Don’t look now, but the Tigers might just be starting to show some improvement. Okay, so you’ve probably heard this one before, multiple times even, and maybe even this year. But this time it really could be true. Over the past few weeks, this Memphis team has been forced to deal with some honest to goodness adversity. And not just the kind where you lose a few basketball games to some tough teams. First, Charles Carmouche became unavailable for a myriad of reasons, which no one can complete agree on. Then DJ Stephens was pronounced likely out for the year because of chronic knee problems. A loss to Georgetown in which the Tigers seemed to have no desire to play in the first place resulted in a nearly two hour postgame meeting that caused Josh Pastner to miss his postgame interviews with the media.Then there was big the one. After Pastner shook up the starting lineup for a meeting with Robert Morris, the team actually seemed to show the kind of tenacity on defense fans had been wanting to see for quite some time. The team still gave up way too many offensive rebounds and turned the ball over excessively, but an acceptable effort was present for most of the game, especially on the defensive end. Tarik Black managed to stay out of foul trouble, leading the team with 31 minutes played and setting a career high by blocking 7 shots.
Noticeably absent from the starting lineup was Joe Jackson, and a day or so later, reports began to surface that he was unhappy and confused about his role on the team, possibly even seeking a transfer. The team went out and beat Charlotte without him on New Year’s Eve, once again producing a solid effort on the defensive end, although they continued to struggle defending the glass on their own end and taking care of the ball.
Then Sunday, Pastner informed the media that the enigmatic Jackson would be back practicing with the team. The next day Jackson himself spoke to the press, informing him that he had never really considered leaving. He really just needed some time away to sort through some personal matters. Pastner said that Joe now had both feet in, something he requires of every player on his team.
So this week brings a pair of games that could start the Tigers on a run they desperately need. A win over Tennessee could boast the morale of both the players and an oft frustrated fanbase. As poorly as they defended UT in their matchup Maui, it could also serve to show whether or not this seemingly newfound commitment to defense is the real thing. And if they manage to pull off a win against the hated Vols, they then get a chance to head to Bartow Arena, where they have always struggled to handle conference foe UAB. If the U of M can come out of both of those contests unscathed, a steady diet of Conference USA foes could be just what the doctor ordered to get their swagger back.
Generally speaking, when a team faces adversity, one of two things happen. They either fall apart or become stronger as a unit. The last couple of games have shown that more players seem to be on board with Pastner’s direction. And as circuitous a route as the Tigers might have taken recently, if Joe Jackson truly does have both feet in, this chaotic sequence of events may end being exactly what this group of players has needed.
Michael Jones is the Tiger basketball beat writer for MemphiSport. You can follow him via Twitter @MemphisMichaelJ.
-Photo by Justin Ford