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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tigers Drop Exhibition to CBU

Posted By on Wed, Nov 12, 2014 at 10:55 PM

I'll resist snark. It's too easy tonight. The Tigers lost their first exhibition game in 18 years (not since Larry Finch's last as head coach at his alma mater). For Trey Casey, Ryan Fleming and the rest of the CBU Buccaneers, it's a game they'll recall for grandchildren 30 and 40 years from now. The only silver lining for the U of M: No matter what happens the rest of the 2014-15 season, the Tigers' most embarrassing loss is behind them.

Wondering if Tiger sophomore Kuran Iverson might have made a difference in the overtime loss? Memphis coach Josh Pastner described the forward's not playing as "coach's decision." Perhaps a lesson was taught before the games count in the standings. Plenty of other lessons were, at the least, introduced tonight. Here are four big-picture thoughts as the season-opener against (gulp) Wichita State next Tuesday approaches.

• The Tiger backcourt is a time-share, and I'm not convinced Pastner knows any more than we do about the production he'll receive this season. Pookie Powell played so poorly in the first half, he was given but two minutes of playing time in the second. Pastner described Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson as "not good, whatsoever" after the game. Johnson had six turnovers, including a critical one with the game tied and 14 seconds left in regulation. Avery Woodson played 30 minutes, part of a seven-man rotation in the second half. But he missed eight of 11 shots (six of eight from three-point range). There were a lot of slings and arrows aimed at the four senior guards that shaped last season's squad. With this year's team, there may be a new target for criticism, one game to the next.

Markel Crawford

Markel Crawford is the best athlete on the team. And I think he'll lead the guards in minutes played this season. He's active defensively, appears unafraid with the ball in his hands (both inside and on the perimeter), and seemed to play with a confidence few other Tigers showed tonight. (Remember, he was with the team last season as a redshirt.) He led the team with five assists in 29 minutes. Of course, he missed four of five three-point attempts, which means he blended well tonight. (Sorry . . . snark.)

• This team is in dreadful need of a shooter. And Pastner knows it. ("There's a question mark with our shooting," he said after the game.) They will not win games from the perimeter, meaning they have to feed the ball to forwards Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols, which furthermore means they have to push the ball up the floor . . . prevent defenses from collapsing around the Tiger twin towers. "In my six years as coach here," said Pastner, "this was the slowest pace we've ever played." Here's where we have to watch how Pastner coaches, how he teaches. Shooting can't be taught once a player reaches college. (Fine-tuned, yes. But shooting can't be learned when you're 18 or 20 years old.) But Pastner can teach his guards how to play faster, to pressure defenses with ball movement, and feed the big men before defenders have established position.

• Nichols is supremely talented, but I think Goodwin will be the pulse of this team. He has the chance to be a version of Hall of Fame-bound Kevin Garnett, the rare forward who can will his teammates to wins through emotional impact. Goodwin has to play with fire; this much is a given. There's not enough talent around him for anything less. But he must also show the fire. There was a stretch tonight — midway through the second half — when Goodwin hit a pair of baskets (one an alley-oop dunk on a feed from Nichols) and captured the FedExForum crowd. The Tigers went up 50-43 with 8:35 to play and seemed to have the game (finally) in hand. Then he (and his teammates) faded.

An entire season remains to be played. You'd like to say the Tigers can start from scratch in South Dakota next week. It just doesn't feel that way.

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