Memphis opened its season with a convincing 97-81 victory over Belmont on Tuesday, validating its No. 10 ranking in both the AP and USA Today polls. Many pundits had previously testified that the Tigers might be unworthy of such a high place in the court of public opinion since there were so many unknowns about Josh Pastner’s still very young team. But if the opening win served to suggest that the U of M is among the nation’s elite at this point, this week should open even more eyes as to where exactly Memphis fits in among those top programs.
The Tigers will face some tough completion at the Maui Invitational in the likes of an undefeated Michigan team along with the possibility of going up against perennial powerhouses Duke and Kansas. No matter how Memphis fares during the tournament, the nation will learn something about this team, as will the Tiger fans and players. But before that takes place, let’s take a quick look back at some individual performances during the past week. Here are the Memphis basketball player rankings for the first week of the season (Nov 13-19)…
Player ratings (1 = lowest, 10 = highest):
Will Barton: 7 – Barton had a subpar first half against Belmont compared to what the sophomore is capable of. He bounced back to have a solid second half and quietly wound up leading the Tigers in scoring with a game high 23 points. It says something about Barton that he can have a bit of an off game and still be so prominent in the box score.
Joe Jackson: 8 – The local hero came up huge on a big stage Tuesday, finishing with 20 points and 7 assists while committing only 2 turnovers. He looked every bit the leader that Memphis needs him to be, making all the right decisions and consistently putting pressure on the Bruins’ defense.
Wesley Witherspoon: 9 – It’s hard to imagine Witherspoon having a better game this season than he did in the Tigers season opener, and it would be almost impossible for him to eclipse his performance in the first half, where he scored 16 of his 22 points on a perfect 6 for 6 from the field, including 3 of 3 from three point range. The senior finished with 22 points and produced a nearly flawless performance. The one chink the armor came from the free throw line, where he managed to convert only 3 of 6.
Adonis Thomas: 6 – Thomas looked lost at the college level in the first half but came back to finish with a solid 12 points in 20 minutes. Whereas he was extremely tentative prior to the intermission, the newcomer showed an attacking mentality after the break. Overall, it was a respectable debut that he should be able to build upon.
Charles Carmouche: 7 – The senior produced the kind of steady performance Memphis has expected from him as he filled up the stat sheet with 8 points, 5 assists and 5 steals. The Tigers will take that line any night.
Tarik Black: 3 – The Tigers big man had a pretty disappointing game as he got into early foul trouble that kept him glued to the bench for most of the game. He did provide a spark in the latter stages of the second half when he finished an alley oop on a feed from Jackson that helped energize the crowd and put an end to a Belmont run, but if Memphis is to have the kind of season it wants, Black cannot afford to repeat this kind of performance.
Chris Crawford: 4 – Crawford slipped on the Maui Invitational logo shortly after entering the game early in the first half, and though the injury did not appear serious, it clearly took the Sheffield High product out of his comfort zone. He never appeared to fully recover and couldn’t get really get into the flow of the game, scoring only 2 points on 1 for 5 shooting.
Stan Simpson: 5 – Simpson, like Black, got into early foul trouble but managed to make some contribution. He played 13 minutes, scoring 4 points and collecting 2 rebounds.
D.J. Stephens: 5 – The junior forward played only 3 minutes but provided energy from the bench just as he always does.
Antonio Barton: 5 – Barton produced 3 assists in only 13 minutes and failed to score but played the role the Tigers expect of him as he ran the team and avoided mistakes. With the day Jackson had, Barton needed only to provide solid minutes from the bench.
Click here to read The Will to Win: The 2011-12 Memphis Tigers in their own words from the November 2011 issue of MemphiSport.
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Michael Jones is the Tiger basketball beat writer for MemphiSport. You can follow him via Twitter @MemphisMJ.
Photo by Justin Ford.