All posts by Jay Brenner

Confessions of a Bandwagon Grizzlies Fan

Dear Grizzlies Franchise:

 

I need to come clean about some things.  I feel like our relationship has some definite potential right now, and accordingly I’d like to clear the air about some of the events that have transpired in the past. Before I get into all that, let me just say that (a) I watch or attend almost every playoff game, (b) I absolutely love Chris Wallace, and (c) I have a man crush on MIke Conley.

 

Nevertheless, I can’t escape the lurking notion that I’m a fraud – and the pressure and weight of some secrets has become difficult to tolerate. I feel in some ways the past has kept us stuck and so I’m hoping that after you read this, we’ll be able to move forward with a clean slate. See, the thing is, I’m kind of a bandwagon fan.  There, I said it.  Whew.  That felt good.  Wow, I really do feel better just owning it. Amazing.  I have a few more things to say – just in the way of explanation.  So here goes:

 

    1. I don’t watch every game.  Actually, I don’t watch most of the games,  and I flip around sometimes when I am watching.  LIke take today, for example.  I really did want to watch the Grizz – Cavs game.  After all, Lebron James vs. the Grizzlies is pretty epic.   But what happened was the Cowboys were on at the same time, and ya’ll were getting beat, and ya know….  I just flipped around some.  I feel terrible.  This actually happens a lot, especially if football or college basketball are on.  I want to want to watch all of every game.  I do love you guys a lot, but I mean….ya know…it’s just hard.  I’ll try to do better I promise.
    2. I gave up on Sidney Lowe almost immediately. I should have told you this a long time ago, because it’s been a while. This is really where our relationship first began to falter. I couldn’t even believe I gave up that quickly. Growing up in Memphis, I had longed for pro sports forever but I just wasn’t prepared for all that losing.  I was very much into you at first: I went to the first pre-season game, I watched the draft. I bought gear. I was genuinely pumped.  But the thing is, ya’ll really sucked – and the season was long – and it was so clear you weren’t going to be any good for a long time.  I went to some games and all, but I have to admit I stopped watching. In retrospect I can see that I was ashamed of myself for quitting. My disappointment in myself kept me away for a while. Please don’t be mad at me – I totally got behind Hubie Brown, who was freaking awesome by the way.
    3. I skipped the Marc Iavaroni era entirely.   According to Wikipedia, Iavaroni coached the team from 2007-2009. I missed that one completely. Please understand that during this time the Memphis Tigers were on the greatest run in program history and I lived outside of Memphis. That being said, I can’t sugarcoat this one – I was so checked out during this time period that ya’ll could have moved back to Vancouver and I might not have cared. Our relationship was really bad at this point and it was very much my fault.  But well, maybe not totally my fault – I mean,  I’m not trying to drag up the past but ya’ll did trade Kevin Love for OJ Mayo on draft night and draft Hasheem Thabeet and Donte Green. Sooooo let’s just say there was mutual fault in this situation and forget it.
    4. Because of my loyalty to the Memphis Tigers, I have resented you at times. I realize this is totally unreasonable and that on balance you’ve done way more to help the Memphis Tigers and move them forward than to hurt them in any way. But you have to understand something about timing. Shortly after you got here, my beloved Tigers were relegated to a version of Conference USA that was stripped of all their then-traditional rivals (Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette). John Calipari had yet to really get the program rolling, and even after he did there was always the fear that he would leave and the program would slip. So out of fear and envy I resented your fancy marketing materials and your slick game presentations and your corporate resources and your permanent signage at FedExForum. You may or may not know this, but as a Memphis Tiger fan, I come pre-programmed with an inferiority complex – so playing 2nd fiddle to an NBA team just isn’t easy. That being said, I think most Memphis Tiger fans have come fully around to embrace your presence and just sort of blindly choose to believe it’s going to work out well for both of us whether there’s any empirical evidence to back that up or not.
    5. I don’t like some of your fans. I grew up in Memphis before it was a pro-town. I grew up in Memphis before there was a “cool” team to like and all sorts of “cool” ways to show how “cool” you are because you like them. The town was more fragmented because the allegiances ran to various college teams. So I’m just not used to all this brotherhood, camaraderie and catch phrase mania. As a result, it feels kind of fake and trendy to me….at best it’s foreign. While I certainly get that people are genuinely excited about all the success you’ve had, as I am – I could really do without the 20 year old floozies tweeting #wigsnatch and #gritgrind and talking about how much they love the Grizzlies because Marc is cute.  (Though I have to admit he’s a very good looking man.) I can’t escape the feeling that if you asked the same “fans” what a pick and roll is they’d probably tell you it’s a menu item at one of the trendy new restaurants in Overton Square.

