Tag Archives: Austin Nichols

Tigers Let Down, Messed Around

You know that famous song by The Foundations?

The one at the end of There’s Something About Mary?

The “build me up” song?

Of course you know it. Everybody knows it.

Why do you build me up (build me up) Buttercup, baby
Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around
And then worst of all (worst of all)….

And then worst of all, you blow a 17 point lead.

And then worst of all, you go into deep freeze offensively.

And then worst of all, your team leader and star Austin Nichols goes down with a gruesome lower leg injury.

And then worst of all, you fail to get back and adequately contest the last second shot after taking a lead with 7 seconds to go.

And then worst of all, you lose what could have been a huge momentum building win against a good (top 35 RPI) Temple team heading into the final month of the season.

And then worst of all, you go from maybe the most hopeful moment of the season to the darkest in a period of 91 minutes.

Sigh. 

The story can be summed up by two separate tweets, 91 minutes apart, from Tiger beat reporter Jason Smith:

First, the high:

And then, a mere 91 minutes later – in the aftermath of the crash:

If you haven’t already read about the game – here’s Smith’s game story in the CA.

Let’s hear from some of our friends:

Philosophic Phil:

  • The injury to Austin Nichols is a very good reminder of a few things. One, that Nichols’ long term health is the really important story in all this. The young man has a bright future ahead of him in the game of basketball and the news that his injury was not an ACL tear was a huge relief.
  • It’s also a reminder of why there’s so much pressure to redefine the concept of amateurism to reflect economic realities. Austin Nichols, and other stars of the college game, need insurance to guard against the economic effect of a serious injury. They need the advice of agents. And there’s an argument to be made that they need to be able to capitalize on their stardom as soon as possible.
Photo Courtesy of The Commercial Appeal.
Photo Courtesy of The Commercial Appeal.
  • If you’re adamantly against relaxing the rules on amateur athletes making money – I’d point you to the wall art in the Finch Center (left) – where Memphis Practices. It says “Do Your Job” – these guys work for the University and what they’re putting on the line becomes really clear in moments like Saturday’s – when Nichols went down. I’m not for paying college athletes a salary – but there are some other things that are being done that are long overdue.

Negative Nellie:

  • Where has this Shaq Goodwin been? This isn’t a negative comment per se – because Shaq was in full beast mode pulling down 23 rebounds. Yet it does highlight the obvious question: Why can’t he give this kind of effort more consistently? Maybe this will wake him up to do just that. Like Tarik Black before him – he has the physical tools to play at the next level if he can find the effort to match.
  • The Tigers (obviously) needed to do a much better job of getting back on defense to contest that last shot. To be fair, Temple just made a good play – but there was a lack of urgency on the part of Memphis’ guards, and it cost them. If you missed the play, I’ve copied the video at the end of this post.
  • If we’re gonna nit-pick, it might have been nice to have a time-out in that spot to set up your defense.

Realistic Ralph:

  • It’s really hard to imagine Memphis doing anything but struggling immensely without Austin Nichols available over the next few weeks.
  • The Tigers will now lack their best offensive and defensive player – and the one guy who’s been consistent all year in every way.
  • The season feels somewhat gone at this point. It will be a victory for Pastner to keep his guys fighting and to play .500 ball without Nichols in the lineup.   On a positive note – it will be chance for young guys like Trahson Burrell and Markel Crawford to play a ton of minutes. That’ll help the program going forward.

Here’s the final sequence, ICYMI:

 

 

AAC Digital Network features Austin Nichols

If you haven’t noticed – and judging by their number of YouTube views you haven’t – the American Athletic Conference’s Digital Network has been putting out some pretty slick videos every week during the football and basketball seasons.

The weekly AAC show is called The Rise and it’s hosted by a woman named Hali Oughton.

Lost amid the disappointing Memphis basketball season thus far – is that the AAC has turned out to be a competitive and interesting basketball league. It should be an exciting stretch run over the next 5 weeks.

CUSA transplant Tulsa sits atop the league standings at 9-0, just above pre-season favorite SMU (9-1). Cincinnati, Temple and Memphis are all tied in the next slot at 6-3. If the season ended today, all 5 would earn byes in the AAC tournament – which in reality starts next month in Hartford, CT.

The Huskies? The defending national champs sit in 6th place at 4-4. Crazy.

Anyhow – a few weeks ago, The Rise featured Memphis sophomore and pre-season all AAC forward Austin Nichols. The interview appears to have been filmed at the pre-season media day – but it’s nevertheless a good look at Nichols, who has emerged as the best pro-prospect on Memphis’ roster.

Nichols is averaging 13 pts, 6 rebs per game so far this season. He is 7th nationally in blocks per game at 3.05 per contest.

