Tag Archives: Memphis Tigers

Solution For the Mid South Coliseum: Give It Back to The Tigers

Efforts to move forward with a $233 million redevelopment of the Mid-South Fairgrounds have stalled recently, in part due to resistance to tearing down the historic, 50-year old Mid-South Coliseum (MSC). Columnist David Waters of the Commercial Appeal recently came out in favor of saving the Coliseum – and supporters of the redevelopment, which calls for the Coliseum’s demolition, have acknowledged that the opposition is slowing them down.

A Facebook page has popped up (it has actually been around since 2010) dedicated to saving the building. It has almost 3500 members. People that want to save the Coliseum are having meaningful discussions about how to repurpose the arena.

Here’s an idea:

Use the TDZ (Tourist Development Zone) tax money to renovate it – expanding capacity and adding floor level suites, and then sign a long-term lease with the University of Memphis for its Men’s and Women’s basketball teams to play there.

At that point, University of Memphis Men’s Basketball and Football (at the Liberty Bowl) would be the centerpieces of a renovated fairgrounds, which could also serve as an amateur sports hub and retail destination – as developers have long envisioned.

Is that plan feasible? Maybe, maybe not. It’s important to note that the Grizzlies have a non-compete agreement in place that would theoretically limit public investment in any competitor venue (anything that seats over 5,000). The MSC previously seated 11,200 for basketball.

Folks over at the Save the Coliseum Facebook page have done some in-depth analysis of the non compete and even posted an interview on the topic with Grizzlies President Jason Wexler.

But before we get too realistic, let’s take a look at a few reasons why it makes some sense.

1. The Grizzlies success. Some long time fans of the Tigers (like my father) have feared the day when the Grizzlies became championship contenders and supplanted the beloved Tigers as the most popular draw in town.

Well, that day has pretty much arrived. The Grizzlies are cultivating an entire generation of fans – which is a great thing. Hopefully for the Grizzlies and the city’s sake – that translates to decades of strong attendance and healthy financial status.

That being said, FedExForum is a little too big, and too far from campus to be the ideal home for the Tigers.

I know what you’re saying: But they filled it up when they were winning and they will again. I suppose there’s some, but not full truth to that statement.

Which brings me to my next point….

2. Why not create demand for tickets? Even when the Tigers averaged over 16k at FedExForum, there were usually thousands of empty seats. The number of allotted student seats has always been too high, which translated to empty seats at basically every game.

And let’s be honest, the type of success Memphis had under John Calipari is a once or twice in a lifetime type thing. Better to create demand, if possible. A 12k or 13k seat arena is more than enough capacity to satisfy the hard core loyalists – and create a very strong demand for non-season ticket holders.

2. Students. Ever since moving to the Pyramid in the 1990’s, Memphis has struggled to get full student participation at games. The fact is that getting a large number of students downtown from campus is really difficult. Having a venue just a few miles from campus would help create a true home court advantage.

TCU Basketball is renovating an old arena similar in shape to the Mid South Coliseum. Could the project serve as a template for Memphis?
TCU Basketball is renovating an old arena similar in shape to the Mid South Coliseum. Could the project serve as a template for Memphis?

3. Tradition & Atmosphere. Elliot Perry, Keith Lee, Andre Turner, Larry Finch, Jack Eaton. The list goes on. Way on. The tradition of Tiger Basketball at the Mid-South Coliseum is tremendous. Any fan of the program over 35 has some pretty awesome memories of the place.

If it is all possible to renovate the MSC and make it a state-of-the-art home for their beloved Tigers, fans of the program would be ecstatic.

Well, maybe not all Tiger fans. I‘ve floated the idea at MemphisTigers.org and so far the response has been lukewarm at best. So maybe I’m a little too old and out of touch on this one – but I remember the incredible game atmosphere at the MSC.

Nothing rocked like the old roundhouse. Previous capacity was 11,200. Ideally capacity could be increased by a few thousand and some amenities added. A similar project has been undertaken to a similar building which houses TCU Basketball – so there may be a precedent for the project.