 

There may be some other things that I remember in time – but these are the big ones. Feels good to come clean, really does.  Please know that I’ve been there from the beginning.  I went to an open practice in 2001 at the Pyramid and remember finding it surreal that one of my favorite former Orlando Magic players, Nick Anderson, was wearing a Memphis jersey (you didn’t think I remembered did you?).  I was stoked when Jerry West was hired, even watched the press conference on live TV.   I attended the press conference when you revealed the current uniform and logo.  I once trespassed into FedExForum while it was still being built on New Year’s eve 2004 to check out the progress of construction.   I’d like to think my Grizz fan resume is pretty decent.


In conclusion, please forgive my weakness and disloyalty- and let’s move forward together in a renewed spirit of partnership.

#gritgrind

#wigsnatch

#grizznation

Positive Paul, Negative Nellie & Realistic Ralph (Oral Roberts Edition)

In this feature, we let our friends Paul, Nellie and Ralph each summarize the game and / or the Tigers season to date as they see it. Each individual gets to make 5 points to establish his / her point of view.

 

Positive Paul

 

  • The Tigers have now won 3 games in a row for the first time all season, with another winnable game coming up Tuesday vs. Western Illinois at FedExForum.  It looks likely they’ll enter conference play on New Year’s Eve riding a 4 game win streak.
  • Pookie Powell (14 pts, 7 asts, 6 rbs – 3 tos) looks like an actual point guard – driving to the rim, finding open men, and knocking down open jump shots.
  • Powell, Trashon Burrell (12 pts, 7 rbs), and Avery Woodson (10 pts, 3 stls) are still only 10 games into their first season of D1 basketball, so there could be significant room for growth.
  • Austin Nichols finished with 15 pts, 9 rbs and 8 blocks.  He’s turned into one of the best shot blocking big men in the country.
  • The Tigers had good body language.  Even the guys on the bench who weren’t playing or weren’t playing well (Shaq Goodwin – 0 pts, 3 rbs, 9 minutes) were slapping high 5’s, cheering, staying positive.

 

Negative Nellie

 

  • Oral Roberts sucks.  Oklahoma beat them by 30, 4 days ago and Memphis was only up 6 with 7 minutes to play.
  • Shaq Goodwin can’t be depended on to show up ready to play.  If he’s a Junior and supposed to be a team leader – that’s a big problem.
  • If Memphis’ bigs can’t finish at the rim against Oral Roberts, what’s going to happen when they play UConn, Cincinnati and SMU?  Twice each.
  • Memphis’ backup point guard is a 5’8 kid from somewhere called Kaskaskia Community College.  His Rivals profile has him at 0 stars and lists no other offers.  He clearly struggled in the 2nd Half trying to guard 6’3 Korey Billbury of Oral Roberts.
  • The TIgers still look totally lost defensively at times.  On multiple occasions ORU players were wide open while Memphis players were still discussing whose man was whose.  Shaq looked to be playing a 1 man zone while the rest of the team was in m2m.  Maybe that was intentional, but if so, it didn’t work.