Nichols, as you would expect, has nice things to say about playing for his hometown. A few years back, Nichols chose Memphis over Duke, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Virginia and Auburn:

“Growing up – born and raised in Memphis, actually it’s great, its an honor and blessing to be playing for the city.  With such a rich basketball history, I’m just hoping I can kind of add on to that.”

If he’s going to add to that history this year, he’s going to have to do it by leading his team to an improbable finish to the season. Otherwise, Memphis is likely to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2009-2010 season.

In any event, here’s the Nichols interview:

All Things Tigers – Post ECU (1/28/15)

Tonight our friends review Wednesday’s Tigers-ECU game, respond to a column from Wednesday’s CA, and look ahead to Saturday’s game against Gonzaga.

Here we go….

Philosophic Phil:

“I still love the Tigers,” Blose said. “I’ll always love the Tigers. But I can’t take it any more.”

Blose’s rationale?

“We’re not relevant,” he said. “We don’t even compete in a lot of big games. And Josh (Pastner), I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he talks to us like we’re idiots, like we don’t know basketball.”

  • The part about Pastner speaking to fans like idiots is interesting, and valid to some extent. I’ve heard the complaint before, but Calkins’ column is the first time I’ve seen it mentioned publicly.
  • Part of what made following John Calipari such a difficult task was that fan expectations needed to be adjusted. In Pastner’s zeal to explain that “winning is hard” and that “it’s not a birthright to go to the NCAA tournament” – he has clearly lost credibility with fans who feel patronized.
  • As to the relevance point, it should be noted that Blose gave up his tickets before this year. In other words, he gave them up on the heels of Memphis appearing – however briefly – in 4 consecutive NCAA tournaments. That’s hardly a clear cut lack of relevance.
  • Nobody should be alarmed or judgmental when fans don’t support a struggling team. Some folks are willing to stick with a young or inexperienced team trying to come together – some would rather spend their time elsewhere.
  • The bottom line is guys like Blose will come back if and when the Tigers start winning big. Until then, the athletic department will have to stomach smaller crowds.
  • Keep in mind most colleges play at smaller campus venues and the average college crowd nationally is under 5k. Most also don’t compete with NBA teams.

Realistic Ralph:

  • The Tigers have won 5 of 6 to push their record to 13-7 (6-3) heading into a showdown at #3 Gonzaga on Saturday.
  • Let’s be honest (and realistic), it’s hard to envision Memphis even competing in Spokane.
  • The Zags have lost once all year – in OT at Arizona.
  • The Tigers have won six of seven in the series vs. Gonzaga since 2005, but in years past Memphis had a clear edge in athleticism. That no longer being the case, this looks like the year the Zags finally exact revenge.
  • After Gonzaga, the Tigers finish the season with a stretch of 10 games (9 AAC games + and odd date next Wed. against Jacksonville State at FEF).
  • Realistic goals for Memphis at this point are (a) 20 wins, and (b) a top 4 finish in the AAC – and thus a bye in March’s AAC tournament in Hartford.

Negative Nellie:

  • The drama continues for Memphis. Nick King, who was a DNP against Tulane (and the subject of transfer speculation all week), played 19 minutes against ECU and tallied 11 pts, 7 rebs.
  • Pastner’s rationalization for sitting King against Tulane – the need to trim the rotation – lasted just one game. 9 guys played extended (8+) minutes against ECU – and that was with Shaq Goodwin sidelined.
  • As I wrote last week, anything more than an 8 man rotation is statistically not a recipe for success in college basketball.
  • Calvin Godfrey – who looked so good against Cincinnati and UCF a few weeks ago – has since seen his minutes dwindle. His production is down as well. Against ECU, he finished with 0 points and 2 rebounds in just 9 minutes.
  • The 3-headed PG monster still hasn’t produced a floor general for Memphis. Kedren Johnson (7pts, 2asts) played the majority of minutes against ECU but looked a little sluggish. Pookie Powell (5pts, 1 ast) played just 8 minutes. Pastner eventually turned to Demarnier Cunningham (2 asts) for 4 minutes as well.

 

 

Tigers Do That Hopey Changey Thing vs. Cincinnati

Josh Pastner’s nemesis, Negative Nellie, doesn’t have much to say after the Tigers’ 63-50 AAC win over longtime rival Cincinnati. The win pushes the Tigers to 10-6 (3-2) and for the first time in a long time, there’s hope for Tiger fans. In fact, tonight we’re going to hear from Hopeful Harry instead of Realistic Ralph.

In a season like this, after a win like that – realism can take the night off.

