Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tigers 78, Western Illinois 51

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2014 at 10:16 PM

The Tigers completed their busiest stretch of the season — five games in 11 days — with a thorough dismantling of the Fighting Leathernecks at FedExForum. Memphis scored the game's first nine points and had the game in hand by halftime with a 41-14 lead. (Western Illinois took 30 shots over the game's first 20 minutes and made four.)

Sparked by sophomore Nick King's first career double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds), the Tigers earned their fourth straight win and improved to 7-4. They'll open conference play when Houston comes to town for a New Year's Eve matinee.

"We needed game experience," said Tiger coach Josh Pastner when asked about the frequency of games this month. "I wish we could have done like the NBA does and have eight preseason games. We had some tough early games, where we were trying to figure things out. I'm trying to figure the guys out, and they were trying to figure each other out. We dropped a couple of games due to that. It's such a new team, with such inexperience. We have a better feel of who our team is, our identity. And what we need to continue to work on."


Junior forward Shaq Goodwin did not play, having been suspended a game for what Pastner called a violation of team rules. (Pastner described the violation as "extremely minor.") It was the first game Goodwin has not entered in his college career. Senior Calvin Godfrey came off the bench to absorb some of Goodwin's playing time and contributed 12 points and nine rebounds in 16 minutes.

"That's what [Godfrey] does," said King. "In practice, he's always a leader on the plus-minus chart. We're battling for rebounds, talking, because we have a connection. Hats off to Calvin because he had a great game. He stepped up when his name was called."

The Tigers bottled up the Leathernecks' top scorer, holding Garret Covington (17.8 ppg) to a single field goal on 11 attempts and four points. Western Illinois made only four of 19 three-point attempts, the seventh time in seven Tiger wins the U of M has held its opponent under 30 percent from long range.

Trahson Burrell was one of five Tigers with at least 10 points (10), his fifth straight game in double figures, and also pulled down nine rebounds. Austin Nichols scored 12 and Pookie Powell had 10. The Tigers had more assists (17) than turnovers (12) for just the third time this season.

The U of M has now played 11 games without a scoring margin less than 10 points, the first such stretch to open a season since 1985-86. (That Tiger team won all 11 games.) Burrell feels his team will be ready when tighter games unfold. "We haven't played an official road game yet," he said. "We've played on some neutral sites. But that will be our first real test, on the road."

"This is the best stretch we've played," said Pastner. "I think we're getting better. I'm excited to see where we are, the way we've progressed. Now, as we get into conference play, we've got to keep getting better."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Tigers Take OT Thriller at Miami Beach Bowl

Posted By on Mon, Dec 22, 2014 at 10:45 AM


The Memphis Tigers took six years of bowl-free frustration and packed the energy into a football game that needed two overtimes to be decided. Not until sophomore cornerback DaShaughn Terry intercepted BYU quarterback Christian Stewart's pass on the Cougars' second possession of overtime did the U of M secure its second 10-win season in program history.

Two palm-sweating plays made the Tigers' 55-48 win possible. First sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch scrambled for eight seconds on fourth down from the BYU 5-yard line before tossing a game-tying touchdown pass to Keiwone Malone with 45 seconds to play. Then on the Tigers' first possession of overtime, sophomore kicker Jake Elliott drilled a 54-yard field goal (that would have been good from 65 yards) to tie the game at 48 and keep Memphis hopes alive.

Lynch found freshman wide receiver Roderick Proctor in the right side of the end zone for an 11-yard score on the Tigers' second overtime possession, setting up Terry's game-clinching heroics.

The inaugural Miami Beach Bowl will be a standard hard to match in years to come. The two teams combined for 13 touchdowns, 914 yards, and nine turnovers . . . with a postgame brawl marring what should be remembered as a highlight of the 2014 bowl season. Lynch completed a record-breaking season for the Tigers, accounting for seven touchdowns (three of them rushing) while also losing a fumble and tossing three interceptions (his first picks since the season's sixth game). In throwing for 306 yards, Lynch finished the season with a total of 3,031, just the third 3,000-yard season in U of M history. His 35 total touchdowns (22 passing, 13 rushing) are a Tiger season record.

The win gives Memphis a final record of 10-3, matching the 1938 team's record for victories. It's also the Tigers seventh consecutive win, the program's longest such streak since 1969.

The teams combined for 31 first-quarter points, with Lynch tossing a touchdown pass to Malone and scoring himself on a bootleg. (Lynch's fumble on the BYU 8-yard line cost the Tigers at least three points and marked a rare Memphis venture inside the opponent's red zone without scoring.) Senior linebacker Derek Howard intercepted a Stewart pass to end the first quarter and Lynch ran the ball in again to complete a short scoring drive and give the Tigers a 24-14 lead. But the Cougars scored twice in the last five minutes before halftime, the second touchdown coming after Lynch's first interception since the October 11th Houston game.