Here are details of TCU’s renovation:

TCU announced plans for a $45 million renovation to the arena. The project will transform the 53-year-old facility into a modern arena, with widened concourses, additional bathrooms and upgraded concessions. The court will be lowered several feet to accommodate additional rows of seating that will fill in the large curves currently on either side of the court, giving fans courtside seating and much closer views of the action. Among the many additions and upgrades would be a courtside club on the floor level for season ticket holders.

4. Surrounding Neighborhood. The city has invested a great deal in Overton Square. Cooper Young is essentially 2 blocks from the MSC. Having the Tigers back in Midtown provide a boost, economically speaking, for the area. It would also help win political support for the TDZ and overall plan being pushed by the developers and point man Robert Lipscomb. Just imagine the crowds rolling into Central BBQ, Young Avenue Deli, Sweet Grass, Cafe Ole, etc… before and after Tiger games. The neighborhood would be popping again.


Of course, there’s a big reason why it probably won’t happen: a 20-year lease the Tigers signed with the Grizzlies to play in FedExForum. The lease was signed in 2004, so presumably (unless it has been amended) it runs through 2024. So for this to work, (a) the Tigers would have to want to do it, and (b) the Grizzlies would have to be accommodated.

The Grizzlies and the Tigers by all accounts have had a great working relationship, so perhaps they can work together. Perhaps the City could incentivize the Grizzlies with other lease adjustments. Perhaps the Tigers could continue to play a few games downtown each year, with favorable financial terms for the Grizzlies. Who knows? I’m sure something could be worked out.


Much of this seems like a fantasy, but the truth is FedExForum is probably too big, and too far away from campus for the UofM – long term.

Fans that oppose the move cite the recruiting advantages of FedExForum, but none of the top programs in the country play in NBA arenas and none play as far from campus as Memphis does. Louisville makes a downtown arena work, but it’s only 2.9 miles from their campus. Almost every other major college program – Duke, Kansas, UNC, Syracuse, etc… play their games on campus. Again, if Memphis is top 5 in the polls – they could play in Tupelo and they’d draw. But during most seasons, a smaller venue (12k) closer to campus would be ideal.

If it were a state of the art, renovated Mid-South Coliseum, it would be more than ideal.

It would be a dream come true.


Here’s a video on the current state of the MSC:

 

CORRECTION: The original entry on this post said the Facebook group to save the coliseum was new. It is, in fact, not new. It was started in 2010.

Aftermath of Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV – A Cautionary Tale for Memphis

Jerry Tarkanian doing his thing - chewing on a towel. (Photo Courtesy of USA Today).
Jerry Tarkanian doing his thing – chewing on a towel. (Photo Courtesy of USA Today).

Jerry Tarkanian, architect of UNLV’s great basketball teams of the 1980’s and 1990’s, passed away Wednesday. Fans of college basketball old enough to remember will spend the next 24 hours watching clips of Larry Johnson, towel chewing, fast breaks – and hearing about NCAA investigations, lawsuits, turmoil and scandal.

Such is the legacy of Jerry Tarkanian and the 80’s / 90’s UNLV program he led to such notoriety.

Memphis fans should pay close attention.

If there’s a single program in the country that serves as any kind of parallel to Memphis’ basketball program, historically speaking, it’s UNLV.

Some Memphis fans like to think of their program in comparison to traditional blue bloods such as Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA, UConn, etc… but that is a ridiculous fantasy. There is no comparison to be made between the history of those programs and Memphis.

More realistic Memphis fans might compare their program to its most traditional, historic rival Louisville – but the Cardinals have been to 10 Final Fours and won 3 NCAA Championships. They’ve also transcended “Non-Power” conference status by virtue of their recent entrance to the ACC, so most of the parallels between these 2 programs no longer really exist.

On the other hand, look at the comparisons between UNLV and Memphis:

“Power” Conference Status: Memphis – NO, UNLV – NO

Located in a Major Metropolitan Area: Memphis – YES, UNLV – YES

NCAA Tournament Appearances: Memphis – 26, UNLV – 20

NCAA Final 4 Appearances: Memphis – 3, UNLV – 4

NCAA Championships: Memphis – 0, UNLV 1

History of NCAA Violations and Renegade Reputation Nationally: Memphis – YES, UNLV – YES

And it’s the last point – the legacy of NCAA trouble – that really ties the 2 programs together.