 

Realistic Ralph

 

  • Tulsa (thought to be a middle of the pack AAC) lost to this same Oral Roberts team earlier in the year, which is a reminder that there are going to be some winnable games in the AAC.  Only one team (Tulane, which has played a soft schedule) has less than 3 losses.  The conference is wide open.  In other words, the season could still go either way.
  • The Tigers have some talent, but they’re essentially a team made up of JUCOs and 4-star (in other words, good but not great) high school athletes.   In other words, the season could still go either way.
  • Memphis is 6-4.  The schedule is barely ⅓ complete.  In other words, the season could still go either way.
  • If Memphis doesn’t turn into a much better defensive team through communication, effort and execution then there’s little chance they are going to turn their season around in the long run.
  • Bottom line, the season could still go either way.

Ode to the Shitty Sports Bar

Kids these days.

Kids these days have no idea what it was like to be a sports fan in the 80’s and 90’s. They’ve probably never even been to a shitty sports bar.

When I was a kid, we had to wait for something called a newspaper if we wanted to see a box score.

I would stay up until 4am for the Memphis Commercial Appeal to arrive after a particularly exciting win. “No big deal, Mom, I’ll just sleep until noon.”

In the meantime, I’d rewatch the game on VHS. Unless the machine ate my tape.

The 1992 NCAA tournament game between Penny Hardaway’s Memphis State Tigers, and the Arkansas Razorbacks comes to mind. On a dark, quiet, celebratory morning I ran out into the March dawn, grabbed the paper, ran back in – and spent the next delicious 7 or 8 minutes reading a deadline abbreviated, sterile summary of the game, a 500-word column, and a 10-point news and notes feature (including the box score).

Then I read it again.

And again.

And again.

Because it was all I had. It was all anyone had. What am I supposed to do? Think about something else?

Crumbs in retrospect, but amazing at the time. There were no message boards, no Twitter feeds, no proliferation of pundits. Sure, there were sportswriters – but they wrote articles in their town, for papers in their town, read exclusively by people in their town. We had our sports page, a coach’s TV show and terrible talk radio. If you wanted to know what Tony Kornheiser thought about something, you’d better have a friend in D.C. get some scissors, a stamp and an envelope — and then wait 3 or 4 days.

When I was a kid, there was no ESPN2. At least not until 1993. Even then, there was no ESPNU, no ESPNNews, no SEC Network, no CBS Sports Network, no FS1. There was simply ESPN. And the occasional network game. If your favorite college basketball team had more than 4 or 5 “national” TV games, then you were a Duke fan.

Though most programs and major conferences had local or regional television coverage of their games – the stations which carried such packages were not available outside a defined region on basic cable packages. In other words, in 1996 the Conference USA Game of the Week between Memphis and DePaul, live from the Rosemont Horizon – with Jon Albright doing analysis – was probably available in Memphis, TN on WLMT-30 or some other such station. But it was not available anywhere else in the country and certainly not in Lawrence, KS, where I went to college.

Or maybe it was.  But not in my dorm room.

Maybe it was available at a shitty sports bar.

Ah, the shitty sports bar. The revered, crucial, indispensable, shitty sports bar. On the outskirts of town. With real satellites. Big satellites. And overpriced food. And dirty carpet. Filthy carpet.

And waitresses that acted shocked and put out when I came in and demanded that they find the satellite guide and check for the Memphis – DePaul game.

And check again please. And will you at least try?  And ask the manager, please. And you TOLD ME on the phone you could get the game. WHY DID YOU TELL ME YOU CAN GET THE GAME IF YOU CAN’T GET THE GAME?!?  WHY DID YOU LIE TO ME?!? DO YOU NOT VALUE MY BUSINESS?!? And let me see the book, please.

And GOD DAMN IT let’s just try the other shitty place that’s not really even a sports bar but I think they have a signed Danny Manning jersey on the wall so maybe they’re a sports bar even though deep in my heart I know they’re not – Yea, let’s at least try that place.  But quick, because it’s already probably halftime and we’re probably already losing.

(Not that I would know – because it’s still 1996 and cell phones don’t exist)

When I was a kid, there were no cell phones.

When I was a kid, my brother and I would actually call the news desk of the Commercial Appeal to ask them to tell us the score of the game. They’d chuckle, check the wire, and give us the score. We’d say thank you. Then we’d call back in 10 minutes (or 5) and ask again. If that didn’t work (it usually did) we would find the media guide, get the number for the press row at the games, and call it up for scores. If we needed to pretend to be calling from some other paper, sure, we’d do that.