Memphis seemed to take control early in the third quarter, Lynch (again) running the ball in after a 71-yard drive and then finding tight end Alan Cross for a 17-yard touchdown and 38-28 lead. But fourth-quarter turnovers shifted fortune BYU's way. Manoa Pikula picked off a Lynch pass near midfield, setting up a Cougar field goal. Joe Craig fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which led to a short touchdown run by Paul Lasike that tied the score at 38. Lynch's third interception was returned 19 yards for a touchdown by the Cougars' Zac Stout to give BYU a 45-38 lead with 8:18 to play. The score stayed that way until Lynch's last-minute connection to Malone amid a group of Cougar defenders.

The Tigers won the overtime coin toss and gave the ball to BYU for the first possession. The Memphis defense held strong, allowing only a field goal (from 45 yards) by Trevor Samson.

The win completes the country's biggest single-season turnaround, the Tigers having finished the 2013 campaign 3-9. The team shattered the program's scoring record with 471 points, more than doubling the team's total (234) from a year ago. With 49 rushing yards in his final college game, Tiger tailback Brandon Hayes finishes his career with 2,385, fourth in U of M history.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tigers 78, Oral Roberts 63

Posted By on Sat, Dec 20, 2014 at 5:47 PM

The Memphis Tigers have their point guard. In a span of three games (and six days), sophomore Pookie Powell has managed to flip the script for a basketball team that two weeks ago found itself desperately in need of a backcourt stabilizer. This afternoon at FedExForum, Powell scored 14 points, dished out seven assists, grabbed six rebounds, two steals and even blocked a pair of Oral Roberts shots — one into the third row — to lead the Tigers to their third straight victory. After the Tigers played their first seven games without a player picking up as many as five assists, Powell has done so in three straight games, totaling 20 (against 10 turnovers).

Pookie Powell

"I cannot speak enough of my internal feelings toward Pookie," said Tiger coach Josh Pastner after the game. "His 50-50 plays, his effort, his toughness, his ability to stick his nose in and rebound. When Pookie got here, he would never stick his nose in or make 50-50 plays. His progression . . . I'm so darn proud of the young man. It's not about the offense. It's about him battling. Making a [defensive] play on the two-on-one fast break. He's got to keep it going."

"I'm just going out there, ready to play," said Powell. "I'm in a different mode when I'm out there. Coach emphasizes playing harder, making plays on the defensive end."

Sophomore guard Avery Woodson has had the closest view of Powell's transformation, starting alongside him in the Tiger backcourt. "He's been a talented player, and a point guard all his life," said Woodson. "I don't know why anyone ever doubted him. It just took him some time to get comfortable."

Sophomore forward Austin Nichols shared Powell's spotlight against the Golden Eagles, blocking eight shots — one shy of the Memphis record — and scoring 15 points with nine rebounds. His outing was in sharp contrast to that of junior Shaq Goodwin, who was a nonfactor after picking up two first-half fouls. "It's on Shaq to get the job done," said Pastner, after the preseason all-conference pick played but nine minutes and didn't score. "He's a huge piece. He's hit a bit of a wall, and he has to break through it."

The Tigers led by ten points (19-9) before the ten-minute mark of the first half, but allowed the Golden Eagles to make a 12-2 run over a four-minute stretch. Powell took an inbounds pass and drove the length of the floor for a layup to beat the halftime buzzer and give the U of M a 35-28 lead at the break.

Back-to-back layups by Korey Billbury drew ORU within five points (56-51) with 8:31 to play, but the Tigers responded and stretched the lead back to 13 points after a strip and breakaway dunk by Trahson Burrell with just over four minutes to play. Billbury scored a game-high 21 points for the Golden Eagles while Burrell had 12 to go along with seven rebounds for Memphis.

The Tigers' supporting cast played a big role, with 27 points coming off the bench. Nick King scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds while Chris Hawkins added six and seven, respectively, in just 18 minutes.

The Tigers held ORU to 34 percent shooting from the field and just 20 percent (3 for 15) from three-point territory. The U of M made 21 of 25 from the free-throw line.

Now 6-4, the Tigers will aim to extend their winning streak to four Tuesday night when Western Illinois visits FedExForum. It will be the last game before American Athletic Conference play begins (Houston here, December 31st).

Friday, December 19, 2014

Memphis Tigers' Bowl History

Posted By on Fri, Dec 19, 2014 at 10:28 PM

As you stock the cooler for Monday’s Miami Beach Bowl, enjoy this refresher on the Memphis Tigers’ bowl history.

