The 19th-ranked Tigers beat Lemoyne-Owen tonight, 106-49, in their first of two exhibition games. A crowd of roughly 15,000 made it to FedExForum for what amounted to a coming-out party for the U of M's highly acclaimed freshman class . . . at least a portion of that class. (Will Barton didn't play as he nurses a minor injury, and Jelan Kendrick didn't suit up as he continues to address an off-the-court matter.)
Some first impressions on the frosh who did hit the floor:
JOE JACKSON (White Station) — This is an ultra-quick point guard, in the mold of Antonio Burks and Derrick Rose, just not as big as the two former NBA-bound Tigers. Jackson has the innate ability to penetrate the lane and weave between larger players before finishing at the basket. Which makes him an improvement on last year's primary point, Willie Kemp. Even with 12 pounds added since high school, though, Jackson is a small college player (6'0, 175 pounds). Teams with a big, strong backcourt may be able to exploit Jackson defensively. Jackson made four of six field-goal attempts against the Magicians, his only misses coming from three-point range.
TARIK BLACK (Ridgeway) — Based on what I saw tonight, this is your difference-maker this season. With a little more muscle, Black will have the body of an NBA power forward (he's currently listed at 6'8", 252 pounds). And he already has better hands than Joey Dorsey did in his last college game. My favorite play by Black tonight came early in the second half when, positioned at the left elbow, he took an entry pass and swung the ball to the left corner, where Charles Carmouche drained a three-pointer. Tiger basketball has generally not run its offense through the center position. Certainly not since Chris Massie was in uniform seven years ago. Black grabbed five offensive rebounds tonight (against a smaller opponent than many he'll face this season). The energy, though, should keep him on the floor. A scary combination will be Black and Will Coleman sharing playing time. Closest thing to a "Twin Tower" lineup Memphis has been able to play in quite a while.
CHRIS CRAWFORD (Sheffield) — He has the perfect body for a college shooting guard: 6'4", 205 pounds. And he had the prettiest shot tonight (perfect rotation and a silky release). Quickness may be an issue for Crawford on defense, but it's much too early to call it a weakness. He may not have arrived with the McDonald's All-American credentials of some of his teammates, but Crawford looks like the kind of player who could be steady, if not outstanding, in college. Calls to mind Antonio Anderson. He hit two treys tonight and led the Tigers with five assists.
ANTONIO BARTON — Less celebrated than his brother, Will, Antonio started tonight because he led the Tiger point guards in rebounds during preseason practice. Both physically and in style of play, he resembles former Tiger point guard Chris Garner. Whereas Garner was an integral part of his teams in the mid-Nineties, though, it's hard to envision many minutes for Antonio Barton on the floor this winter. If his brother and Kendrick return in full, Antonio would be seventh or eighth, at best, in Josh Pastner's rotation. He appears to be a fighter on defense, and is obviously willing to rebound. Who knows?
HIPPOLYTE TSAFACK — Tsafack will bring the proverbial lunch pail for these Tigers. With Will Coleman, Angel Garcia, and Black firmly in the rotation, Tsafack's size (6'8", 231 pounds) is a luxury for Pastner. The 2009-10 Tigers could never "go big" to gain advantage against a smaller opponent. This year's team will be able to do so. Tsafack will be an insurance policy for the likelihood that Coleman or Black gets in foul trouble.
NOTE: After two seasons in the rafters of FedExForum, the banner honoring the 2007-08 Final Four team has been lowered. As mandated by the NCAA, any public celebration of the now-vacated appearance had to be removed. Also gone is the banner that celebrated the 137 career wins — 38 of them now vacated — by Antonio Anderson, Robert Dozier, and Chance McGrady. (The banner honoring the 1984-85 Final Four team — another vacated line in the NCAA record book — still hangs.)