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.

Dyke-isms: A Guide to Color Commentary

Hello college basketball fanatics, it’s me, Jimmy Dykes. The writers at EJSIC have cordially invited me to write a guess post about the world of color commentary. You hear guys like Dick Vitale and Bill Raftery and myself drop lots of knowledge during ESPN telecast that you, the viewer, had probably never before heard; like big men hedging on screens, or the fundamental way to block out a rebounder.

We make it sound easy and simple, but really, there’s a lot of work involve to become the best in our business. And while we all bring different flavors to a broadcast, there are a few commonalities one must know to succeed. If you follow this guide, you may end up a co-worker of mine.

1. Know the teams you’re covering

All great commentary stars with homework. As a beginner, you should start by reading the team’s beat writer’s articles in the local paper. You may even watch a game or two when you have an off-night. The key to successful commentary is picking up on the small things the viewer at home, i.e. the amateur, doesn’t see.

The last game I called was on Tuesday at Rupp Arena when Tennessee played arch-rival Kentucky. I’ve been following John (when you’re really good, you can call coaches by their first names) since his days at Memphis. I didn’t do too much research. I already know that he lets his posse players play street ball. For Tennessee on the other hand, I read a few newspaper articles and watched some of their games.

Putting in the extra mile, as we like to say in Bristol, makes all the difference in a successful commentary.

2. Developing Key Words and Catch-phrases

Another aspect to add to your game is key words. Nothing screams “expert” to the home viewer more than a few well-timed insider words. I’m talking about words / catch-phrases that convey a deeper knowledge and understanding of the game at hand.

A couple of my personal favorites are “nail” and “tough two.” Players who nail the tough twos in a game are more likely to spur their teams onto victory. It’s common to interject these words at pivotal moments of the game. For example, if a player misses a crucial free throw, I like to turn to my partner Brad Nessler and say, “Gotta nail those.”

You really have to hammer home your key words throughout a broadcast. That may mean repeating them as much as twenty to thirty times. I like to practice before a game by envisioning the players on the floor and seeing myself make the perfect call. I really believe it helps.

My colleague Dick Vitale has made his mark with catch-phrases, Bay-Be. Another close friend, Bill Raftery, stuns viewers with his brilliant “nickle-dimer.”

3. Develop a Useful Diagram

Diagrams are a great way to nail the viewer with information. It allows you, the commentator, to (1) convey a lot of information in a simple form, and (2) pull the attention away from the game and to your vast expertise. True, the commentator should never be above the game, but the few brief moments during a timeout is your time to shine.

One of my favorite diagrams is the NCAA seeding jet. I’ve used it each of the last few seasons to display number one seeds (i.e. first class), bubble teams (rear of the plane), and teams not quite good enough for the big dance (out of the plane). It accomplishes the tough two goals, and it’s really simple. In fact, I’ve made a quick airplane diagram for the commentators at ESPN and how we all fit into those categories.

Jet Diagram

As you cans see from the diagram, locks for number one seeds include three of our best guys: Dick Vitale, Bill Raftery, and Jay Bilas. These guys (like Duke, Ohio State, Kentucky, and Arkansas) bring it each and every night.

The back of the plane has three solid guys who occasionally have an off night: Fran Franschilla, Stephen Bardo, and myself. We may make an errant comment once in a while, but otherwise, we’re solid. Barring a catastrophe, we’re in the tournament.

Out of the plane is three powerhouses experiencing down years (think North Carolina, UCLA, and Gonzaga): Coach Knight, Len Elmore, and Doris Burke. These three folks are usually great commentators who are experiencing a lackluster year due to a partner change (or in Coach Knight’s case having to work with Brent Musberger), or off-the-side-of-the-court problems.

4. Have a Great Working Relationship with your Partner

As a commentator, you can’t do it all. You can carry your partner for 24 miles of the marathon, but a good partner nails the final tough two miles for you.