NOTE: The undefeated (10-0) Tigers of 1938 received an invitation to play in the Prune Bowl (yes, it was held in California), but declined when bowl officials were unable to cover the team’s travel costs. This was the Great Depression, after all.

The Tigers went 4-4-1 in the regular season and won a pair of shutouts before falling to Ole Miss in their season finale. They traveled to Johnson City, Tennessee, to face East Tennessee State on Thanksgiving day. The Tigers scored three touchdowns in the third quarter (two of them by Eddie Gebara) to pull away. You won’t find many first-person accounts of this game. The crowd was estimated to be 700 people. It was cold.
Tigers 32, East Tennessee State 12

The Tigers were invited to this bowl by virtue of their Missouri Valley Conference championship. Their regular-season record was 4-5-1, but they were 3-1 in league play. The game was played in the Rose Bowl (on December 18th) but attracted merely 15,244 fans. Tailback Dornell Harris was the Tiger star with 87 rushing yards and a second-quarter touchdown. This was the last game on the sidelines — and 91st win — for Memphis coach Spook Murphy.
Tigers 28, San Jose State 9

A 32-year drought ended in fine fashion for the Tiger program despite the absence of sophomore sensation DeAngelo Williams (sidelined by an injury). North Texas scored first, but Tiger quarterback Danny Wimprine led three scoring drives before halftime to give Memphis the lead for good. The Louisiana native completed 17 of 23 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown to earn MVP honors. The win was the Tigers’ ninth of the season, the program’s most in 40 years.
Tigers 27, North Texas 17

The Tigers earned a bid to this bowl (played in Mobile, Alabama) with an 8-3 regular season. Bowling Green scored five first-half touchdowns, but the Tigers answered with four of their own, including a 31-yard scamper by Williams to make the score 35-28 at halftime. But Memphis didn’t score again until late in the fourth quarter, the game having been decided. Williams ran for 120 yards and Wimprine passed for 324 in his final game with the Tigers.
Bowling Green 52, Tigers 35

Stephen Gostkowski

Ford Field made for quite a setting, considering the Super Bowl would be played at the same venue six weeks later. DeAngelo Williams completed the greatest career in Memphis football history by rushing for 238 yards and three touchdowns to earn MVP honors. (The Tigers attempted only 14 passes.) This was also the final college game for the Tigers’ alltime leading scorer (and current New England Patriot), Stephen Gostkowski, who connected on three field goals, one from 50 yards. The win gave the Tigers a final record of 7-5.
Tigers 38, Akron 31

The Tigers won five of their last six games after a slow start for a return to the Superdome with a 7-5 record. Florida Atlantic scored 17 points in the game’s first ten minutes and led 30-20 at halftime. Memphis quarterback Martin Hankins threw a touchdown pass to Carlos Singleton to close the Owl lead to three in the third quarter before FAU pulled away for the victory.
Florida Atlantic 44, Tigers 27

The Tigers reached a fifth bowl game under coach Tommy West by the slimmest of margins, beating Tulane (handily) to finish the regular season with a record of 6-6. (Memphis lost its first three games and was 3-5 in mid-October.) South Florida dominated on both sides of the ball, holding the Tigers to 66 rushing yards and 172 through the air. Playing in its backyard, USF benefited from three touchdown passes by Matt Grothe, the game’s MVP.
USF 41, Tigers 14

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tigers 83, USC Upstate 73

Posted By on Wed, Dec 17, 2014 at 10:05 PM

The Memphis Tigers have their first winning streak of the season. And in handling South Carolina Upstate tonight at FedExForum, the U of M has a winning record (5-4) for the first time in the 2014-15 campaign.

Playing their third game in five days, the Tigers were tied with the Spartans (21-21) midway through the first half before surging for a 13-point halftime lead (42-29). Steady play from forward Trahson Burrell and point guard Pookie Powell — each starting his second straight game — kept the score in the U of M's favor to the final buzzer. Burrell finished with a team-high 17 points and 12 rebounds while Powell scored 16 and dished out eight assists. Austin Nichols added 12 points, Avery Woodson 16, and Nick King 10 off the bench as the Tigers shot 51 percent from the field. Ty Greene led the Spartans (8-4) with 25 points.

Memphis hit a season-high 11 three pointers (four of them by Woodson) and had matching totals for assists and turnovers (19).

The Tigers are right back at it Saturday when Oral Roberts visits FedExForum. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tigers 81, North Carolina Central 47

Posted By on Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 10:06 PM

There is good loose and there is bad loose. In basketball terms, bad loose is sloppy, inattentive, and error-prone.

