Thursday, November 19, 2009

Josh Pastner is So Young . . .

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 8:00 AM

The first in a series.

Five regulars for the 2009 world champion New York Yankees (counting DH Hideki Matsui) are older than Coach Pastner.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Three Lessons from Memphis Tigers' Loss to Kansas

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 9:59 AM

First of all, any honest assessment of last night’s thriller in St. Louis should include the following: Kansas may not be the world-beater so many prognosticators considered them. Xavier Henry is a fine player in an NBA-ready body. But I didn’t see the kind of difference-maker I expected last night. Maybe just an off night.

There are bad losses, good losses now and then, and — most rare — losses on which a season can be built. Taking the top-ranked team in the country to the buzzer before Thanksgiving may be a season-builder.

Three lessons we should take from the Tigers’ narrow loss:

1. This collection of stepchildren won’t be intimidated. The program’s star power took a beating over the offseason (part of that beating was wearing number 1 for Kansas). The team has a coach too young to run for president. “Just wait till next year,” when the country’s top recruiting class arrives.


But the 2009-10 Tigers have a season to play. And try telling seniors Willie Kemp, Doneal Mack, and Pierre Henderson-Niles about the 2010 class. Last night would have been an easy early-season throwaway game. Come out fighting, but then fall back on damage control when things get ugly (like a 10-point Jayhawk lead). Instead, the Tigers came up with big defensive stops, hit clutch shots as the clock wound down, and gave themselves a shot to win at the buzzer. The Tigers will have some duds this year, but they won’t play on a bigger stage until March.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Memphis Tigers Fall (Barely) to Top-Ranked Kansas

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 11:46 PM

Three inches. That’s an educated guess on how close the Tigers came to knocking off top-ranked Kansas tonight. Had Elliot Williams’ three-point attempt at the buzzer been a bit more shy — by thaaaaat much — Memphis earns its greatest upset in 89 years of basketball. Instead, the Tigers walk off the court in St. Louis disappointed with a 57-55 defeat.


Remarkable first half. Despite converting only two field goals over the last nine minutes of the half and missing 12 of 14 three-point attempts, the U of M was down only six points against the consensus number-one team in the country. (Consider: had the Tigers made merely 25 percent of their three point attempts in the half, the score would have been tied.)

Just as eye-opening was the way seven Memphis players were able to trade punches against a Kansas team that went 10 deep, with two All-Americans (Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins) and a freshman phenom (Xavier Henry) in its starting lineup. A strength to this year’s collection of underdogs may well be its team defense (witness the six Kansas turnovers over the game’s first six minutes). Josh Pastner has an undersized team, but it’s not lacking for quickness or athleticism. Kansas players not named Aldrich made but 13 of 33 shots.

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Memphis Tigers' Three Keys vs. Kansas

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 2:00 PM

When Coach Pastner calls for our pregame chat, this is what I'll advise him:

1. Work the Clock.
It’s wisdom as old as Dr. Naismith’s peach baskets. When facing a superior opponent, limit the opponent’s possessions. Well, the shot clock killed Dean Smith’s four-corners for good, but it doesn’t mean this strategy can’t hold, at least to some degree. Seldom in their opener last Friday did the Tigers see 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Playing with a shortened — by two standards — roster that requires “small ball,” the U of M pushed their offense against Jackson State, with everyone from Willie Kemp to Wesley Witherspoon applying pedal to metal.


Won’t work against Kansas. In fact, it will backfire. Holding on to the ball 20 seconds instead of 10, over the course of 40 minutes of play can mean 20 to 30 fewer shots for the Jayhawks. The Tigers would do well tonight to make an extra pass. No way will they enjoy a 48-13 advantage in free-throw attempts as they did against JSU.

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Memphis Tigers with "Nothing to Lose"

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 8:54 AM

Tip-off against the number-one team in the land is 9 pm. Catch it on ESPN if you’re not heading up I-55 to St. Louis.

I’ve tried to remember the last time the Memphis Tiger basketball team had “nothing to lose,” that age-old brand that pronounces a team not just an underdog, but a three-legged, one-eyed underdog with a crooked tail. (I’ve been cranking up the great KISS song — from their first album — to inspire.)


One possibility is the 2005 C-USA Championship game at FedExForum (the Darius Washington game), but with an NCAA tournament berth on the line, there was MUCH to lose that day against the heavily favored Louisville Cardinals.

An unranked Tiger team led by Antonio Burks and Sean Banks faced 6th-ranked Louisville on February 4, 2004 . . . and won. But that was a home game, and the 6th consecutive win for the Tigers in a streak that would reach 11.

