Last season was without a doubt a transition year for the Memphis Tigers basketball program. Under first-year head coach Josh Pastner, the Tigers fought to a 24-10 record and fell short of making the NCAA Tournament, instead landing a spot in the NIT tournament to finish the season.
While they may have struggled to win games last year, without a doubt they are moving forward instead of going backwards, as they signed one of the best recruiting classes in the NCAA for this season. With players like Will Barton, Joe Jackson, and Chris Crawford leading the list of names joining the Tigers this season, they deservedly earned a spot in the AP’s preseason poll, ranking 19th overall in the nation.
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After their loss to Ole Miss in the NIT ended their year, Will Coleman said he expected a national title for Memphis in 2010-11. While that might be a large leap, there are quite a bit of reasons why the Tigers should have moderately high expectations heading into the this year.
The Tigers only have four contests this season against schools that are currently ranked in the Top 25. If they want any chance at being granted a high seed in the NCAA Tournament this season, the Tigers will have to win at least three of those four contests. Josh Pastner showed signs of being a great head coach last year, and it seems likely he will be even better in his second season with the team.
Front Court: Senior Will Coleman is one of two starters from last season’s squad that is back, and he will be an integral part of the Tigers’ success this season. After averaging 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per night last season, Coleman will have to improve if he is going to come through on his national title guarantee. If he can match or improve upon his 53.9% field goal percentage that he totaled last season, he should be able to put up 12-15 points per game this year if he plays enough minutes.
Wesley Witherspoon, the team’s other returning starter, will also probably see most of his time on the court in the front court. He will be another important key to how far Memphis goes this season. Joining Coleman and Witherspoon in the front court will be freshmen Tarik Black and Hippolyte Tsafack, along with junior Angel Garcia, who lost a majority of last season with a torn right ACL, but has recovered and is ready to start the new year.
Back Court: The Memphis back court is mostly filled with younger players, headlined by freshman WIll Barton, who will likely be one of the best players on the Tigers’ squad this year. Barton is the top-ranked shooting guard in the incoming freshman class according to ESPN’s rankings. He is a great shooter, and should be one of Memphis’ top point producers this season.
Memphis native Joe Jackson should another solid plus to the team, and will likely be the Tigers starting point guard. He averaged 32.3 points per contest as senior in high school, and his offensive talents should fit nicely into Memphis’ offensive scheme.
Chris Crawford will also be expected to contribute a lot in first season with Memphis, as Rivals.com has him ranked as the 16th best shooting guard in the country. Crawford put up 19.7 ppg as a senior and should be another high scorer for Memphis. If Jelan Kendrick can return from his indefinite suspension and add a solid contribution to the team, Memphis could have one of the best back courts in the country.
Stephen’s Prediction-1st place in Conference USA: The Tigers have all of the parts to run through a fairly down conference, with their only potentials hiccups coming in the four games they face rated opponents. Going to No. 7 Kansas and No. 12 Gonzaga are definitely the toughest games on their schedule, and if they can somehow win those on the road, Memphis could finish the year with only a couple of losses.
Their game at UTEP on Feb. 26 will also be a game to circle, as the Miners went 15-1 in C-USA last season and were the only team to finish ahead of the Tigers in the conference. The Tigers should definitely make the NCAA tournament in March, and with such a talented group of young players, should be able to lock down a quality seed.
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