Good loose — in basketball terms — was on display tonight at FedExForum in the form of a Tiger team that has played all too tightly over the first month of the season. Using a limited rotation of players, Memphis took an 8-0 lead after tipoff and never allowed North Carolina Central to get closer. For the second time this season, the U of M dished out more assists (19) than turnovers committed (14), held the Eagles to 30-percent from the field (one for 15 from three-point range), and scored 21 points on the fast break. The result was the demolition of a team that won 28 games last season and represented the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in the NCAA tournament. (The Eagles lost their opener this season to North Carolina by merely 16 points.)

Shaq Goodwin

"Coming off a bad loss like [Oklahoma State] . . . we came out there and gave another level of effort," said sophomore forward Austin Nichols who hit six of nine shots from the field, scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 21 minutes. "When we get a big lead early like that, it definitely loosens everyone up. It was a fun game. We tried to run early, get some easy buckets. And that loosened up our entire offense."

Tiger coach Josh Pastner had a shortened bench, with Markel Crawford sidelined by a knee injury and Calvin Godfrey not with the team due to illness. (Godfrey was benched during the Oklahoma State game after shouting at Pastner upon being removed from the game.) Pastner did not send in a substitution until after the first media timeout, more than four minutes into the game. Sophomore Pookie Powell started in place of Crawford and delivered five assists — the most by any Tiger this season — in 18 minutes of playing time.

"It was Coach's decision, to shorten the rotation," said Powell. "My job is to be ready, be prepared, and go out there and play. Energy was big. We knew what we had to do — offensively and defensively — to get the win."

Trahson Burrell made his second start of the season and led the Tigers with 15 points (on 6 of 10 shooting). Shaq Goodwin picked up two early fouls but managed to score 11 points and pull down eight rebounds in 21 minutes. Nick King came off the bench and led the Tigers with nine rebounds. Kuran Iverson added eight points in 13 minutes and Kedren Johnson hit a pair of three-pointers late in the first half to put the game out of reach.

The win improves Memphis to 4-4 and drops the Eagles to 6-5.

The loose-but-energetic Tigers played in front of their smallest home crowd in years, considerably fewer actual fans than the announced attendance of 13,126. That crowd reached a crescendo, though, late in the second half when walk-on Jake McDowell — the son of Tiger great Hank McDowell — threw down a ferocious breakaway dunk. McDowell followed a minute later by hitting a three-pointer from the left corner (right in front of the Tiger bench), a shot that defied some physics by glancing off the backboard before dropping through the net. Nichols called McDowell the game's MVP.

The Tigers are now 2-2 on a nine-game homestand and have alternated losses (odd games) and wins (even games) through eight contests. They return to FedExForum Wednesday night to face USC Upstate.

Three Thoughts on the Miami Beach Bowl

Posted By on Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 8:39 AM

Allow me a few quibbles with the Tigers’ upcoming tilt in the Miami Beach Bowl. (I know, I know . . . . It’s been six years. Anything with “Bowl” in it will do.) I’m not big on indoor football, particularly when the football is being played in south Florida, so please . . . keep that retractable roof open, rain or shine. The stadium’s capacity (at least for baseball) is just over 37,000, ironic when you consider the cavernous Liberty Bowl where the Tigers play their home games. And finally, a college bowl game played on Monday afternoon (three days before Christmas)? Here’s hoping the game is a welcome break from work and/or shopping for Tiger fans unable to make the trip to Miami. As odd as the place and timing of the game may be, it could be a distinctive marker on the University of Memphis football timeline. A win would secure just the second 10-win season in the program’s 103-year history, and the first since 1938. (Those ’38 Tigers beat the likes of Millsaps, Cumberland College, and Delta State on their way to a 10-0 season.) Quibbles aside, I love the warm-weather reward for coach Justin Fuente and his team, particularly for the seniors who began their college careers with the 2-10 mess of 2011.


A special Memphis football season received proper formal acclaim last week when the program was lavished with honors by the American Athletic Conference. Justin Fuente was named Coach of the Year (a first for the Tigers since Spook Murphy earned honors in the Missouri Valley Conference 43 years ago), linebacker Tank Jakes shared Defensive Player of the Year (with UCF cornerback Jacoby Glenn), and kicker Jake Elliott was named Special Teams Player of the Year. No fewer than six Tigers were named first-team all-conference: Jakes, Elliott, tight end Alan Cross, offensive lineman Al Bond, defensive end Martin Ifedi, and cornerback Bobby McCain. Second-team recognition went to quarterback Paxton Lynch, running back Brandon Hayes, wide receiver Keiwone Malone, and punter Spencer Smith.