The last time the U of M went on the road in what might be called a hopeless situation was March 3, 2002. The Tigers were an underwhelming 22-7, their offense running almost entirely through freshman Dajuan Wagner. They managed to take the 4th-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats to overtime before losing, 80-75. Four weeks later, Memphis won the NIT championship.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Doneal Mack's Three-Ring Circus

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2009 at 10:48 AM

Tiger senior guard Doneal Mack is wearing a necklace these days with three rings dangling halfway down his torso. The size of golf balls, each ring represents a Conference USA championship and deep NCAA-tournament run from Mack’s first three seasons as a Tiger. Presuming they don’t strain Mack’s neck, they just may serve as a motivational tool for some of his rookie teammates.

Doneal Mack
  • Doneal Mack

“You gotta let them know, it takes hard work,” he says. “You take that court, put that Memphis jersey on. We went through a lot to get the program where it is. I’m just showing the team and the fans who support us that history’s in the making.”

Mack trails only Rodney Carney and Anthony Rice on the Tigers’ alltime three-point chart. If he stays healthy, Mack should be the only Tiger this season to reach the 1,000-point plateau for his career. (He needs 155 entering Tuesday’s game against Kansas.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

They're Number One

Posted By on Sun, Nov 15, 2009 at 9:30 AM

When the Tigers hit the floor in St. Louis to take on Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks in the Hall of Fame Showcase Tuesday night, it will mark the ninth time Memphis has faced the top-ranked team in the country. The Tigers have yet to pull the upset.

Kansas coach Bill Self
  • Kansas coach Bill Self

• January 22, 1953: Seton Hall 103, Memphis 85
• March 26, 1973: UCLA 87, #12 Memphis 66. (NCAA championship)
• March 25, 1983: Houston 70, #17 Memphis 63 (NCAA Sweet 16)
• December 8, 1993: Arkansas 96, Memphis 78
• January 4, 1996: Massachusetts 64, #3 Memphis 61 (Memphis is introduced to John Calipari)
• January 19, 2000: Cincinnati 75, Memphis 55
• November 25, 2005: Duke 70, #11 Memphis 67 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
• March 24, 2007: Ohio State 92, #5 Memphis 76 (NCAA Regional Final)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pastner Can, Ahem, Recruit

Posted By on Sat, Nov 14, 2009 at 8:43 PM

Will Barton — ranked 11th among the 2010 recruiting class by — is on his way to Memphis. So is native son Joe Jackson (12th). Now we learn Atlanta swingman Jelan Kendrick — ranked 8th, for crying out loud — is committing to the Tiger program.

Jelan Kendrick
  • Jelan Kendrick

What's Young Josh putting in his cupcakes? And will there be any playing time for Chris Crawford? Elliot Williams?

UAB 31, Tigers 21

Posted By on Sat, Nov 14, 2009 at 3:39 PM

Senior Day at the Liberty Bowl is always about goodbyes, but today's pregame ceremony before the Tigers' Battle for the Bones with UAB had an extra dollop of remorse. With last Monday's announcement of coach Tommy West's dismissal, each hug he delivered to his 25 seniors seemed to be a goodbye embrace to the program — and greater football community — he commanded for the last nine years.

Brett Toney
  • Brett Toney

Had the script held, West would have walked off Rex Dockery Field as a winner, the third Memphis coach to reach the 50-win plateau. Instead, a visiting senior — UAB quarterback Joe Webb — took over and led his Blazers to a 31-21 win and possession of the world's most famous bronze rack of ribs.

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Tommy's Tirade Reconsidered

Posted By on Sat, Nov 14, 2009 at 10:00 AM

• Consider this ironic twist on the last decade of Tiger football. National footage of any of the 6,000 yards DeAngelo Williams rushed for with Memphis was a gold nugget — and just as rare — for Tiger fans. But when his former coach unleashed a five-minute rant on what is needed to improve the program . . . SportsCenter! Now!

Tommy West
  • Tommy West

Those five minutes will live a long time in reflections of West’s time atop the U of M program. What’s regrettable is that his message — a sound one — gets lost in the volume and emotion with which it was delivered. Consider the words minus that volume and emotion (like, say, reading them): “History will repeat itself, folks, if [the administration doesn’t] do something about it. But our fans have to demand that the new guy be given a level playing field. Stobart stood here and he was a bad coach . . . but good enough to beat Southern Cal. Rip became a bad coach . . . but he beat Peyton Manning and Tennessee. At some point, we have to do the things necessary to make this program what we want, or do away with it. It’s too painful, for coaches, players, and people. Every day I’ve been here has been a fist fight.”

Had West chosen to deliver this precise message in an interview format, perhaps sitting down, the content would have been just as powerful for the Memphis community, particularly for its football boosters. And it would not have been picked up by national TV producers aiming to titillate, aggravate, and agitate. A great lesson for parents (and office managers) to pass along: It’s not so much what you say, but how you say it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tigers 82, Jackson State 53

Posted By on Fri, Nov 13, 2009 at 11:37 PM

There was nothing automatic about tonight's Opening Night win over the Southwestern Athletic Conference's favorite Tigers. It may have been a life-changer for rookie head coach Josh Pastner — "I'm only 799 behind Jim Boeheim," he cracked after the game — but it was no automatic win. With seven scholarship players in his rotation, and only two players you'd classify as "big men," Pastner will count the wins from his first season in the big chair like a 2008 stock broker counted his coins. None taken for granted, and every last one counts.

