UofM Season Summary: Ralph, Oscar & Nellie

If you listen to the radio and read Geoff Calkins in the CA – most of this is a rehash. I basically agree with the conventional wisdom out there about the Tigers, with one exception. I wholeheartedly believe that Josh Pastner is (most likely) going to be a great college basketball coach one day (if he wants to). Whether that’s at Memphis – I have no idea. More on that below.

Let’s hear from our friends:

Negative Nellie

  • At his introductory press conference in 2009, Josh Pastner stated that his ultimate goal was to keep the Memphis program achieving the same level of success it had under John Calipari. To quote him exactly, he said he wanted “no slippage.” There’s been slippage. Though he has since stated repeatedly that such success is unrealistic – and most reasonable people would agree with him, Pastner has no one besides himself to point the finger toward in terms of that expectation.
  • The 2014-15 Tigers were the ultimate embodiment of that slippage. Memphis missed the NCAA and NIT for the first time since the season before Calipari arrived (1999-2000).
  • There was more public strife for Pastner’s program in 2014-15. Kuran Iverson, once a promising high level recruit, was dismissed from the team during the season and is transferring to Rhode Island. Senior F Calvin Godfrey was briefly suspended, as was Trahson Burrell. These types of issues aren’t unique to Memphis – but in this market they resonate louder and Pastner’s strategic use of public punishments continues to cause an uproar.
  • Perhaps the most disheartening element of the 2014-15 Tigers is that they seemed to play hard and together – more on that in Oscar’s section below. Why is that disheartening? Because it means the issue may not be coaching or scheme or effort – but rather that this roster just may not be capable of the level of success Memphis fans desire. Indeed, the prevailing analysis (see Wolken, Dan) seems to be that this crop of guards – all of whom are returning in 2015-16 – may not be capable of a significant turnaround.
  • The most disturbing news out of the program in recent weeks came from Athletic Director Tom Bowen’s interview with Geoff Calkins in the Commercial Appeal. In it, Bowen discussed cuts to the basketball program’s budget including eliminating some charter flights for road trips. Additionally, Memphis decided not to send cheerleaders or the pep band to Hartford, CT. For moral and fiscal reasons – a corollary to which is the clear strategic need to emphasize football in hopes of better positioning for potential conference realignment – I understand Bowen’s decision. But if I’m a Memphis fan hoping to see the basketball program return to national prominence (I am), this particular news is the most troublesome.

Optimistic Oscar

  • This Memphis team has some nice pieces returning. NBADraft.net does not project 1st team AAC F Austin Nichols in their current 2015 draft. Shaq Goodwin played very well over the final few weeks of the season and has said he’s coming back. Markel Crawford has the potential to be an elite defender and a very good finisher on the offensive end. Rising Senior Trahson Burrell showed flashes of being a high level scorer.
  • Memphis is bringing in 2 high level players in 6’8 5* PF Dedric Lawson and his brother, 6’6 4* wing KJ Lawson. With their father, Keelon Lawson, on the bench as an assistant coach – the duo should have no trouble adjusting to college.
  • The best sign in 2014-15 for Memphis – if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic – is that the team never splintered. Even critics of Pastner had to notice that the 2014-15 version of the Tigers had the best chemistry of any team in his Memphis tenure. This team seemed to lack egos and truly play together. It made for an enjoyable brand of basketball – but that’s never a substitute for, you know, actually winning a lot of games.
  • Everyone realizes the key to 2015-16 is the PG position. Optimism in that department would come from the fact that Kedren Johnson played much better in the 2nd half of the season. This makes sense given the fact that he hadn’t played basketball in 2013-14 while sitting out at Vanderbilt.
  • Most optimistic scenario? A focused Kedren Johnson, an improved Markel Crawford, Austin Nichols, Trahson Burrell, and a determined Shaq Goodwin lead Memphis back to prominence (Sweet 16) in 2015-16. Throw in a couple of elite freshmen off the bench and perhaps Pookie Powell playing backup PG minutes – and you have a hopeful scenario to imagine.

Realistic Ralph

  • Pastner's 2.75m annual salary is clearly what's tying him to Memphis at this point.
    Pastner’s 2.75m annual salary is clearly what’s tying him to Memphis at this point.

    The guys over at 92.9 (Calkins, Parrish, Martin) have been discussing Josh Pastner’s future ad nauseam over the past few weeks. In particular, they’re chewing on an idea we mentioned months ago: that Josh Pastner could or should make a lateral move and escape the pressure of Memphis.

  • I have no opinion on whether Pastner should leave Memphis- that clearly depends on he and his family. I certainly wouldn’t blame him for leaving, and I wouldn’t be disappointed if he stayed (though there’s almost nothing in the world I love more than the excitement of a coaching search).
  • What I will say is this: (a) I think Josh Pastner is probably going to have a long successful career as a college basketball coach and (b) I think any school in the country would be wise to hire him.
  • I say “probably” because Josh Pastner will only be successful as a college basketball coach if he wants to. I think Josh Pastner’s 2014-15 Memphis team’s season would have been different if he didn’t care so much about getting all his guys playing time. This is the point he was trying to make last week in that strange press conference when he inexplicably spent several minutes rehashing the CBU loss. People bashed him for this out-of-nowhere commentary, but it’s exactly right. Kuran Iverson probably should have been run off sooner. Calvin Godfrey should have been featured earlier, perhaps at the expense of Chris Hawkins having ever seen the floor. That’s not to criticize those players – they could perhaps be stars at other levels of basketball. But Pastner needs to be tough enough to determine which 8 guys are going to be in his rotation, and which 4 or 5 aren’t. If those 4 or 5 can’t accept their roles, then so be it. Find some who will. But going into every year with 11 or 12 guys playing just doesn’t work.
  • Josh Pastner’s biggest fault as a coach – managing the rotation – is born out of his desire to allow all his guys to play. You just can’t win big in College Basketball coaching this way. If Pastner doesn’t change, he won’t last. If he does, I believe he has all the chops to be one of the very best in the business.