Brad and I have a great relationship. We help each other with make-up before the game, we share a good meal with the crew, and we often room together on the road. I really can’t think of better guy to sleep in a hotel bed with than Brad Nessler. He doesn’t even pull the cover to his side of the bed.

5. Have a Favorite Player for Quick Reference

The media is supposed to be unbiased. As a commentator, you should work towards that goal. But, you need a quick reference at hand to relate to the fans. My favorite is Arkansas shooting guard Rotnei Clarke. He taught BYU’s Jimmer Fredette everything he knows.

Arkansas' Rotnei Clarke

I use Rotnei to demonstrate fundamental basketball and to show how hard a good player works. The viewers at home relate because Rotnei is a household name.

Other guys have picked out personal favorites to reference as well. Vitale has gone with the entire Duke team for the past decade which is another option. I’ve heard Doris Burke reference Ashton Gibbs and Kemba Walker a ton this season, but I don’t really know either of those players (which explains her poor performance this season).

Well EJSIC readers, I’ve reached my word limit. I hope this guide was helpful. Catch me on Super Tuesday. Until then, yours truly, Jimmy.

EJSICleaks

One of the rules of good journalism (LOL @ journalism in the Internet age) is to have sources. Lots of sources. One of our most trusted sources, who anonymously goes by fluffy (not even our normal writers at EJSIC know his name), works in the mail room for Julian Assange’s Wikileaks.

As you can imagine, fluffy sees a lot of good stuff on an hourly basis. He’s been kind enough to leak some of the sports-related documents to us.

We’ll release them slowly over time, as not to overwhelm you (the reader) too much in one day. Some were discovered through the hard work of our readers (and they will be credited properly) while our regular contributors discovered others.

If you find any in the coming days, feel free to e-mail us at elitistjerksports@gmail.com.

The first leak, as found by loyal reader fluffy, is a series of e-mails between the University of Memphis and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

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From: memphis@anythingbutCUSA.com

To: bigeast; bigten; big12; pac 10; ACC; SEC

Subject: Help

We need your help. We have to get out of C-USA. Can anyone add us to their conference?

Regards,

University of Memphis

———————————————————————————————–

From: ACC

To: memphis@anythingbutCUSA.com

Subject: RE Help

Thanks for your enquiry. We would love to help, but it has come to our attention that you are no good at football.

Regards,

ACC

———————————————————————————————–

From: memphis@anythingbutCUSA.com

To: ACC

Subject: RE Help

So we would fit in well in the ACC.

———————————————————————————————–

Our final leak for today was discovered by regular contributor Al Kenmore. The avid Tar Heel fan set to find out the source of Duke’s flopping nature. What she uncovered was astonishing.

From: DukeCoachingStaff@duke.edu

To: Massimimiliano.Allegri@ACMilan.it

Dear Allegri,

Thank you so much for the copy of your recent clinic: “Innovative and Exciting Ways to Make it Appear that an Opponent’s Player Has Committed a Foul.”

We found the sessions on “Facial Distortions to Emulate Pain” and “Slapping the Forehead to Check for Blood” especially helpful. Of course, anything that involves slapping is very popular in the Duke basketball organization.

Unfortunately, I am not able to furnish you with an autographed photo of Coach K. First of all, he doesn’t like to be photographed unless he can be assured that there is no silver in the film. Secondly, the Leader of Men prefers not to have his name associated with this project.

I hope you understand.

Kindest regards,
Wojo

Memphis Tigers Preview 2010-2011

After a brief NIT stint, the Memphis Tigers appear to be back on the national scene in college basketball. One of the nation’s top recruiting classes landed on campus in August, and, despite some academic eligibility concerns (and now an indefinite suspension for one top-rated freshman, Jelan Kendrick), the new Tigers seem ready to resurrect themselves as C-USA champions once again.

