Saturday, January 30, 2016

Memphis Tigers

1) Memphis can't shoot well enough to play with the big boys

The story of this game wasn't all that complicated. SMU spread the floor, moved the ball and knocked down open shots and Memphis did not. There's just no way a basketball team that does the latter is going to beat one that does the former at any level of the game. SMU shot 40.4% from the floor and 46.2% from 3 while Memphis shot 32.8% from the floor and 25% from 3. The Tigers were getting a lot of wide open shots and it's not like their misses were all that close. There were a lot of wounded ducks being thrown up at Moody tonight and it was not pretty.

It's about what you would expect would happen considering that Memphis came into the game shooting 31.6% from 3 (8th in the American) while SMU was shooting 40.6% (1rst). Memphis doesn't have one plus shooter in their starting five and the only guy in their rotation who has to be guarded beyond the 3-point line is reserve guard Avery Woodson (41.1% on 5.6 3PA's). I'm not really sure what Josh Pastner is trying to do with this team because it's basically impossible to be a good NCAA team if you can't at least force the defense to respect you on the perimeter.

What Memphis tries to do is take advantage of their athleticism by blocking a lot of shots (1rst in the American) and forcing a lot of turnovers (2nd in steals) and getting out in transition, where their lack of shooting isn't as big a negative. That works when you are playing inferior teams but when you are playing good teams like SMU that have the horses to run with you, you had better be really good at the press or they are going to take care of the ball, keep you in the half-court and then run your misses back at you the other way.

That's been the storyline of the Josh Pastner era in Memphis - for all the gaudy regular-season win totals, they are 2-4 in the NCAA Tournament and they have consistently struggled against Top 25 teams. When Pastner doesn't have an overwhelming talent advantage coming into the game, he tends to lose. This loss to SMU wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated (80-68). To give you an idea of how the game went, I was Googling "Josh Pastner job security" about 5 minutes into the 2nd half.

2) Shaq Goodwin would have been an NBA player 10 years ago

Goodwin is a great NCAA player, a 4-year senior whose one of the best big men in the country. He's averaging 14.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.2 blocks a game on 50.3% shooting this season. He does a little bit of everything - he's the main option in the half-court and he can score with his back to the basket, initiate the offense out of the high post and the low post, step out and knock down a 20+ foot jumper, clean the glass and protect the rim. At 6'9 230 with a 7'2 wingspan, he's everything you are looking for in a traditional 4. The problem for Goodwin is that NBA teams aren't really looking for traditional 4's anymore.

Goodwin knocked down a 3 on Saturday but he's not a three-point shooter and he's not really comfortable as a dribble-drive guy from the perimeter. There's a difference between a big man who can step out and play on the perimeter and a guard with the size of a big man and modern NBA teams want the latter and not the former at the 4. Goodwin isn't quick or agile enough to defend 25+ feet from the basket and he doesn't provide the type of floor spacing that the 4 position requires these days. That means moving down a position and playing as a 5 and he's not thick enough or big enough to really handle that. He struggled with the size and activity of Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy for SMU (he fouled out in 27 minutes) and all three of those guys should have long careers battling in the trenches overseas.

3) Dedric Lawson is an interesting long-term prospect 

There's a lot to like about the Memphis super-freshman. At 6'8 215 with a 7'1 wingspan, he's a combo forward with an NBA-body and an NBA-game. He's comfortable playing on the perimeter and  in the post and Memphis even had him running some point forward at various stages of the game. The major problem with Lawson is that he is really slow. He's an average NBA athlete at best and he  isn't very light on his feet at all. He kind of plods around the floor and struggles to get off the ground. He reminds me a lot of Georges Niang.

The good news is that a player like that is going to have to stay all 4 seasons and perfect his game before he even thinks about declaring for the draft. Lawson is bigger and longer than Niang and he has the foundations of an NBA game but he will probably need the next 3 years to refine it to the point where he would have a chance at the next level. You can see it in the numbers - he's shooting 40.3% from the field, 33.3% from 3 and 67.3% from the free-throw line and averaging 2.6 assists a game on 3.1 turnovers. Niang, in contrast, is averaging 52.5% from the field, 37.2% from 3, 85.1% from the free-throw line and 3.0 assists on 2.3 turnovers. Lawson has a lot of work to do - the question is whether Pastner is really the coach whose going to get the most out of him.

Maybe the most interesting part about Dedric Lawson is his family situation. His older brother KJ is a freshman on the team (Dedric re-classified and skipped his senior season of high school) and his father is an assistant coach, which raised a lot of questions about a possible quid-pro-quo between the family and Pastner. There are also two younger brothers - Chandler and Johnathan - whom the family thinks will actually be better than their older brothers, both of whom were Top 50 recruits. Here's a nice story about the family that the beating SMU delivered gave me time to find.

4) The ghosts in the box score

The real story of the Memphis program is all the dogs that aren't barking this season. Pastner had one of the best recruiting classes in the country in 2013 and they should be juniors who are the heart of the team. He brought in five Top 100 guys and here's what happened to them:

- Austin Nichols (transferred to Virginia)
- Kuran Iverson (transferred to Rhode Island)
- Nick King (transferred to Alabama)
- Dominic Woodson (transferred to Tennessee)
- RaShawn Powell (transferred to LaSalle)

That has been a recurring problem for Pastner in his time at Memphis. He brings in talented players but they don't seem to stick around for very long and it's not because they are all getting drafted in the NBA. The common denominator in all your failed relationships is you.