When I was a kid, you did what you had to do to get a score.

I once had my mother put the phone next to the TV and let me listen. For the entire 2nd half.

Unless we found the game at a sports bar. Yes, the sports bar. There was always hope in a sports bar. The sports bar wasn’t a place, it was an experience. It was a method to prove allegiance. It’s one thing to say you like a particular team. Maybe you have a t-shirt, that’s cute. Or a hoodie. Cool. Oh, you have a sticker on your car. Nice.

It’s one thing to DVR a game, in 2014, and watch the last half (skipping commercials) while laying on the couch after an enjoyable dinner at some trendy restaurant with your friends.  That’s one thing.

It is a whole other thing to spend an hour going through every sports bar in the Yellow Pages, call each one up, ask for the manager, inquire about the satellite equipment, inquire about which packages they have paid for, explain to them that, yes, the University of South Florida does indeed have a basketball team, show up, explain that I’m the guy who called about the Memphis – South Florida game, see the amused look on the waitresses face as I nervously sit down, wait, see the game actually come up, look at the satisfaction on the waitresses face, feel the excitement in myself, order a burger and a drink, sit by myself, sit alone for the next three hours (“I’ll take the check now but I’m not leaving for a long time”) and become gradually more depressed as I watch Memphis’ season end unceremoniously in the quarterfinals of the CUSA tournament.

That…is an entirely different thing.

When I was a kid, we did shit like that.  Because what other option did we have?

Now?  Everything is different now.

It’s like Robert DeNiro’s character at the end of Casino:

“The town will never be the same. After the Tangiers, the big corporations took it all over. Today, it looks like Disneyland.”

In an HD / Digital world, being a fan is simple, convenient. For that reason, students (kids these days) don’t go to games nearly as much. They just watch.

I’m not complaining. Essentially, regional networks are now national networks – a function of live sports being the last refuge of the post-DVR advertisement marketplace. That’s good. I’m happy about it. HD is really pretty awesome. Every AAC (Memphis’ conference) game is on National TV. That’s a beautiful thing. I’m too old to be harassing the Saturday morning manager at Harry T’s right when she walks through the door, before she even has a chance to put coffee on.

But when I was a kid I did it. Because I had to.   

 

Prediction: The Ugly Sweater Party Won’t be Funny Again Next Year

Until 2013, I had never heard of an ugly Christmas-sweater party.   Then, someone invited me to one and explained the concept to me – which at the time seemed fresh, ironic and somewhat humorous.  I was mildly, though genuinely, excited to participate.

 

For about 30 seconds at my first ugly sweater party, I enjoyed looking at each of my friends’ ugly sweaters.  I wouldn’t say it was HILARIOUS!!! –  but it was kind of fun.  Additionally, I derived 15-20 seconds of pleasure playfully mocking the 1 or 2 people who didn’t participate.  (At the time it did not occur to me that I was likely adding to their already manifested social anxiety.)  At that point, I loaded up a few plates of meat balls and made small talk until it was time to leave.   Easy enough to participate, 45 total seconds of enjoyment.  Done.  I have not found the ugly sweater concept funny since.**

 

Nevertheless, the invites keep rolling in.  3 so far in the last year.  Ugly.  Sweater.  Parties.

 

My concerns here are multiple:

  • Are there going to be more of these parties next year?
  • Do other people really find it funny?
  • Is this going to be a “thing” that grows from here and gets all competitive and weird?
  • Is it possible that this is a concept being pushed by clothing manufacturers?
  • Am I too cynical?
  • Am I a big asshole?

 

**Actually, on second thought I did get another 10-15 seconds of enjoyment today from a person wearing a non-holiday, tan sweater with chicken wings on it (not actual chicken wings – that would have been overwrought), but rather chicken wings as the featured sweater design.  This person’s boss nonchalantly said, “that sweater is probably more appropriate for a Super Bowl party.”  So that was a good moment.  Nevertheless, I think it’s time to move on to another concept.