They may not have the experience and chemistry of Memphis teams of the past 4 or 5 seasons, but they arguably have as much talent. And with that rawness, Tiger fans can reasonably expect some rough patches early in the season, but by conference season, the team should be coming into its own. Let’s take a deeper look at the team.

Returning Contributors

Will Coleman C, Wesley Witherspoon F/G, Angel Garcia F, D.J. Stephens G/F, and Drew Barham G

Incoming Class

Joe Jackson G, Will Barton G, Antonio Barton G, Jelan Kendrick G, Charles Carmouche G, Chris Crawford G, Tarik Black C, and Hippolyte Tsafack F.

Games of Interest

Nov. 15 vs Miami (FL) – part of ESPN’s 24 hours of college basketball
Dec. 4 vs Western Kentucky
Dec. 7 vs Kansas – Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden
Dec. 23 vs Georgetown
Jan. 5 at Tennessee
Feb. 5 at Gonzaga

Season Outlook

As stated above, a heavy freshman influence could lead to some early struggles for the Tigers. It’s natural. It takes some time for them to adjust to the high intensity, high energy level of play needed for D-1 college basketball.

Memphis does have experience to rely on during the learning process, though. Wesley Witherspoon is a lanky wing player who has shown flashes of take-over-the-game ability. He really stepped up as a one-two combo with Elliot Williams near the end of last season.

Center Will Coleman evolved into a good big man near the end of last season as well. Memphis’ guard-heavy lineup will require a guy like Coleman to do the “dirty work,” but he does have a nice touch around the rim. Plus, the guy’s a physical freak.

Perhaps the most intriguing returning player is forward Angel Garcia. The Puerto Rican native stands at 6’11″ and has range beyond many shooting guards. He returned from ACL surgery at the end of last season (notice a trend? Memphis played some of its best basketball at the end of last season) and really showed flashes of solid play. The former 5 star recruit will look to have his best season (and healthiest) since committing to Memphis out of high school.

Memphis second year coach Josh Pastner

The players that will put this team over the top are hometown hero Joe Jackson, the scoring machine Will Barton, and Jelan Kendrick. All three posses next level talent. Will the pressure get to them? That remains to be seen, but if Will Barton’s proclamation of winning a national championship is any indication, then they’re as confident as they are talented.

Prediction

Memphis’ non-conference schedule is not as good as it could be, but there are “resume” games for seeding purposes in Kansas, Georgetown, Tennessee, and Gonzaga. Plus, I think, C-USA is improving ever so slightly. Teams like UTEP and Southern Miss will not back down from Memphis despite the talent gap.

Memphis should enter Selection Sunday nearing the 30 win mark. As improved as C-USA may be, the bottom of the league is still filled with 200+ RPI teams giving Memphis some padded wins. And by the NCAA tournament, the Tigers should be playing relatively well.

I predict a Sweet Sixteen finish to the season. They have the talent for a deeper run and with the right seeding, upsets, etc., a deep run is possible. But at this point, it’s just too early to predict anything more. A Sweet Sixteen run would set the team up nicely for the following season with the newly announced decision of the uber-athletic Adonis Thomas set to join the hometown Tigers for 2011.

An Unexpected Consequence of the One-and-Done Rule

On Wednesday, Rivals.com college basketball writer Steve Megargee published an article at the recruiting website titled, “Is Butler’s run proof that mid-majors are closing gap?” The article looks at the improbable Final Four runs by George Mason and Butler in 2006 and 2010, respectively. Megargee asks a simple question: Are mid-major college basketball programs catching the Big-6 ones who have seemingly limitless resources and talent?

Better yet, are two occurrences within five years of one another enough to consider the feat more than coincidence? Megargee sets some guidelines in determining who is and who is not a “mid-major” in the sport. He dismisses Gonzaga, Xavier, and Memphis for their continued success in the tournament as well as on the recruiting trail.