5) Damon Stoudemire is an assistant coach at Memphis

I was sitting pretty close to the Memphis bench and Stoudemire seemed pretty agitated for most of the night. I can't say I blame him considering the way his team was playing.

6) Is the bell tolling for Josh Pastner?

Pastner has been on the hot seat seemingly since he took over for John Calipari in 2009. He has racked up a lot of regular season wins but his teams have never been able to play up to their competition and it seemed like the program reached a ceiling with him in charge even before the recent slump that has them stuck in the middle of pack in the American. There's just no reason that a program with as much tradition and fan support as Memphis as well as access to some of the best recruiting areas in the country should be fighting to stay above the UH's and UCF's of the world. I mention those programs because I got to see them at Moody and they both have more talent coming back next season than Memphis.

Pastner was clearly blindsided by the transfer of Austin Nichols and all of the attrition that his program has experienced in the last year and a half but at the end of the day that's on the coach too. Even if Nichols had stayed, it's hard to see Memphis being much better since they still would have had zero floor spacing, a situation which would have once again wasted the best frontcourt in the conference. For a team with Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols to have an 18-14 record and go 10-8 in a non Power 5 conference is downright criminal. I can't say I blame Nichols for trying to go somewhere where his game can be maximized.

Maybe the biggest concern for Memphis going forward is the way their pipeline to the NBA has dried up under Pastner. He wasn't recruiting at Calipari's level but he has brought in a lot of talent and managed to do very, very little with it. Let's take a look at the 3 most prominent NBA prospects of the Pastner regime:

Will Barton - Barton needed 3+ years to dig himself out of the hole that playing for Pastner put him in. He was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school who was rated way above guys like Jeremy Lamb and Victor Oladipo but after two seasons under Pastner he wound up going in the middle of the 2nd round while they were taken in the lottery. As a result, Barton was given nothing at the next level and he had to fight and claw his way into the rotation in Portland and Denver before finally establishing himself this season as one of the top contenders for 6MOY. Looking back on it, this was a guy who always had crazy talent. If he had played for Kentucky, he probably would have been a Top 15 pick.

Adonis Thomas - Another guy with all the talent in the world, Thomas was a five-star recruit who had 2 decent seasons at Memphis before jumping to the NBA at the first chance. He went undrafted, bounced around the league and has had a few cups of coffee with different teams but it appears that he has slipped through the cracks. You can blame him for leaving before he was ready or you can ask why so many of Pastner's players bolt as soon as they have the chance. Either way, this is the kind of thing that other coaches are going to bring up when they are recruiting against Pastner.

Tarik Black - Maybe the saddest situation of the 3 in terms of what it says about the Memphis program. Black was a solid contributor who was getting zero draft buzz before he graduated early, transferred to Kansas and spent one season backing up Joel Embiid. All of a sudden, he was a legit NBA prospect and although he wasn't drafted he has shown enough in his first 2 seasons that there's a good chance that he will stick in the league. You could give Pastner credit for developing Black or you could wonder why Black had to leave to get noticed and how much he could have helped the program as a senior if he had been confident in Pastner's ability to get him to the league.

Pastner has never been known as a great X's and O's coach and his momentum on the recruiting trail (outside of the Lawson family) has dried up. The way things are going now, it doesn't appear that he can hang with SMU, UConn and Cincy at the top of the conference and there are a lot of programs in the middle - Temple, UCF, UH, Tulsa - nipping at his heels. Memphis would have to come up with $10 million to fire him but they are going to have to do something. At the very least, if he's not going anywhere, Pastner might want to think about starting multiple players who can shoot 3 pointers. It kind of helps.


  1. Total asinine article. I guess you missed the part where SMU scored just ONE more basket from the field than the Tigers. Tigers fouled or at elast got called my so many fouls in teh first half that SMU had a 17-25 to 5-7 advantage at the line. BTW which just happens to have been the difference in the half since BOTH teams scored the same from the field in the first half. Yes the Tigers were outplayed in the first half especially on the board. But those numbers turned around in the second half. Tigers had a 13/6 turnover to assist ratio while turning over SMU 12 times.

    Do not start with the transfers crap. Nichols transfer had absolutely NOTHING to do with Pastner. It was personal reason =between him and a former GF which his father took advantage of to get Austin to transfer the school that he originally wanted Auston to attend. The Nichols family attorney who was handling the issues and threatened to sue if Austin did not get a release was a Virginia Graduate.

    Iverson had been suspended due to his own actions and was only averaging 4.5 points a game. He was upset because he could not break into line up with Nichols in place and was looking to see more bench time with Lawson coming in.

    Thereis a reason why something like this purposely written hit piece was posted here. Since no legitimate publication would allow such a deliberately slanted article to be posted under their banner.

    1. correction it should have read 13/6 assist to turnover ration

    2. That's 2 transfers. Still leaves 8 more to explain. Not counting this year's freshman class, 10 of the 17 players that Pastner signed at Memphis have left the program with eligibility remaining.