Hopeful Harry:

  • This game will get fans of the Memphis program dreaming again – for at least a few days. There are 15 games left in the season, which means the Tigers just crossed the halfway point of the season. A lot can happen between now and March and Memphis will have opportunities to prove this wasn’t a fluke.
  • The next 4 games heading into a showdown at #3 Gonzaga on January 31st are huge if the Tigers want to generate some real momentum. Memphis hosts a weak UCF team on Saturday at 1pm, then has 2 road games next week (at Tulsa, at Tulane) before returning home to face East Carolina on January 28th.
  • For whatever else that’s transpired, Memphis appears to have closed the gap between itself and Cincinnati from last year to this year. Last year Cincinnati mashed Memphis twice and made it appear that all those years in CUSA had rendered Memphis too soft to compete with physical teams such as the Bearcats. With guys like Calvin Godfrey, and a more physical Austin Nichols, Pastner appears to have accomplished his goal of making his program more physically tough up front.
  • Best statistic of the night for Memphis by far – besides the final score – was that they limited turnovers to 11. One of them was the shot clock violation at the end of the game so the real number was 10. This was the 3rd straight game with less than 13 turnovers for Memphis. If the Tigers can get their ball handling issues ironed out, they have a shot.
  • Is it possible some roles have finally been defined for Memphis? Is Avery Woodson the sharp-shooter the program has been lacking for years (40% on 76 attempts this year)? Is Nichols a legit all conference performer? Is Godfrey the physical enforcer the team desperately needs? It’s all very optimistic – but for Memphis this year – optimism is a welcome development.

Philosophic Phil:

  • This was a big win for Josh Pastner. Not because it necessarily changes the trajectory of the season (though it might), but more so because it shows – at the very least – that his team hasn’t quit and is improving as the stretch run approaches.
  • Cincinnati entered the game at 34 in the CBSSports RPI with 3 top 50 wins. This was Memphis’ best win of the season by a mile.
  • The match-up wasn’t quite the same without Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, who isn’t coaching games this year due to medical issues. It was comforting that his replacement – Larry Davis – was just as intense, just as high strung and just as bald. Overly intense coaches are a hallmark of Bearcat basketball.
  • Speaking of intense, it was good to see Josh Pastner get in some of his players faces early. It’s strange to say, but maybe the losing and adversity of the season have been good for Pastner’s development as a coach – as he could stand to be a little more edgy and cynical with his players and the media. There’s a fine line with this, but the nice guy thing gets old – especially when it doesn’t always seem sincere.
  • Regarding Pastner and the media – he should drop the line about this being a rebuilding year / transition year. It’s undoubtedly true, but nobody wants to hear it and it just sounds like an excuse. There are other ways to make the point.

Negative Nellie:

  • Not a lot in this category tonight – this was a good result.
  • The rotation continues to be weird. Pookie Powell got only 6 minutes, Nick King got played just 4 and Shaq Goodwin 13. Pastner has gone from subbing like crazy to hardly subbing at all in the 2nd half of this game. Woodson, Nichols and Johnson essentially played the entire half. Subbing “on feel” is a weird way to manage a team and one still wonders if there won’t be more chemistry issues as the season moves along.
  • Pastner did wear that blue – purplish tie and blue shirt combo again tonight. Someone needs to make it stop.

 

Philosophic Phil, Realistic Ralph & Negative Nellie (Post @ Houston)

Well, the Tigers won a road conference game. That’s always nice. Winning being hard and all. Better Tiger teams than this one have lost at Hofheinz, so overall it was a good day.

Let’s hear from our friends after the Tigers’ 62-44 triumph over the lowly Cougars:

Philosophic Phil:

  • New Houston coach Kelvin Sampson has to be wondering what he got himself into at Houston, which is just an absolute graveyard of (sometimes decent) coaches.
  • Sampson, the former Indiana and Oklahoma head coach and NBA assistant (while serving his show-cause NCAA penalty for repeated rules violations) surely would have had better opportunities to get back in the game had he waited a little longer.
  • James Dickey, Tom Penders, Ray McCallum, Clyde Drexler, Alvin Brooks – all former Houston Cougar coaches, all **tried to return the program to it’s 1980’s glory. All failed.
  • An announced crowd of 2697 attended the game – gotta figure that was inflated by about half. The environment appeared to allow Memphis to relax and get into a nice flow.
  • So it was a good day for Memphis, who really needed a blowout for their confidence going forward.

**According to observers, it’s not clear that Drexler actually tried all that hard. He was known to play 18 holes of golf on game days (and other days).

Realistic Ralph:

  • Houston is really bad. 0-4 in AAC play thus far and 7-8 overall with some really bad losses.
  • Nice that Memphis took care of business to improve to 9-6 (2-2), but given the competition this doesn’t appear to alter the trajectory of the season.
  • Austin Nichols continues to be a very bright spot in a gloomy campaign for Memphis. Against Houston he finished with 16 pts, 7 rbs and 4 blocks.
  • Kedren Johnson re-emerged on Sunday. The Vanderbilt transfer who had been relegated to the bench after entering the season as a projected starter, finished Sunday’s game with 10 points (on perfect shooting), 4 assists and just one turnover.
  • Shaq Goodwin had nice energy for the first time in a while. He finished with just 8 pts and 5 rebounds, but was aggressive. Like a lot of Tigers, Shaq appears to flourish against weaker competition and disappear in more challenging games.