Look at the positions among those ten all-conference selections. They represent every position group — from skill players to offensive and defensive lines, secondary, and special teams — on a football field. What an extraordinary and comprehensive endorsement of the historic season these players (and several teammates) put together. Even with a bowl game to play, you start to wonder if the 2014 Tigers will be an impossible act to follow next season. Great problem to have.

• One of just four FBS independents, BYU committed to the Miami Beach Bowl before the 2014 season began, its only requirement, of course, being six wins (they finished 8-4). The Cougars won their first four games, including a pair against American Athletic Conference teams (UConn and Houston). Star quarterback Taysom Hill broke his leg in BYU’s fifth game, a loss to Utah State. And they lost their next three, including an overtime thriller against another AAC foe, co-champ UCF. The Cougars finished their season with four wins, including a 27-7 victory over Middle Tennesssee in Murfreesboro on November 1st. Hill’s replacement, Christian Stewart, passed for 2,273 yards, 22 touchdowns, and just six interceptions over the eight games he played. The Cougars averaged 36.2 points per game (20th in the country, not quite two more points per game than the Tigers averaged).

I’ve long adhered to the adage that a good defense will thwart a good offense on the football field. And that will be the hope next Monday when the Tiger defense — led by star seniors Ifedi, Jakes, McCain, and Terry Redden — takes the field at Marlins Park. Memphis finished fifth in the country in scoring defense (17.1 points per game), behind only Ole Miss, Stanford, LSU, and Alabama. The Tigers ranked 22nd in total defense (allowing 343.3 yards per game) while the Cougars averaged 462.5 yards of offense. If the Tigers take care of the football, as they have since the Houston loss in mid-October, I think they’ll come home on a seven-game winning streak.

The pick: Memphis 37, BYU 27

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Oklahoma State 73, Tigers 55

Posted By on Sat, Dec 13, 2014 at 9:14 PM

The biggest cheer tonight at FedExForum was for the University of Memphis football team. (A sentence I never thought I'd write.) The twenty minutes of basketball before the 2014 American Athletic Conference (football) champions were introduced were dreadful. And the 20 minutes after football coach Justin Fuente invited 14,501 fans to Florida for the Miami Beach Bowl (December 22nd) were no improvement. The loss drops the Tigers to 3-4 and will leave them without a signature win before conference play opens on New Year's Eve.

This was not the top-10 Oklahoma State team led by Marcus Smart (now a Boston Celtic) that Memphis beat to win the Old Spice Classic a year ago. Alas, this is not the 2013-14 Tigers either. And it showed in numerous ways.

• For the sixth time in seven games, Memphis committed more turnovers (23) than its assist total (11).
• The Tigers missed 10 of their first 12 shots and went an entire 10-minute stretch of the second half without scoring a field goal.
• Despite 19 offensive rebounds, the Tigers managed only 10 second-chance points.
• Two of the team's three veteran leaders played dreadfully. Shaq Goodwin fell into early foul trouble and took only two shots (making one) in 19 minutes on the floor. Nick King came off the bench and missed nine of ten field-goal attempts, including some in the shadow of the rim.
• The team's lone outside shooter, Avery Woodson, missed all four of his three-point attempts and failed to score in 31 minutes.

Kuran Iverson

The game had insult. Senior forward Calvin Godfrey was benched permanently after shouting at Tiger coach Josh Pastner when removed quickly in the first half.

The game had injury. Freshman guard Markel Crawford had to be helped to the locker room after twisting his left knee in the first half. (It was Crawford's right knee that he hurt before his senior season at Melrose High School. Pastner said Crawford will be out "until after Christmas.")

Le'Bryan Nash led the Cowboys with 20 points and Anthony Hickey and Phil Forte each scored 19 to help Oklahoma State improve to 8-1. The win erases some of the sting from a 26-point beat-down at South Carolina a week ago.

As for the Tigers, if only the early-season pain amounted to merely a sting. "We've got to find a way to win games," said Pastner. "And find it in a hurry. We have to play better." The coach acknowledged the obvious: turnovers and scoring droughts are compromising his team's chance to compete, even with mediocre opposition.

"It's tough when your point guards are having the number of turnovers we're having. We haven't found the point guard yet." After playing well against Bradley in the Tigers' last outing, Kedren Johnson committed four turnovers in just 13 minutes of play tonight. He didn't score a point or contribute an assist.

And the missed layups had Pastner mystified. "We've done tough-man drills," he said. "We've hit them with bags. Unexplainable. You've got to make them. Missing those short shots are absolute back-breakers."

