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VOL. 129 | NO. 229 | Monday, November 24, 2014

More Questions Than Answers

Tigers open home schedule with plenty of uncertainties

By Don Wade

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In the aftermath of the Memphis Tigers’ season-opening loss to Wichita State, new information has come to light:

For starters, junior point guard Kedren Johnson, who transferred from Vanderbilt to run the Memphis offense, has told coach Josh Pastner he’ll be in basketball shape by the Bradley game (that’s Dec. 6) or a little bit later.

Memphis’ Austin Nichols (4) defends Wichita State’s Ron Baker during the Tigers’ season-opening loss Tuesday, Nov. 18, in Sioux Falls, S.D. Many questions remain as the Tigers begin their home schedule.

(AP Photo/Argus Leader, Jay Pickthorn)

Um, all right.

Also, after just one regular-season game – and that upsetting exhibition game loss to Division 2 Christian Brothers University – the Tigers have had a players-only meeting. Not only is that unusually early for a players-only meeting, but it was called not by presumptive team leaders Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols, but by forward Calvin Godfrey.

True, Godfrey is the lone senior on a very young team. He’s also new to the program and hasn’t really distinguished himself on the court yet.

“The players-only meeting was for the good,” said redshirt freshman Markel Crawford, one of several players coach Josh Pastner is hoping can run the offense.

Pastner wasn’t exactly angry that Crawford divulged the players-only meeting had taken place, but neither was he pleased, saying, “I just believe the internal stuff should be internal.”

The Tigers open the home portion of the schedule Monday, Nov. 24, at 7 p.m. at FedExForum against a Prairie View A&M team that will have played four games. After starting the season with a 17-point loss at TCU and a 22-point loss at Oklahoma State, the Panthers lost by just four points at Rice; they also had a game over the weekend at Baylor.

This season has just begun for the Tigers, but the external lights of examination are already hot. It wasn’t that fans expected the Tigers to beat No. 11 Wichita State with its seasoned and talented backcourt, but they surely didn’t expect the Tigers to commit 24 turnovers with just four assists and look bewildered on offense while losing 71-56.

A players-only meeting might suggest chemistry issues, but comments from players – and the tone of their comments – made it seem more like a case of trying to head off problems before they start.

“We’re still in high hopes,” said sophomore guard Avery Woodson, a junior college transfer who so far looks like the Tigers’ best option as a 3-point shooter. “We’re still together, still love each other.”

After firing up more than 20 mostly errant 3-point shots against CBU, the Tigers tried only nine long-range shots against Wichita State. Woodson was the only player to make one, going 2-for-4.

“I thought the number was good,” Pastner said of the modest nine attempts.

But if the Tigers are going to shoot fewer threes, it’s also not clear how they will play on offense. After the CBU game, Pastner complained the offense was too slow. Then after those 24 turnovers against the Shockers, he said he might need to tame the Tigers’ pace.

Now, he jokingly asks, “Is it medium?” and says they will try to take every fast-break opportunity, but otherwise will need to be structured and in defined half-court sets with lots of ball movement. Meantime, the Tigers’ well-documented trouble at point guard has included an inability to drive and finish or drive and pass to an open teammate.

“We might not have a guard who’s a break-you-down guard like a Joe Jackson or Michael Dixon and get in the lane and get a shot,” Pastner said.

Certainly, Johnson hasn’t been that player yet. He has looked nothing like he did as a sophomore at Vanderbilt when he averaged 13.5 points and 3.5 assists per game.

Of course, the team overall has not looked anything close to ready and able.

“Look at the Cavaliers,” Woodson said, bringing up Cleveland’s NBA team. “They’ve got the best player in the world (LeBron James) and they’re struggling. Why should we be any different?”

The two things the Cavaliers and Tigers have in common: many new faces and fan bases that are wondering if what they have seen so far is evidence that their expectations, albeit at different levels, must be tempered.

“We want to win now,” Pastner said, even as he asked fans to remember the team is young, adding, “Look, either the Christian Brothers-Wichita State is a blip on the radar or it’s an indicator. But we won’t know that until we get later in the year.

“Let’s see how things progress. Let’s not judge everything this second.”

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