 

 

 

Analysis: Fuente’s New Contract Won’t End Speculation

It was reported on Thursday that Justin Fuente and Memphis have agreed to a new 5-year contract worth 1.4m in 2015 (and increasing by 25k each season thereafter).  Fuente’s buyout remains relatively small at 500k.

 

According to USA Today’s ranking of coaches salaries in 2014, Fuente’s new contract would make him approximately the 66th highest paid coach in the country.  Of course, the 2014 list does not reflect recent hirings and firings, so the ranking is not exact. Nevertheless, Fuente’s 1.4m salary appears to make him the 4th highest paid coach in the American Conference behind Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville (2.2m), new SMU coach Chad Morris (reportedly 2m per year), and UCF’s George O’Leary (1.8m).  He was previously the 8th highest paid coach in the American.

 

Though the current cycle of the coaching carousel is perhaps winding down (Pitt and Michigan are still open), this is not a contract that will prohibit Fuente from moving elsewhere at the right opportunity.  That wasn’t the Memphis administration’s goal to begin with since such a contract is beyond their capacity to produce.

 

Fuente has been refreshingly up-front about his approach to other jobs, saying he will listen if there is a great opportunity, but he also values what he and his staff (and players) have built at Memphis.  That philosophy is not going to change, so this contract extension was really designed to reward Fuente and his staff (there is also 150k being added to the assistant pool) for a job incredibly well done. The new contract may perhaps limit the types of jobs that would seem attractive to Fuente, but not by much.

 

The lowest compensated “Power 5” coaches generally make around 1.5m – 1.8m per year – so you probably won’t see Fuente consider places like Pitt (now open) should they show any interest.  Former Pitt coach Paul Chryst earned 1.57m in 2014 before leaving this week for Wisconsin.  Going to a place like Pitt, history and tradition aside, is now arguably a lateral move at least from a financial perspective.  From an intangible perspective keep in mind that the last 2 Pitt coaches have left for other “P5” jobs.

 

On the other hand, should Michigan be lucky enough to pry Dan Mullen from Mississippi State – that (MSU) is the type of job Fuente would have a hard time turning down.  Never mind the rigor of the SEC West.  Money is actually printed in the SEC, where the lowest paid coach is Kentucky’s Mark Stoops at 2.7m.  Mullen currently makes 3m.  Vanderbilt does not report Derek Mason’s salary.

 

It’s somewhat surprising that Fuente’s name, even though it’s very hot, isn’t even hotter.  It would be easy to make an argument that Fuente would have been a better fit at Nebraska than new head coach Mike Riley – who is 61 years old, coming off of a losing record at Oregon State, and has never lost less than 4 games in his entire career.   Fuente just turned what was one of the worst programs in D1 in 2011 into a conference champion and potential 10 win team.  One would have thought that his staff’s ability to win with equal or lesser talent, not to mention his Big XII pedigree, made him a perfect fit in Nebraska, where the challenge has always been trying to overcome the lack of a natural, fertile, recruiting area.  Oh well, Memphis fans are grateful for the oversight.

 

The only factor possibly holding Fuente back at this point is his overall record still sits at 16-20.  This should not scare anyone off given the state of the Memphis program he inherited, but it probably does.  After all, winning the press conference is important and it is hard to get pumped for a guy with a losing record (see Dooley, Derek).  Again, Memphis fans aren’t complaining.  If Fuente stays another year however, the odds are great he’ll flip that number around in 2015 and be one of, if not the hottest coaching name this time next year.

 

On Memphis Football Attendance

Memphis football attendance has always been an interesting topic of discussion and it generated more back and forth this year with some folks hoping for bigger crowds as Justin Fuente’s team chased down and secured the AAC title last month.

 

Well, the NCAA released final regular season attendance figures last week – and Memphis had one of the more impressive increases in the country at +19% from 2013, finishing with a per game average of 33,851.  That doesn’t initially seem like much, especially given that (a) Memphis plays in the heart of SEC country where rival schools easily double that figure and then some, and (b) the Tigers’ home stadium, The Liberty Bowl, seats 2x that many.

