview Series – Memphis Tigers

If your favorite college football teams sucks (check) or your favorite baseball team is not playing in the Fall Classic (check) or you do not care to watch Tim Tebow’s first professional start (check), then it’s time to focus your attention to the hardwood. And since the NBA owners and players cannot come to an agreement, college hoops takes the center stage for the round ball junkie.

As experts of the college game, the writers here at EJSIC will be previewing certain teams (i.e. each writer’s favorite one) and all of the major conferences. We are also in the process of compiling our own preseason Top 25. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we help you transition from Midnight Madness to opening tip-offs.

Setting the Stage

Head coach Josh Pastner enters his third season at the helm of the Tigers, and appears to have his best team yet. He returned everyone (sans the dismissed Jelan Kendrick) from the heralded 2010 recruiting class to which he adds another McDonald’s All-American (Adonis Thomas), a transfer from Seton Hall (Ferrakohn Hall), and JUCO transfer Stan Simpson.

A preseason favorite to capture the C-USA title, Memphis is expected to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in March. Will they do it?

Key Returners

As previously mentioned, Memphis retained all of that young talent last year that seemed to finally mold into a unit over three days in March in El Paso. Those include guards Joe Jackson, leading scorer Will Barton, Antonio Barton, Chris Crawford, and forward Tarik Black.

Memphis only features two seniors on its roster (Wesley Witherspoon and Charles Carmouche), so the Tigers are still relatively young. However, a year’s experience at the Division 1 level (including many struggles) should prove to be invaluable for the Tigers this year. They know what it takes to win at this level.

New Additions

Pastner continued to protect his home-base by securing the commitment of five star Adonis Thomas last year. Thomas, an athletic freak, will provide on-court leadership (yes, even as a freshman) through his desire to do anything to help the team. Need him to score points? He can do it. Need him to rebound and block shots? Not a problem. Defend a PF or a G? Sure thing.

Stan Simpson, a PF from Illinois, also arrived on campus in August. Memphis often struggled last season rebounding the ball, especially on the defensive end. Another forward to pair with Tarik Black will go a long way in rectifying the problem. Also, Ferrakohn Hall returned to his hometown after transferring from Seton Hall. Despite not being eligible until December 17, Hall should get enough minutes to make an impact.

A potentially underrated addition to the team was new strength and conditioning coach Frank Matrisciano, a/k/a Hell’s Trainer. There may not be a team in the country in better shape than the Tigers.

Biggest Problems

1. Defensive Rebounding: As previously stated, this was a major problem at times last season. Mostly, it was growing pains for the freshmen and a lack of upper-class leadership. Tarik Black was often asked to shoulder the rebounding load last season, but the new additions should help in that area. Plus, one of Will Barton’s most-hyped aspects was his ability to rebound as a guard. While he showed flashes at time, more consistency would relieve some of the pressure from the forwards.

2. Half Court Offense: The Tigers struggled for most of last season to consistently employ a half-court offense. At the risk of sounding redundant, it was mostly freshmen learning to play at a level they’ve never had to before. Still, Memphis will have to prove it’s matured in this area. While the Tigers will be one of the fastest and best teams in transitions, consistent success in the half-court is necessary for winning in March.

Schedule

ESPN.com and Sports Illustrated have each recently voted Memphis’ schedule as one of the best in the country, especially the non-conference portion. I must ask if any team has a tougher start to the season than Memphis?

The Tigers open with Belmont, a team that won 30 games last season and returned their key players. Then it’s off to Maui where the Tigers will play a top 20 team in Michigan. If they survive that game, Memphis will likely face Duke (unless Tennessee pulls an early season upset). UCLA, Georgetown, and Kansas could all be potential opponents, too.

Other non-conference games include trips to Miami, Louisville, and Georgetown plus hosting Tennessee and Xavier. Memphis will also face tests in the conference portion of the schedule against teams such as Marshall, UCF, and UAB.

Predictions

There’s really no reason Memphis cannot achieve a wins total into the high 20s or low 30s, and a trip to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The talent is there for an even deeper run, but the Tigers have a few questions to answer before fans can genuinely expect more.

Prediction: 3 Seed in NCAA Tournament (29-5 record entering the tournament) reaching the Sweet Sixteen.