Sophomore forward Austin Nichols scored 11 points (5 of 11 from the field) and pulled down 13 rebounds to go with three blocked shots. He insists his team will come together, and plans on leading with encouragement, not just game-to-game, but possession-to-possession. "Our energy was there, but we just didn't hit shots," he said. "And every time we'd force a turnover, we'd go down and turn the ball over ourselves. We'll get back to practice tomorrow, and get better. I tell my teammates when I'm out there to never quit. The game's never over until it's over. Never give up. Every play of every game on the schedule."

Junior forward Trahson Burrell played a season-high 30 minutes off the bench and tied Kuran Iverson for the team scoring lead with 13 points. (Iverson also came off the bench but played just 13 minutes.) Burrell grabbed nine rebounds . . . but turned the ball over four times. "We settled for shots a little too much," he noted. "We need to get to the free-throw line more. [The Tigers made 12 of 21 from the stripe.] I felt like we played good on defense, but our offense really wasn't there tonight. It's frustrating when you don't score for six or seven minutes."

The Tigers return to play Monday night when they host North Carolina Central. They'll then play three more games before Christmas, all at FedExForum. They might consider inviting the football team back.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Free Advice for Josh Pastner for Saving a Season

Posted By on Mon, Dec 8, 2014 at 9:44 AM

Sheer panic has consumed a faction of Memphis Tiger basketball fans. With three double-digit losses in six games and thousands of empty seats at FedExForum early in the program’s longest home stand in 35 years, some have already thrown the 2014-15 season in the river. Some — hold on to your seat — are calling the U of M a “football school.”

Let’s remember the Tigers are 0-0 in American Athletic Conference Play. There’s plenty to gain this season. Here are five steps that might be considered to regain the Tigers’ footing on the hardwood.

Substitute less frequently.
Tiger coach Josh Pastner made 23 substitutions in the first half of last Saturday’s win over Bradley, and this was during a half his team outscored its opponent by 14 points. Eight players ran the floor for at least eight minutes, but only one (Avery Woodson) for more than 12.

Avery Woodson

A short leash strangles the life of a basketball player. As the Tigers struggle to find their collective identity as a team, Pastner is making the process harder by changing his lineup, it seems, by the minute. If a message needs to be delivered, pull the player, deliver the message, and send him right back in. The opposite — sending a player in and pulling him after his first mistake — is actually harming the player’s development.

It’s human nature: When something goes wrong, make a change. But particularly with the few nonconference games left for experimentation, Pastner should consider committing to a rotation (seven or eight players) and seeing if that group can play winning basketball. Change is going to happen with this raw team, but let it be game-to-game, not minute-to-minute.

Start Trahson Burrell and bring Nick King off the bench.
Burrell seems to be the closest this team has to a natural scorer, someone who can put points on the board from inside or outside, with open looks or in traffic. The 6’6” swingman has shot 54 percent from the field and reached double figures (off the bench) three times. His size should help with perimeter defense (more on that later), and he has an “energy” intangible sorely lacking with some members of this roster. As for King, I’m convinced he’d thrive in attacking an opponent’s second unit, the best “junk” scorer the Tigers have. Witness the nine points he scored in ten first-half minutes (off the bench) against Bradley. And King seems to clog an offense steered toward Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin. The Tigers may gain by not having the three on the floor together. Pastner started a three-guard lineup in the Bradley win. I’d advocate two guards, Nichols, Goodwin, and Trahson Burrell. King and Kuran Iverson could give Memphis the best bench in the American Athletic Conference.

Defend the three-point line like it’s a home invasion.
In the Tigers’ three wins this season, their opponent has shot less than 30 percent from three-point range. (Wichita State shot a lowly 25 percent in the Shockers’ win on November 18th.) Meanwhile, the only Tiger to show marksmanship from beyond the arc is Woodson. Memphis will rarely have an advantage in this component of a game.

The Tigers are not a big team. Making matters worse, their two biggest players — Nichols and Goodwin — play smaller than their size. This is not a team that will defend the rim like the days of Joey Dorsey (or Will Coleman, even). So the Tigers must do all they can to remove the three-point shot from an opponent’s arsenal. Markel Crawford, Woodson, Pookie Powell, Burrell, Kedren Johnson, and Iverson give Pastner the kind of bodies capable — with the right effort — of making the three-point line hostile territory.

Get to the free throw line.
With a propensity for turnovers, the Tigers will have trouble pushing the pace offensively. But players don’t turn the ball over at the free-throw line. Particularly with their long-range shortcomings, the Tigers need to dribble-drive, draw contact, and get to the charity stripe for some free points. Burrell has the finest looking shot on the team. It would be nice to see that sweet backspin frequently as conference play nears. Goodwin and Nichols combined for 21 free throws (though they missed nine) against the Braves. That’s more foul shots than the entire team took in the loss to Stephen F. Austin (16).

