Last night’s effort by the University of Memphis basketball team was atrocious. There really is no other way to put it. Nobody on the team, save for freshman Nick King, seemed to care that they were being absolutely manhandled. The heralded “best backcourt in the nation” went 8 for 34 from the field good for 24%, the bigs looked completely lost, and everyone seemed to be making mistakes like they had never played together before.
This morning radio shows and message boards will be inundated with cries to fire Coach Josh Pastner with shouts of gloom and doom, NIT berths and longing for Conference USA. Are those pleas and complaints justified? Probably.
The effort shown by the players and the lack of coaching to even make last night’s debacle look closer than it was is not a good sign for the season going forward, a season where the Tigers will likely face Oklahoma State again and will see Florida, Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and other teams that would run circles around the UABs and Marshalls of C-USA.
But is it out of the question that the ship can be righted, that the University of Memphis can still be a quality team in a quality conference that makes a Sweet 16 run? Of course not.
The beautiful thing about basketball, unlike college football, is that teams are allowed to lose. Yes, it hurts NCAA tournament hopes when they do and getting blown out by a Top 25 team for what seems like the millionth time will drive a city to clean off its torches and pitchforks, but there are still games left to be played.
It’s disheartening to see a team that is finally mature, that finally has senior leadership shrug its shoulders and look completely defeated long before a game ends, but that’s what happened last night. Joe Jackson reverted to pouting. Geron Johnson made stupid decisions. But that was yesterday. Today is a new day.
I am trying to avoid being too positive, but despite getting beat last night, in a game the team was supposed to lose no less, there is still plenty of reason for hope. If the Tigers can go out and reel off a few wins in a row and pull out a win against Florida or OSU, should they face the Cowboys again, then all will be forgotten about last night. The team has talent to get it done and a coach that, despite not being all the way there as an Xs and Os guy, is fully capable of getting a team full of talent to compete.
The season is still very young. The team lost one game. Yes it was a bad loss, but most people would take a 20+ point loss on the road to a Top 10 team over a 5 point loss to Rice.
Keep this in mind: John Calipari made one NCAA Tournament in his first five years at the U of M. He had talent on talent on talent and still couldn’t get to the next level because he was “just a recruiter.” The next four years after those first five? Well we all remember how they went. Elite 8, Elite 8, Finals, Sweet 16. It took Cal a while to win when it mattered. It will take Pastner a while. This is the year that it needs to happen. Hopefully the team and the coach can put last night’s embarrassment behind them and turn this season into something special. If they can’t, if it turns into another one and done NCAA tournament season or worse, then there needs to be some reevaluation. But for now, the team has plenty of time to get the proverbial “it” together. Will they do it? I guess we will see.
Warner Russell covers Tiger Basektball for MemphiSport. Read his non-sports stuff here. Follow him @uncle_warny.