Will Barton is on the preseason C-USA first team. Tarik Black and Joe Jackson are on the second team. Barton and Jackson are both on the Wooden Award Top 50 List. Jay Bilas issued a tweet announcing Memphis as his number eight ranked team in the country. Several other publications are sure to have the Tigers included in their Top 15 preseason rankings. So it’s pretty obvious at this point that Josh Pastner and his team will have a big target on their back from the onset this season. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. The coach has repeatedly stated that he likes the expectations that this year brings. In fact, he wishes they were ranked number one. All these signs seem to point to one thing- For this year’s version of Memphis Tiger basketball, there will be no excuses.
In the new world of one and done players in college basketball, having a plethora of second year phenoms on your roster is about as good as it gets. Gone are the days of senior laden squads to provide experience and leadership. Show me a team that is now comprised mainly of veterans and I’ll show you a team that is no doubt bereft of talent.
- But that’s a problem Memphis doesn’t have. The Tigers feature only two seniors who will see significant action this year, Wesley Witherspoon and Charles Carmouche. And neither of those two are lacking in ability. Witherspoon has always been viewed as an underachiever, and Carmouche is a transfer who at the beginning of last season looked like the only the player a young Memphis team would be able to count on for consistency.
This team’s strength however, will lie with its underclassmen. Five sophomores who made valuable contributions as freshman return this season. And with the long-standing belief that college basketball players tend to make the biggest improvements between their first and second year, it is only reasonable to expect Antonio Barton, Chris Crawford, Will Barton, Jackson and Black to step up their game to another level this year. And given how they finished last year, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Pastner has enjoyed telling everyone how last season other coaches continually expressed to him how unbelievably athletic his team was. During the NCAA tournament, Charles Barkley told a national television audience over and over about the unparalleled quickness of the team. With the expected natural development and maturation process of these young players, it is inevitable that they will be better able to take advantage of those attributes this year. And now that legendary “Hell’s Trainer,” Frank Matrisciano has been added to the staff as Strength and Conditioning Coach, it’s possible that the team will become even harder to match up with physically.
So their coach wishes they were No. 1 in the country. In the city of Memphis, there is something he can definitely count on. With everything the Tigers have going for them this year, fans will accept nothing less. But their expectations won’t be for the preseason. They want that ranking to come at the end.
Michael Jones is the Tiger basketball beat writer for MemphiSport. You can follow him via Twitter @MemphisMJ.
Photo by Chase Gustafson