Eliminate emotion from the building equation.
Yeah, right. This is Memphis. And Tiger basketball. No such thing as a “balanced view” of the team’s chances for a championship (national, that is). The team is great (and underrated nationally) or the team is atrocious (and the coach must be fired).

Since he was hired, Pastner has embraced the passion of what he calls “Tiger Nation.” And as the Tigers stumbled out of the gate this season, he’s repeatedly said the fan base “should be angry.” Why? Because he — or the team — owes that fan base a winning team? That’s absurd.

The Tiger basketball program owes its fan base one thing: effort. That goes for the coach (and his assistants) and the players. This year’s club is an ongoing project, as any sentient observer would have forecast after counting the number of returning guards. Pastner has to use every game as a sharpening tool for the project. Trim fat. Cut waste. Slice away indifferent play at the first sign. What Pastner must do — unlike last season — is build a team. What fans see in November is rarely what they see in late February or March. So forget anger, frustration, and bitterness. Emotion is distraction from the mission at hand. Build a team.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Tigers 73, Bradley 45

Posted By on Sun, Dec 7, 2014 at 12:01 AM

Three consecutive Tiger dunks late in the first half — by Nick King, Markel Crawford, and Pookie Powell — will lead highlight shows of Saturday night's win over Bradley at FedExForum. But a pair of numbers — 15 and 8 — may be a better indicator of improvement for a team still searching for its strengths. Saturday's game was the first of the season in which the Tigers accumulated more assists (15) than turnovers (8). Better yet, an energetic Tiger defense forced 20 turnovers by the Braves, the most a Memphis opponent has committed this season. Led by 15 points and 12 rebounds from junior Shaq Goodwin, the Tigers evened their record at 3-3, with the next seven games on the schedule all to be played at Third and Beale.

"We established our presence early," said Goodwin after the win. "We focused on our game plan for this team: being tough and being together. We executed."

Tiger coach Josh Pastner opened the game with a three-guard lineup, replacing Nick King with Kedren Johnson for the tip-off. The rotation also received a boost with the debut of sophomore forward Kuran Iverson, who missed the Tigers' first five games, primarily due to concussion symptoms. Johnson played a season-high 26 minutes and scored as many points tonight (8) as he had in the first five games combined (7). As for Iverson, he played "energy guy," his impact larger than his numbers on the stat sheet (two points and a rebound in 11 minutes).

"I told Coach before the game that I'll bring energy," said Iverson. "I just wanted to get back in the rotation and help my teammates by making plays. Whatever position he puts me at, I'll play."

"Kuran came in with great energy from the start," said Johnson. "He had great energy in warm-ups. He'll keep working, getting his game together, and helping us out."

As for his much-talked about conditioning, Johnson said he's making strides. "It's just getting my rhythm back with the speed of the game," he said. "Being away for a year, it's been tough. Learning what these [teammates] like, and what bothers them. Gotta be tough with the ball, make sure passes."

Coming off the bench for the first time this season, King scored nine points in ten first-half minutes, including a windmill slam that is the season's top highlight to date. "I knew I was gonna dunk it as soon as I recognized Kuran would make the pass before falling out of bounds," he said. King wore a headband tonight, not so much for a fashion statement, but to protect a small scratch near his right eye (that stings when King sweats).

Sophomore guard Avery Woodson drained three three-pointers in the second half and finished the game with 11 points in 34 minutes. Ten Tigers contributed either one or two assists each, totaling 15 on the team's 21 made field goals. The Tigers shot 43 percent from the field and hit 25 of 40 free throws (63 percent).

Next up on the December home stand will be Oklahoma State on December 13th. The Tigers split a pair of games with the Cowboys early last season.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"American" Football Picks: Week 15

Posted By on Thu, Dec 4, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Last Week: 4-1
Season: 65-19


UCF at East Carolina

Temple at Tulane
Houston at Cincinnati
SMU at UConn

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Stephen F. Austin 64, Tigers 52

Posted By on Tue, Dec 2, 2014 at 8:23 PM

A team that went 32-3 a year ago invaded FedExForum tonight and beat the home team soundly. Taken on its own, not such a bad development.

But this was Stephen F. Austin of the Southland Conference, a mid-major power at best. There were times tonight the U of M made the Lumberjacks look like Steve Austin, the bionic superman from the Seventies TV hit The Six Million Dollar Man.