Tarkanian’s history with the NCAA is well chronicled (courtesy Wikipedia):

Just months before the 1976–77 season, the NCAA placed UNLV on two years’ probation for “questionable practices.” Although the alleged violations dated back to 1971—before Tarkanian became coach—the NCAA pressured UNLV into suspending Tarkanian as coach for two years. Tarkanian sued, claiming the suspension violated his right to due process. In September 1977, a Nevada judge issued an injunction which reinstated Tarkanian as coach. The case eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled in 1988 that the NCAA had the right to discipline its member schools, reversing the 1977 injunction.

Tarkanian remained in a very public dispute with the NCAA into the 1990’s – and when he finally retired from Fresno State (after briefly coaching the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs) in 2002 – that program was placed on NCAA probation as well.

So what can Memphis fans learn or understand about their program by accepting the fact that UNLV may be their closest parallel on a national level?

For one thing, they should realize that when your most prolific success is built by someone who was running afoul of NCAA enforcement – it stands to reason that duplicating that success in a compliant manner might not be as easy.

Consider some of the stories about how Tarkanian recruited and you’ll understand that the tactics which produced his success at UNLV were, shall we say, less traditional.

Don’t take this as a simplistic argument that Josh Pastner is less “dirty” than John Calipari – though he probably is. It is simply an acknowledgement that the college landscape has changed drastically since the 1980’s, or even the 2000’s. With every passing year college basketball – like every large business – becomes more sanitized, corporate, regulated, and sterile.

Can you imagine a major college coach going to war with the NCAA and surviving – and thriving – for 2 decades – as Tarkanian did?

Bottom line – Tarkanian had a reputation as a dirty, corner cutting, scoundrel with a defiant attitude towards the governing body of his sport – and he used it to his advantage.

Here’s a scary fact for Memphis fans: Since Tarkanian left UNLV in 1992, the program has been to ONE (1) NCAA Sweet 16 – in 2007. During that time they suffered a 7 year stretch (2000 – 2007) without a tournament appearance.

Memphis – like UNLV – has found some success with coaches who win the “right way.”

“Clean” Gene Bartow led the program to its greatest moment – the 1973 NCAA title game, but quickly parlayed the magical season into a gig at Illinois and eventually replaced legendary coach John Wooden at UCLA.

Larry Finch led the Memphis program to 6 NCAA appearances in 9 years – but was ultimately forced out because he didn’t win enough.

Which brings us to Josh Pastner and his 4 NCAA tournament in 5 years, which will almost assuredly be 4 in 6 by next month.

Tiger fans should be very careful about denigrating an accomplishment – keeping Memphis in the national conversation and competing for NCAA bids while not running afoul whatsoever of the NCAA – that may not be as easy to duplicate as supporters of the program imagine.

Current UNLV coach Dave Rice appears headed to his 2nd straight non-NCAA postseason. The Rebel program clearly has not come close to reaching the heights it did under Tarkanian – some would say it’s not even possible in today’s environment.

Memphis fans should use the occasion to reflect on their place in the overall college basketball hierarchy.

 

For Tiger Fans, Resignation Sets In

As the Tigers fell hopelessly behind ECU in the final 3 minutes of tonight’s game, Twitter and Facebook messages started popping up with fan resignations. There were the typical “I’m done with the Tigers, Go Grizz!”  messages – as if it’s one or the other.

And stuff like this, from 35-year fan Scott Hirsch:

First of all, I had to look up “hard pass.” I mean, I sort of got it intuitively – but I wanted to fully understand.

Urban dictionary helped me out:

straight up rejection
James: meet me at the mall let’s hang.
Erica: naw, hard pass.
hardpass
Apparently ‘Hard Pass’ is a meme that originated from a scene in the movie ‘Pitch Perfect’

And that’s really where we are with this version of the Tigers. The emotion, the disappointment, the anger…all that really should be burned off by now. If you’re still upset that the Tigers are bad enough to lose to ECU without Austin Nichols – then you obviously haven’t been watching all year. Losing at ECU is where this program is at the moment, like it or not.