 

It should be noted, however, that only Army, UCF, Fresno State, ECU and BYU were schools at Memphis’ level -schools from the so called “group of 5” conferences + FBS independents- that averaged more fans per game.  In other words, Memphis attendance was better than all but 2 schools in the American Athletic Conference, and all but 1 school in the Mountain West Conference.  Nobody in CUSA, the MAC or the Sun Belt averaged as many fans per game as Memphis.  Nor did Boise State, Marshall or Colorado State – the other competitors for the G5 automatic berth in the New Year’s 6 bowl games.  For comparison, Boise averaged 32,504 per game while compiling a record of 11-2 and earning an invite to the Fiesta Bowl.

 

Memphis’ attendance was better than Washington State, Duke and Wake Forest – all of whom are members of the so called “Power 5.”  Memphis’ attendance was virtually identical to SEC neighbor Vanderbilt, whose average was 34,258 per game.

 

Keep in mind all of that happened with some of the worst weather possible for at least 3 of the Tigers’ home dates.  Kudos to the athletic department marketing staff for making games fun and generating more than respectable attendance figures.

 

The State of Memphis Tiger Basketball

This nice little 2-game win streak aside, fans of Tiger basketball have been doing a lot of hand wringing this year.  Attendance is down. Angst is up.  Obviously the almost exclusive subject of discussion is the head coach, Josh Pastner, and rightly so.   The man has overseen a program that, objectively speaking, has taken a precipitous fall from the high of the John Calipari era.  At his introductory press conference, Pastner stated a goal to have “no slippage,” but clearly his current program is more evocative of the Larry Finch or Tic Price era than of its immediate predecessor.  Slippage indeed.

That said, it is still hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is.  As with most things, the answer isn’t simple.

The problem is obviously not a complete lack of talent. Multiple core rotation players were high 4-star recruits (Nick King, Shaq Goodwin, Austin Nichols), each of whom had multiple high major offers.   Similarly, Kuran Iverson, Pookie Powell and Kedren Johnson were all top 100 players with multiple offers.  Trashon Burrell was a highly thought of JUCO prospect.  Other coaches and programs do more with less talent.  Pastner has recruited well – this is not debatable.

The problem, contrary to what some believe, is also not a complete lack of coaching (x’s and o’s) ability.  Pastner’s teams over the course of his first 5 years at Memphis, contrary to the popular narrative, have excelled at offensive execution – consistently ranking among the NCAA leaders in percentage of assists on made baskets.   Furthermore, Pastner’s Memphis teams have won a multitude of close games and road conference games over the past 5 years – showing an ability to execute down the stretch in pressure situations. Though there were certainly times when Pastner was made to look silly by the likes of Rick Majerus, Tim Floyd, etc… the idea that he’s simply rolled out the basketballs to a group of elite athletes without any tactical expertise doesn’t match the facts.

So…

What is the problem?

Before presenting a list of 4 factors that have contributed to the slippage – let’s pause to point out that there might NOT be a problem.  As much as Memphis fans might not want to hear it, it’s possible that a 6-4 record heading towards conference play is simply where the Memphis program ought to be considering the fact they’re breaking in 10 new players and coming off of 4-consecutive NCAA tournaments.  It’s possible that the NIT is a realistic goal every 4 or 5 years while retooling for (optimistically) another set of NCAA bound teams.

