It’s still early. In the case of this Tigers basketball season and a Top 10 ranking that didn’t get off the Hawaiian Islands, those three little words are comforting.
By the way, did you the know the 1972-1973 Memphis State team that went to the NCAA Finals started the season with a 2-3 record?
Tigers coach Josh Pastner knew. He made a point of mentioning it upon his team’s return from Maui, where that 1-2 tournament performance left Memphis with a 2-2 record.
What he didn’t mention? The 1972-1973 Tigers then went on a 14-game winning streak and only lost three more games the rest of the season, the last of those to the UCLA Bruins of John Wooden and Bill Walton.
After beating lowly Jackson State on Monday, Nov. 28, these Tigers are 3-2. This early, that record (or any other) is meaningless.
Not so these trends.
- Rebounding. Through the first four games, opponents averaged seven more rebounds per game. “Rebounding is a mentality – ‘I’m gonna go get the ball,’” said post player Tarik Black. One problem: rebounding is an impossibility if sitting on the bench in foul trouble, and Black has done a lot of that so far.
- Changing speeds. The Tigers are comfortable playing at the speed of sound. But slow them down, make them run set plays from start to finish, and they can look lost. “We have to execute our scouting reports,” Pastner said. “We have to follow the game plan.”
- Grinding out every possession. The Tigers do not do this on offense or defense, not yet. Pastner preaches that a possession midway through the first half can be just as important as the last one of the second half, but so far the players don’t seem to fully get it. Are they insanely athletic? Absolutely. Is it enough to take them where they want to go? I think we’ve already seen the answer to that in the losses to Michigan and Georgetown.
“This will make us a better team because you learn from losses,” Black said.
Losses present an opportunity for learning. The real question is will the team have to learn the same lessons over and over?
How stubborn will these young Tigers prove to be?
“We’re close to being really good,” Pastner said. “We just gotta clean some things up.”
While it’s still early.
Don Wade is a native of Kansas City and a former feature writer for The Kansas City Star and sports reporter for The Commercial Appeal. His column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News.