So Hirsch is right, it’s time to just take a hard pass if watching this kind of basketball isn’t your thing.

I actually don’t mind it – I sort of enjoy watching mediocre basketball. First of all, it’s still basketball. Secondly, it adds to the overall, long term narrative / experience of being a fan. In other words, if I hadn’t suffered through the Tic Price era – then the Calipari era wouldn’t be worth as much. One day dropping the names Trahson Burrell, Calvin Godfrey and Avery Woodson will be like dropping the names Harry Allen, Keldrick Bradford or Dinno Daniels.

The memory of this season will be a fan’s badge of honor.

See what I mean? Just roll with it.

I’m not saying that Josh Pastner, or the program, don’t deserve your criticism. I’m not saying they do. I’m just saying – we get it – your complaint has been registered, it’s under consideration, time to move on for the time being and let it play out.
It might take a few years – no sense getting lathered up every time a mediocre AAC team (Memphis) plays like a mediocre AAC team.
So, let’s hear from our friends:
Philosophic Phil:
  • Tiger fans had to feel a bit odd flipping over to ESPN and seeing John Calipari and Johnny Jones going to head to head in the Kentucky – LSU matchup.
  • In case you don’t remember, Calipari (9 seasons) and Jones (1 season as interim coach) were the 2 Tiger coaches immediately prior to Josh Pastner.
  • Memphis was actually very close to hiring Johnny Jones instead of John Calipari. As I recall, if Jones’ Tiger team had made the NIT (they fell 1 victory shy of qualifying), the job was likely his – even though Calipari and then AD RC Johnson had reached an agreement in principle.

Realistic Ralph:

  • On the one hand, Memphis’ kids seem to play reasonably hard. I emphasize seem – because when offensive players for ECU are blowing by Tiger defenders, as they were for the entire 2nd half tonight, it’s hard to know if the cause is (a) lack of effort, (b) foul trouble, (c) positioning, (d) or lack of athleticism / speed.
  • I don’t attribute it to a complete lack of effort – I think Memphis’ kids played hard tonight.
  • The Tigers next travel to Tampa to take on former Assistant Orlando Antigua, which should remind fans that Memphis could be enduring the Tony Barbee era right now. When Calipari left for Lexington, he was rumored to be pushing his former assistant (and then UTEP head man) for the job. Barbee eventually left El Paso for Auburn, where he was dumped after an unsuccessful tenure there.
 Negative Nellie:
  • I have been singing Trahson Burrell’s praises all season long, but for whatever reason he has struggled in the last few games. With Nichols out, I thought it would be an opportunity for Burrell to flourish – but it hasn’t happened.
  • We knew Memphis would struggle badly without Austin Nichols – and they did. Offensively, the Tigers swung the ball around the perimeter nicely and found some gaps in ECU’s zone – but they turned the ball over a lot (19 turnovers) and struggled to finish at the rim.
  • Defensively, the Tigers clearly missed Nichols presence at the rim. Having the big fella down there covers up a lot of defensive issues on the perimeter.

Realignment Revisited: Memphis Is Actually In A Decent Basketball League

Memphis fans are accustomed to Tiger basketball playing in boring, weak basketball leagues.

American-Athletic-Conference-LogoThe Tigers competed in Conference USA from 1995-2013. After Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette defected prior to 2005, the conference was significantly watered down. As a result, Memphis dominated the league annually.

The lack of competition in CUSA was a regular topic of discussion for college basketball pundits critical of Memphis. Every March, Memphis dominated the CUSA tournament and listened to experts denounce the accomplishment.

When Memphis was selected for BIG EAST membership in February of 2012, the excitement was short lived. Before Memphis could officially enter the league, it was torn apart by defections. Louisville left for the ACC, Rutgers joined the B1G, Marquette and other basketball schools (Georgetown, Villanova, etc…) split off to form their own league. They took the BIG EAST brand with them.

Memphis was left in something called the American Athletic Conference.

