Head Coach: Josh Pastner
2013-14 Record: 24-10, 12-6 in AAC, Third Round of NCAA Tournament
Key Losses: Joe Jackson (14.1 PPG), Michael Dixon Jr. (11.8 PPG), Geron Johnson (8.9 PPG), Chris Crawford (8.7 PPG)
When they play UConn:
February 19th (at Memphis)
March 5th (at UConn)
Coach Josh Pastner is going to have his hands full replacing the four guards he lost from last year. Memphis was able to give Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon Jr., Geron Johnson, and Chris Crawford over 20 minutes a game last season and they each brought something different to the table. They were able maintain an up-tempo pace, share the basketball, and get high quality shots. This lead to the Tigers being ranked 35th in the nation in PPG, 3rd in APG, and 23rd in FG% last season. They have brought in a very talented guard, junior Kedren Johnson, from Vanderbilt but guard play is important and replacing those guys will be tough.
The Tigers do have one of the best 4/5 duos in the country in junior Shaq Goodwin and sophomore Austin Nichols. Talented big men are at a premium in the college game and for Memphis to have two good ones makes the Tigers a very dangerous team.
Goodwin and Nichols were both named to the Preseason All-Conference team at AAC media day on Wednesday and Nichols was also named to ESPN's All-AAC team. Nichols was one of five top recruits to come to Memphis last year, but the only one to actually see playing time, averaging over 22 minutes a game. While on the court, he was extremely productive, averaging 9.3 PPG on 59% shooting while also pulling down 4.3 RPG. The 6-foot-8 sophomore was the named the first ever American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year last season, and he looks to contribute even more for Pastner this year.
His front court mate, 6-9 junior forward Shaq Goodwin averaged 11.5 PPG on 58% shooting while also recording 6.5 RPG. Goodwin and Nichols could dominate the AAC, especially those who are lacking in big men. While they might not be the biggest front court in the AAC, they certainly make up for it with good post moves and touch around the basket.
We know what we are going to get from Nichols and Goodwin. But for the Tigers to be successful, it is going to come down to their guard play. Losing four guards can be devastating to a program, but Pastner and the Tigers will look first to Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson. Johnson, who led the Commodores in scoring two years ago at 13.5 PPG, was suspended all of last season and was not asked to return to the program. He will be the first in line to get the opportunity to start at point guard.
Pookie Powell (maybe the best name in college), who was a top-100 recruit and redshirted last year, is said to be the best outside shooter among the guards. Powell will be pushed by freshman Dominic Magee, who was the 67th recruit in this year's class. Magee, a lefty, is projected to be an elite player who is best when he can get out and run. If he can move the ball down the court, which is what Pastner wants, then he will be a major contributor to the offense. Memphis also adds Avery Woodson, a JUCO transfer who was brought for his shooting skills, especially from behind the arc.
Memphis will also look to sophomore Nick King, who was a consensus top 50 recruit coming out of high school. King got the second most minutes as a freshman but only 11 per game. In those minutes, he averaged 4.9 PPG on 52% shooting while pulling down 3.3 RPG. Pastner is very high on the 6-foot-7 wing, but needs him to use his versatility and athleticism to be a lockdown perimeter defender this year. The small forward position is his job to lose at the beginning of the year.
The Tigers will be challenged immediately in non-conference games, playing against Wichita State and Baylor at neutral sites. They will also take on Oklahoma State at home, which is the second leg of a home-and-home series with the Cowboys. With those three games against elite competition, we will have a good grasp on how the new guards will fit within the offense.
Goodwin and Nichols have a good shot at dominating again in the paint, and if their guards can contribute in positive ways, then Memphis has a shot to compete with SMU and UConn at the top of the American. If Pastner can have these guys gelling together by January, then they could be red hot heading into March. Expect them to surprise some doubters by making it to the Sweet 16.
Yes, AAC Bias.