After jumping out to a 17-6 lead, the U of M went four minutes without scoring — allowing JSU to close within two — before putting 14 on the board in the next three. Sophomore guard Elliot Williams (making his Tiger debut after a freshman season at Duke) drilled two three-pointers in the spurt, on his way to leading Memphis with 19 points for the game. Jackson State started the second half on an 11-3 run to make things interesting again, only to watch Williams and another Memphis rookie — juco transfer Will Coleman — impose themselves in such a way that the final score did seem to fall in line with recent lid-lifters against the likes of Savannah State, UT-Martin, and Fairfield. A huge disparity in free throws — Memphis made 30 of 48 while JSU hit 7 of 13 — reflected the push-it-to-the-rim offense Pastner is urging out of his undersized team.

Wesley Witherspoon
  • Wesley Witherspoon

"We can't afford lapses," said Pastner after the game. "It can't be 28 minutes, 32 minutes . . . it's gotta be 40 minutes." The challenge, though, is maintaining a lapse-free, frenetic pace that can hide the team's lack of size, with a bench not deep enough for many reinforcements. "It's going to be a fine line," added the coach. "Conditioning, while also staying fresh — physically and mentally — with our lack of numbers."

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If You Were R.C. Johnson . . .

Posted By on Fri, Nov 13, 2009 at 12:31 PM

Our first quasi-formal survey here at Tiger Blue.

Among the five leading candidates for the almost-vacant job of football coach at the U of M — Terry Bowden, Gunter Brewer, Bud Foster, Larry Porter, Rick Stockstill — who excites you the most? (If you feel like you, yourself, would make a better candidate, send us a resume.)

Ten Hours Till Tip-Off

Posted By on Fri, Nov 13, 2009 at 9:58 AM

A few things on my mind as we close in on the start of the 89th season of Tiger basketball (tip-off at 8 pm tonight, FedExForum):

• How will Josh Pastner manage what is essentially a two-man frontcourt? Pierre Henderson-Niles — in a new body, it should be noted —¬†and Will Coleman are bound to get in foul trouble (and often) this season. “Going small” isn’t a bad idea when you can put Willie Kemp, Elliot Williams, Roburt Sallie, and Wesley Witherspoon on the floor together. But when the other team “goes big” and they have to be defended? If I were to track any one variable for the 2009-10 Tigers, it would be the development of Henderson-Niles and Coleman as this team’s backbone.

Josh Pastner
  • Josh Pastner

• Is Willie Kemp ready for a leadership role? He was the starting point guard as a freshman for a team that went 33-4. But playing behind Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans the last two seasons, Kemp found himself clinging to the periphery of John Calipari’s rotation.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

One and Dumb

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 3:01 PM

Dajuan Wagner. Shawne Williams. Derrick Rose (remember him?). Tyreke Evans.

If John Calipari's tenure at the U of M is remembered for anything, it will be for the star "one-and-done" players he lured to Memphis from as far away as Philadelphia and Chicago. Among Calipari's expected stars this year at Kentucky will be John Wall, a player he initially recruited to Memphis, and one certainly bound for the 2010 NBA draft.

Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg has a take on the NBA-mandated one-and-done phenomenon.

Visions of 2010

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 1:52 PM

With Opening Night merely a day away, it’s hard not to look ahead 12 months and imagine the team Josh Pastner will likely send to the floor as a 33-year-old, second-year coach. With the signing of local stars Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford now official and the surprising addition of forward Hippolyte Tsafack — never hurts to tap Cameroon for overlooked talent — the Tigers have a recruiting class that could fill the starting lineup in 2010-11. (Brothers Will and Antonio Barton would fill out the Fab Five.)

Hippolyte Tsafack
  • Hippolyte Tsafack

Presuming Elliot Williams and Wesley Witherspoon return for their junior seasons, and with some development from raw big man Will Coleman, it’s hard not to consider next year’s Tigers candidates for the nation’s Top 20, if not the Top 10. Needless to say, the 2010 class will be the finest bunch to arrive at FedExForum since 2005, when Shawne Williams, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson, and Robert Dozier first suited up. And consider this: that 2005 bunch was Calipari’s fifth class of recruits at the U of M. Pastner may come close to matching it with his very first. (On the subject of Calipari, presuming John Wall and Xavier Henry — recruits lost to Memphis when the coach departed for Kentucky — play one season of college ball, could the Tigers be in any better position for 2010-11 with Calipari still in charge? I don’t think so.)

Enough about 2010-11, though (for now). FEF will be packed Friday night to see this year’s squad. Nothing like an exciting future to boost the buzz.


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