I accept that, as those teams clearly operate on a level above the rest of the non-Big 6 teams. Megargee even dismisses the Final Four runs of Marquette (2003) and Louisville (2005) who both played in a strong Conference USA and operated like Big-6 teams.
Continue reading

The strange case of Matt Doherty

SMU Mustang coach of North Carolina fame (fame from being fired from his Alma mater) Matt Doherty ruffled a few feathers last Saturday in Memphis when his team lost to the Tigers. In the process of giving up 15 three pointers, Coach Doh mouthed with a few fans and went as far as saying, “I call this place Memphis Tech.”
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EJSIC was able to catch up with Robodoh for a phone interview today, after letting him cool down a bit.

EJSIC: Good afternoon, Coach Doherty. Thank you for joining us.

MD: Thanks for having me.

EJSIC: Coach Doh, you’ve made headlines a few times in conference this season for sideline antics at UAB and Memphis. Can you explain your actions?

MD: I was right, they were wrong. That’s all there is to it.

EJSIC: What were they wrong about, exactly?

MD: They’re inferior so that’s all the proof I need.

EJSIC: You coach at SMU, right? I’m not sure how the two best basketball programs in the conference are inferior to SMU.

MD: It’s not about SMU. I’m a Carolina guy. That’s where I belong. We do it the right way, I like to call it the Carolina way. It’s what wins championships. Not some SAT-cheating one-and-done players who choke.

EJSIC: Coach Doh, I sense a lot of anger. Are you that angry all the time?

MD: I’m tired of dominating bad programs.

EJSIC: You’ve beaten Memphis once since you’ve been at SMU. I don’t know your record against UAB, but I’m sure we can look it up.

MD: We’re a superior academic institution. Hence, the reason I called them Memphis Tech.

EJSIC: One last question, coach. What has the Carolina way done for you besides get you fired?

MD: It taught me to shoot lasers out of my eyes. Haven’t you see my YouTube video?

EJSIC: Thanks for the time.

And so was my conversation with Matt Doherty. Strange guy indeed, but I wish him luck in finding whatever it is he seeks. Maybe if the Carolina way doesn’t work out for him at SMU he can use the Eightfold Path at his next job.

Tigers come up short in bid for “resume” win

Memphis Tiger fans and players aren’t used to being on the bubble for the NCAA tournament lately, but they now find themselves at the very bottom of it. Memphis, lacking a quality non-conference win, had one chance to solidify that part of the resume when they hosted Gonzaga this afternoon at FedEx Forum.

nullThe Bulldogs, lead by guard Matt Bouldin, traveled across the country and put together a team effort in the rebounding category. Rebounding has been problematic for the Tigers and Saturday’s contest was no different. However, Memphis did not back down.

The Tigers mounted a nice comeback after coach Josh Pastner nearly punched a referee (slight hyperbole), but the ‘Zags weathered the storm under the steady hands of Bouldin, Steven Gray, and Robert Sacre. Perhaps the most disappointing Bulldog was freshman Elias Harris who struggled on the offensive end as well as with foul trouble.

nullMemphis needed a big game from their guard Elliot Williams, but Gonzaga played him very well. The most potent Tigers were sophomore Wesley Witherspoon who scored a game high 26 points and junior Will Coleman who chipped in 9 points and 8 rebounds. The Tigers were also doomed by free throw shooting. A painful reminder of seasons past, Memphis was 14 for 26 from the charity stripe for a putrid 53.8%.

Before the game, the ‘Zags had lost 4 straight to the Tigers, but they exacted revenge today and in the process added another solid win. The Tigers are left with winning the CUSA tournament or visiting the Not Invited Tournament come March. As always, the atmosphere in downtown Memphis was great. The BBQ nachos excellent as well.

