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VOL. 129 | NO. 144 | Friday, July 25, 2014

 

Tigers Seek Consistency From Goodwin, Nichols

By Don Wade

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Last season, any basketball doctor examining the state of the Memphis Tigers would have started by taking the pulse of the backcourt.

Typically, the Tigers needed at least two of their four senior guards to be pumping out points, energy and defense or the team was going to flounder.

In the upcoming season, the equation will be smaller and the margin for error thinner. No seniors, leaving junior forward Shaq Goodwin and sophomore forward Austin Nichols as the only returning starters and the most experienced players on the roster.

Shaq Goodwin

Austin Nichols

If the University of Memphis is to return to the NCAA Tournament next season, more consistent play from Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols will be vital. 

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

“Shaq, for two years in a row, and Austin last year, it’s sort of been like a heart monitor,” said University of Memphis coach Josh Pastner. “High and low, high and low, a couple of great games and then down. We can’t have that.”

That’s not the ever-positive Pastner leading with a negative; it’s merely acknowledging the obvious reality. Nichols and Goodwin have to play better.

Pastner admits that last season he was even careful about things he said publicly about Nichols’ game because he knew that Nichols, as a local boy made good (Briarcrest), felt the same pressures that stalked Joe Jackson (White Station) in the first half of his career at Memphis.

“It’s pretty much understood that me, Shaq, Nick (King, sophomore wing from East High School), we have to take the leadership roles this year,” Nichols said. “If it comes with pressure, it comes with pressure. We just have to go out there and do our jobs.”

Goodwin is the leading returning scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker: 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. Nichols averaged 9.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. Both struggled mightily from the free-throw line, Goodwin shooting 59 percent and Nichols just 53.6 percent.

They also had some issues with turnovers and that’s not counting the missed free throws as turnovers, which they more or less are.

“More often with me, I like to make the home run pass and force it in,” Goodwin said. “So I just need to stay more sound (and) the turnovers will be cut down.”

And the free throws?

“Just a lack of concentration,” Goodwin said. “I can’t speak for Austin, but I know for me my focus wasn’t on point.”

Nichols says he shot at least 20 percent better from the line in high school and he continues to do mindfulness training and breathing exercises he plans to carry with him to the free-throw line this season.

Like all college basketball players, Goodwin and Nichols are spending the summer getting stronger in the weight room and working on those free throws and trying to refine various aspects of their games. Goodwin is chiseled, but strength is especially vital for the 6-8 Nichols who played at about 212 last year – or about 10 pounds less than 6-4 senior guard Chris Crawford.

Nichols is well aware that opposing teams game-planned for his lack of strength last season. But that doesn’t mean he’s trying to cultivate a look-at-this upper body or just add weight for the sake of it.

“Lower body’s probably the most important part for a basketball player, especially a post player,” he said. “You could be extremely strong up top, but if you don’t have a base you just get pushed around. I got pushed around a lot last year.”

At the same time, Nichols said he didn’t always handle the speed of the game. For example, against Louisville he said he got caught overcompensating for guard Russ Smith’s superior quickness. Nichols figured that if he played off a bit, Smith would not take him off the dribble. Nichols tried to anticipate where Smith was going, but Smith still got past him.

In the meltdown that was the loss to Virginia in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 last season, Pastner says both Goodwin and Nichols showed their defensive vulnerabilities.

“Shaq got caught in what I call the high-hip and they drove baseline on us,” Pastner said. “That wasn’t our defensive principles. Austin Nichols was not good on the ball screens; they’d pick on Austin.”

While there is still much time – including that August trip to Canada for exhibition games – to help the Tigers find out who can do what in the backcourt, there is no denying that Goodwin and Nichols must make advances in their games if the Tigers are to return to the NCAAs.

Goodwin likes the idea that everything starts with the two of them in the post.

“Yeah, of course,” he said with a grin. “Why would I not?”

Asked about Pastner’s heart monitor example of the inconsistency he and Goodwin displayed, Nichols said, “That might be a pretty fair assessment. We have to have some leadership qualities; we need to be more up than down, but that’s a pretty good analogy I’d say.”

Said Pastner: “They gotta produce. They are going to get fouled. We are gonna play through them. They are going to go to the free-throw line and if they’re giving away possessions, whether it’s at the free-throw line or turnovers, that kills us.

“There’s no denying going into this season that those two guys are going to have to be big for us.”

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