That being said, here is a list of 4 factors that have led to the slippage:

 

1. Teams assume the personality of their coach and in this instance that translates to lack of toughness in big games and lack of identity for the program.
Josh Pastner is a tremendous human being.  The attributes that make him so are numerous:  He is kind, relentlessly positive, consistent, principled, and values others needs above his own.  The man returns literally every email sent to him.  He is maniacal about routine and process, which leads him to respect and prepare similarly for every opponent.   As a reflection of its coach, his players generally stay out of trouble, take care of their academic responsibilities and maintain a businesslike approach to the sport. This dedication to preparation, balance and consistency has resulted in a six-year stretch in which the Tigers have been on the wrong end of only a few surprising upsets (Rice, UTEP, SFA, ???).
On the other hand, this relentless insistence on treating every game the same has not worked at all in spotlight games. Pastner’s teams were embarrassed multiple times as he lost 13 consecutive games against ranked teams to start his career. Though they began to turn the tide last year against the likes of Louisville and Oklahoma State, big games this year have again been disastrous (Baylor, Wichita State, Oklahoma State). This has more to do with the philosophical and psychological approach to the games (including failure to trim the rotation), than it does any deficiency in tactical basketball related strategy.  Though it’s childish to suggest that Pastner has to use foul language to be an effective motivator, it’s not unreasonable to point out that his teams routinely fail to rise to the occasion in big moments.  That’s a motivational problem, and it’s on him.
2. Pastner’s teams lack floor leadership because he micromanages his players.
This is a corollary to the point above, and for proof one need look no further than the story of one Joe Jackson.  Jackson was clearly frustrated with the fact that he was never turned loose at any point in his 4 year career. His minutes were always more limited than they should have been. He was pulled too quickly after mistakes.  In a final insult and blow to his confidence, Mike Dixon was brought in before Jackson’s senior year, confusing and cluttering a promising back court situation.  Jackson never complained publicly (other than while he was considering a transfer), but it was obvious that he was held back and he confirmed as much after graduation.
Flashcards, constant providing instruction from the bench, over utilization of substitutions – add it all up and it is obvious that Memphis players are over coached.   The irony of this is it goes completely against the stereotype of the Memphis program, but it’s true.  The only players that seemed to play with any kind of unrestrained passion during the last several years were DJ Stephens and Will Barton. The other great talents passing through the system since 2010- Adonis Thomas, Tarik Black, Austin Nichols, Shaq Goodwin- have been under utilized, poorly motivated and over-coached (from a scheme, not a skills, standpoint).
3.  Pastner throws rosters together without adequate consideration for how the pieces fit together.
Pastner has spent his summers at Memphis making last minute additions to the roster (Kedren Johnson, Mike Dixon, Calvin Godfrey, David Pellom, etc.). Though Mike Dixon was a crucial factor in several wins down the stretch last year, it’s arguable that having an extra man in the back court destroyed team chemistry.  Jackson regressed from what was an outstanding Junior year.  Furthermore, the effect spilled into the 2014-15 year because the presence of 4 senior guards on the roster (combined with Pookie Powell’s failure to gain initial eligibility, and Markel Crawford’s redshirt) meant the program entered the current season with no experienced guards.
Likewise, Godfrey’s meltdown during the Oklahoma State game suggested maybe he wasn’t the ideal addition for a team already fairly deep in the front court.  Team chemistry is important and Memphis has had very few players that seem to embrace the 10th, 11th, or 12th spot on the bench.  Maybe most programs struggle with this, but Pastner gets paid 2.75m per year to avoid such problems.
4.  Scheduling Malpractice
It was a scheduling crime to throw a team with 10 new players and no back court experience up against Wichita State to start the 2014-2015 season. The blame for this probably sits as much with Tom Bowen and Wren Baker, as I’m not sure Pastner had much say in committing to play the Shockers.  It was also made clear that money was a driving factor in this game (the payoff funded the Canada trip).  Good coaches and programs know how to build a schedule that suits the current roster while not ignoring RPI considerations. This program has rarely, if ever, seemed to get that task right.   If ever there was a year for a schedule front end loaded with easy wins, this was it.  Not that the schedule has been murderers row – but it could have been more specifically tweaked for the realities of this team.  Again, Pastner clearly has less say in the schedule than his predecessor had, but the lack of scheduling savvy is clearly one of the factors in the program’s regression.
If one were to categorize these issues into a broad category, it could be said the problem is program management and player management.   These are fixable issues, but they do start with the man in charge – the man who gets paid 2.75m per year to solve them. He’ll have time – but it will require an open-mindedness and willingness to change his approach in certain areas.