Josh Pastner

The game was tied (27-27) at halftime, and Memphis led (44-43) with 10:00 to play, but SFA enjoyed an 11-0 run keyed by three-pointers from freshman Ty Charles and junior Clide Geffrard to secure its fourth win of the young season. The Lumberjacks were led by Geffrard's 14 points and 13 from Jacob Parker. Sophomore forward Austin Nichols scored 16 to lead Memphis while junior Shaq Goodwin added 15. Trahson Burrell came off the bench to score 10, making four of his six shots from the field.

The Tigers' shooting woes continued as they missed 12 of 13 three-point attempts. (SFA hit seven of 20 from beyond the arc.) The Memphis stat sheet again shows more turnovers (16) than assists (12), as much a concern for coach Josh Pastner as the poor shooting. The loss drops the Tigers to 2-3 for the season, with their next eight games to be played at FedExForum. (Tonight's game was the team's 200th played at Third and Beale. The Tigers' home record: 178-22.)

Next on the schedule is Bradley this Saturday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 pm.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Memphis Tiger Football: A Roaring Engine

Posted By on Mon, Dec 1, 2014 at 8:00 AM

As far as three-year rebuilding plans go, we have a new standard. In December 2011, Justin Fuente was given the keys to a rusty, oil-burning pile of scrap with (maybe) one partially inflated tire. Today — three regular seasons later — Fuente is behind the wheel of a machine Matthew McConaughey would be pleased to drive. The 9-3 Memphis Tigers — read that record again — will play in a bowl game, to be announced this Sunday. They’ll take the field for that postseason tilt — the program’s first in six years — riding a six-game winning streak, something not seen in these parts since 1969. For a long-suffering Memphis football fan base, the wait (’til this year) is over.

Ironically, the first signs of legitimate progress for the Tiger program were the team’s first two losses of the season. Memphis traded punches with 11th-ranked UCLA on September 6th, tying the game at 35 early in the fourth quarter when senior safety Fritz Etienne returned an interception for a touchdown. Three weeks later in Oxford, the Tigers trailed 10th-ranked Ole Miss, 7-3, entering the fourth quarter. Coming up short in these two games seemed merely to fuel the motivational fire, particularly for a defense that — led by defensive coordinator Barry Odom and eight senior starters — climbed its way to elite status, surrendering only 17.1 points per game.

The last Memphis team to win nine games (2003) featured the greatest player in Tiger history (DeAngelo Williams) and, not incidentally, the program’s most accomplished quarterback (Danny Wimprine). According to Fuente, this year’s team lacks a definitive headliner: “There’s no superstar on either side of the ball. This group is selfless, and they’re good listeners. That’s an important trait.” The lack of a season-long headliner didn’t mean the 2014 Tigers were starless. They just shared the spotlight, one week to the next.

Paxton Lynch passed for 305 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for another score in the loss at UCLA, enough to earn him American Athletic Conference Player of the Week honors. He hasn't thrown an interception in six games.
Tank Jakes had a game (against Middle Tennessee) that would have made Jack Lambert proud: two sacks (one for a safety), a forced fumble (that led to a Bobby McCain touchdown), and an interception.
• Sophomore kicker Jake Elliott split the uprights as time expired at Temple on November 7th, culminating a 66-yard drive over the game’s final 2:40 to clinch bowl eligibility for the Tigers.
• After injuries sidelined running backs Doroland Dorceus and Sam Craft, senior Brandon Hayes took over, rushing for 199 yards against Tulsa and 189 against USF. Once a walk-on, the White Station alum personifies his team’s rise from irrelevance to conference champions for the first time in 43 years.

What’s the difference in the culture of Tiger football today and that of 2011, Larry Porter’s last as head coach? Best to ask a four-year senior who has experienced both. “Maturity,” says defensive end Martin Ifedi, now the Tigers’ alltime sacks leader. “We have great coaches who came in and showed us the vision. We implemented the plan in the offseason, and were consistent [with our work]. [Coach Fuente] doesn’t tolerate certain things. We understand what he wants. We play hard on the field for each other."

You’ll hear the Tigers caught a break by not having East Carolina or UCF (both AAC heavy hitters) on the schedule. But there’s a corollary: The Pirates and Knights each caught a break by not having Memphis on their schedule. The first test of any champion is beating the teams you’re supposed to beat. The Tigers were undefeated in such games this fall, and added tough wins at Cincinnati and Temple to their ledger. With nine wins, they are already in the Memphis history books (only five Tiger teams have won as many). Should they win their bowl game, the 2014 Tigers will join the 1938 team (10-0) as the only 10-win clubs in the program’s history. Worry about the newly popular Fuente’s future after that bowl game. For now, relish a singular football team with an engine humming on all cylinders.

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