Negative Nellie:

  • With Pastner’s inability or refusal to establish a consistent rotation, one is left to consistently wonder where the next discontented eruption is going to come from. The Houston game did nothing to alter this trend.
  • This game, it was Calvin Godfrey in the starting lineup and Nick King (coming back from injury) only playing 9 minutes. Hard to quibble with the allocation, especially given the result – but you know King won’t stay happy if his minutes don’t go back to pre-injury levels. Those minutes will have to come from somewhere and we already know Godfrey isn’t shy about complaining.
  • We also saw Johnson take Demarnier Cunningham’s minutes against Houston. Johnson played 17 minutes and Cunningham just 4, which was basically a reversal from the SMU game. Again, hard to quibble with the actual decision, but you wonder if either player knows what to expect going forward and what Pastner communicates to them about their roles.
  • Big game coming up against Cincinnati on Thursday at FedExForum – and at this point you just expect the Tigers to break out a totally new starting lineup, rotation, strategy, and identity.
  • Someone needs to tell Pastner that purplish-blue tie does not go with that deep blue shirt. Not a good look.

Negative Nellie, Realistic Ralph & Philosophic Phil (Post @SMU)

The SMU game was a microcosm of the Memphis season so far. Tepid, ineffectual, and void of any legitimate hope of a successful outcome. Too strong?

If the wheels haven’t come off for Josh Pastner’s squad, they’re certainly wobbly at the moment.

Let’s take a look at 3 points of view….

Philosophic Phil

  • It’s amazing how much better of a basketball program SMU is than Memphis right now.
  • Seems like just yesterday Coach Doh and SMU were a total laughingstock and the worst program in a very bad CUSA.
  • SMU at that point went way outside the box in hiring then 71-year old Larry Brown to resurrect its horrid basketball program. He’s done a magnificent job and at this point SMU is the favorite in the AAC. Memphis quite obviously is headed in the other direction.
  • It’s amazing more programs with nothing to lose (historically awful programs like SMU) don’t hire proven winners like Brown who seem washed up, but in the right environment could thrive and possibly pay huge dividends.
  • Guys like Jim Calhoun (72), Nolan Richardson (73), Bobby Knight (74), Gary Williams (69) have all been out of the game for several years now. It’s a shame more AD’s don’t have the courage to pick up the phone and do something unique.

Negative Nellie

  • When was the last time Memphis played a game where before the actual tip you basically knew the Tigers had no chance to win? It never felt like Memphis had a shot against SMU – even if things broke exactly right. SMU is just too strong and well coached for Memphis.
  • Memphis’ supposed strength – it’s front court – was totally exposed against SMU. SMU’s bigs got great position all night. SMU’s shot chart at the end of the game looked like there was a paintball explosion right around the rim.
  • More rotation drama and repercussions for Pastner’s squad. We knew going into the SMU game that Kuran Iverson wasn’t going to be available – but for whatever reason Pastner also suspended / sat Trashon Burrell.
  • Burrell had been Memphis’ most consistent wing so far this season, and not having him against SMU further crippled the offense.
  • I appreciate that Josh Pastner has lines he won’t let the players cross, but the suspension tactic has gotten out of control. At some point you either have the gravitas and authority to control / run your program and win, or you don’t. If you have to suspend your best players every game, you’re undermining your primary objective as a coach – to win basketball games.

Realistic Ralph

  • In isolation, a loss to pre-season conference favorite SMU on the road by 14 in January isn’t a reason to panic (Memphis actually played worse at SMU last year), but it’s just starting to get really hard to imagine a positive way forward for this team.
  • It’s the mid-point of the season and there’s still no clear identity for this Memphis team. For all the talk about Memphis hanging their hat on defense, they just got absolutely chewed up by SMU’s offensive penetration – which produced wide open looks at the rim.
  • As for their offensive identity, they struggle against solid defensive teams to generate any kind of open look via their guards, or to get the ball to Nichols. Shaq Goodwin remains a complete mystery.
  • The attitude of the fan base is one of detachment / anger / frustration. This is not a good thing for Pastner, who appears to be in danger of losing his team as well.
  • The Tigers next 2 games should be an interesting barometer of whether or not this team is going to quit. They travel to Houston on Saturday – the Cougars aren’t good, but Hoffheinz is always a tricky place to play in. After that Memphis plays Cincinnati at home next Thursday.