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VOL. 130 | NO. 15 | Friday, January 23, 2015
Don Wade

Don Wade

Memphis Season a Monument to Mediocrity

By Don Wade

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Good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news. This University of Memphis basketball team is not good enough for things to get much better.

The good news? They’re not bad enough for things to get a lot worse.

This Tigers basketball season is a tribute to maddening mediocrity. “Highs and lows,” as coach Josh Pastner likes to say. “Peaks and valleys” and “ups and downs.”

A roller coaster, but not one of those big thrill-ride kinds. More of an old wooden model. It might take your breath away for a second, but not much longer.

To be mediocre, after all, is to be ordinary, average, middling, middle of the road, undistinguished, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, pedestrian, and forgettable.

That’s the definition of this season. Forgettable.

Or to put it another way: Remember the last meal you ate at Applebee’s?

The disappointment is that there was that brief moment in time – beating Cincinnati at home – that served as a tease. Maybe the Tigers were better than the team that got pounded by Oklahoma State, lost to Stephen F. Austin at home and even lost to Tulane at home.

Kedren Johnson had something of a breakthrough game against the Bearcats. It set up a nice narrative. The music lover who had played as though tone-deaf to the rhythms of basketball was suddenly in tune.

“He’s a good player,” guard Avery Woodson said. “I think most people forgot that because he was trying to find his groove and now he’s found it.”

Forward Calvin Godfrey was starting to play mean and tough, too, you know like the Bearcats usually do when playing Memphis.

“He’s an animal,” Johnson said.

And forward Austin Nichols, well, he’s the one you can always count on, right? Pastner said after the Cincinnati game that Nichols was “embracing” his role as the go-to-guy and was too good to take off the court not because of his offense, necessarily, but because of his improved defense.

It was quite the redemption story and when the Tigers won their third straight game by blowing out Central Florida, there was again anticipation heading into the Wednesday, Jan. 21 game at Tulsa. If the Tigers could knock off the Golden Hurricane, they could really put themselves into the thick of the American Athletic Conference race.

Instead, the Tigers lost 73-55 to fall to 11-7 and 4-3 as Tulsa improved to 13-5 and 6-0 with a roster that, based on recruiting rankings, also might be described as mediocre.

The Tigers trailed by as many as 28 points in the second half and more telling than Woodson’s team-high 15 points were his team-high eight rebounds. He’s a guard. So much for being the tougher team, as the Tigers declared they were against the Bearcats.

Memphis also reverted to its fast-and-loose ways with the basketball by making 17 turnovers, and Nichols led with five.

Godfrey, if an animal, was more teddy bear with one rebound. And Johnson and Pookie Powell seem determined that the point guard job will be the fairest of time shares as neither plays with enough consistency to take ownership.

As much hope as the win over Cincinnati offered, the loss at Tulsa was as deflating as – all together now – a New England Patriots-controlled football.

Perhaps the Tigers will bounce back this Saturday at Tulane. That wouldn’t really be a surprise. But the notion that they had found themselves and were about to make a serious run at the conference title has been rendered pure fantasy.

They aren’t good enough to really chase a championship. Nor are they bad enough to finish at the bottom of the league standings.

They are what they are – ordinary, pedestrian, unremarkable.

The Applebee’s of the American Athletic Conference.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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