Vols win ugly game against rival Tigers

The last time the Tennessee Volunteers traveled across state to play in Memphis, the game buzzed with excitement for a week prior: both teams were ranked #1 and #2 respectively, Memphis was undefeated, and Tennessee was looking for a season-signifying win. Two years later, they returned to the battlegrounds with much less fanfare. The Tigers are unranked with a depleted roster thanks to the well-documented departure of former coach John Calipari. Tennessee is ranked 14th in both major polls, but still has plenty of question marks.

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I decided to take the game in first hand for EJSIC as it represents one of the hottest in-state rivalries in college basketball outside of Kentucky-Louisville and North Carolina-Duke. Some questioned how heated the game would be with the absence of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl’s archrival on the opposite sideline. All questions were answered when Volunteer guard J.P. Prince thuggishly danced in the face of Elliot Williams before the opening tip. The animosity continued with Tiger Will Coleman landing an unnecessary shoulder into the chest of Wayne Chism which resulted in double technical fouls.

Other than the antics, the only thing worse than the actual basketball played on the court was, according to my amigos at home watching the game, Jimmy Dykes’ less than insightful and sometimes outlandish commentary on the game. (I recorded the game on DVR and I’ll give him a listen later to see how bad it was. I wonder if he used his spice formula to determine if either team is a Final Four contender?)

Memphis Tigers

nullThe Good: Doneal Mack. Throughout his time at Memphis, Mack has been labeled as a player who did not stand out in the big games. Today, he was easily the best player the Tigers had on the floor. He was unafraid to take shots and led the team with 15 points. He fouled out of the game with just less than 4 minutes left which left a gaping hole in the Memphis offense.

The Bad: Memphis’ other guards. All Tiger guards not named Mack went a combined 4 for 23. Willie Kemp, Elliot Williams, and Roburt Sallie can not play that bad for this particular Memphis team. The depth is not there for the starters to have an off-night.

The Ugly: The inside game. Rebounding, the forwards, etc were all ugly for Memphis today. They were outrebounded 42-26 and thoroughly outplayed down low. Tennessee went after the ball in the air, Memphis did not. Starting forward Pierre Henderson-Niles managed 2 rebounds in just 15 minutes of play. Rebounding was a key in the Tigers recent loss to UMass and it was again today.

Tennessee Volunteers

nullThe Good: Wayne Chism. The starting center has made his fair share of boneheaded plays in the past, but today, he was remarkably efficient. Chism finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds including a perfect 5 for 5 at the free throw line as well as 5 of 7 from the field. Maybe the most surprising stat of the game: he didn’t attempt a single three pointer. Chism has often been a player who wandered behind the arc and even demonstrated poor decision making with late game three point attempts. Today, he played very well.

The Bad: Point guard play. It has been the thorn in Bruce Pearl’s side during his tenure in Knoxville. It usually rears its head in March when the games get tighter, but it was pretty evident today. Starting PG Bobby Maze played 21 minutes, amassed 3 measly points, 0 assists, and fouled out of the game. Backup Melvin Goins managed to score 8 points, but committed 2 turnovers against only 1 assist. They even let PF Tyler Smith run the position a few times during the game. If they want to win when it matters, Pearl has to find someone who can provide quality play for an entire game against elite competition.

The Ugly: Tennessee’s ability to put the game away. The Vols led by 13 points with 13:14 to go in the 2nd half before allowing the Tigers to claw back into the game. The Vols held a significant edge on the boards, contained Elliot Williams to one of his worst games of the season, and held the Tigers to a low 31% shooting for the game. Yet, they only won by 7 points. The Vols suffered a heavy drought in the latter stages of the game when Memphis switched to a 2-3 zone which it cannot do against better competition.

nullOverall: The Memphis fans before the game on Beale Street and throughout the two hours at FedEx Forum made for a great atmosphere. The Bar-B-Que nachos were delicious and I enjoyed the time. However, I don’t see much success for either of these teams in the month that matters given their current states. Of course, there’s plenty of time left for both to make improvements. Next year’s game should provide some more fireworks in the rivalry with quite a few future phenoms signed to play for both teams.