After all the movement, amid a disappointing / rebuilding year for Memphis basketball, a positive development for the Tiger program has been obscured: the American Athletic Conference is a pretty darn good basketball league.

The American is certainly a major improvement from the final version of CUSA that Memphis left in 2013.

Here’s a few reasons why:

  • Television. Almost every single conference game is on national television (either on the ESPN family of networks, or CBS Sports Network). This is a far cry from the CUSA days where Memphis Basketball disappeared from the national conversation during the final 3 months of the season – even if they were highly ranked. Not only is the contract good for watching Memphis games – but you can turn on the TV almost any night and see an interesting conference game.
  • Cincinnati. Memphis had lost all traditional rivals in CUSA v2.0. UAB – after the incredible 2008 match up with Memphis in Birmingham – started to feel like a legitimate rival, but at some point you have to win a game in the series to be considered a true rival. The Blazers lost 15 consecutive games to Memphis over their final few years together in CUSA.
  • Larry Brown.  The SMU of CUSA was a laughingstock. Brown – a Hall of Fame coach – was hired in 2012 and almost overnight turned SMU into a nationally relevant program. The Mustangs are currently ranked 23rd in the country and add a certain credibility to the AAC.
  • UConn. Though the Huskies are having a disappointing year in 2014-15, they administered a huge boost to the fledgling league in 13-14 by winning the NCAA tournament. The Huskies presence in the league – in light of their 4 national titles since 1999 – is a long term game changer.
  • Tulsa resurgence. Let’s be honest, when Tulsa was announced as a replacement for Louisville nobody was particularly excited. Sure, Tulsa has a proud basketball history which includes names like Bill Self, Tubby Smith and Nolan Richardson – but they were mostly a steppingstone and none of that success had taken place in the last 15 years or so. Now, the Golden Hurricane are sitting atop the league standings at 10-0 and new coach Frank Haith should be able to capitalize in recruiting.
  • Traditional Temple. Temple, who took a major step back in the first year of the AAC, is currently 7-3 and in good position to return to the NCAA tournament under veteran coach Fran Dunphy. The tradition rich Owl program is a key conference member for basketball purposes. Temple’s success will make the AAC more interesting going forward.

IMG_0183

  • Overall Competitiveness. Memphis, even during parts of the Josh Pastner era, totally dominated CUSA. At a certain point it felt like the Tigers had mind control. CUSA competition just didn’t believe they could beat Memphis – and they couldn’t. The AAC is a highly competitive league (see current standings to left). Any of at least 6 teams will enter next month’s AAC tournament in Hartford, CT believing they have a legitimate chance to win. That makes for an exciting event.

In the winter of Tiger fans’ discontent, the fact that Memphis is is a pretty entertaining, competitive basketball league shouldn’t be taken for granted.

 

Flashbacks & Tidbits Following Tiger Win (2/4/15)

The Tigers defeated Jacksonville State 74-48 on Wednesday night in the final non-conference game of the season.

In light of some recent research regarding the dangers of anger on the internet, Negative Nellie has the night off.

So let’s jump right in and hear from some of our other friends:

Flashback Freddie:

  • Jacksonville State is coached by a guy named James Green. If Green looked familiar to Tiger fans – it’s because he used to coach Southern Miss from 1996-2004.
  • Those years covered the end of the Larry Finch era, the entirety of the Tic Price / Johnny Jones era, and the beginning of the John Calipari era.
  • In other words, the Tigers had some very average years during the time James Green was at Southern Miss.
  • As a result, Green was 9-7 in 16 games vs. Memphis. Some of them weren’t even close.

Philosophic Phil:

  • The Tigers have 10 games left this season – and therefore a real opportunity to rewrite the narrative of their season.
  • According to realtimerpi.com, the Tigers are projected to finish 8-2 over the final 10 games of the season.
  • In other words, the Tigers should be favored in their next 8 games (vs. Temple, @ECU, @ USF, vs. UConn, @ UCF, vs. SMU, vs. TUL) and then underdogs in their final 2 games (@ UConn, @ Cincinnati).
  • If the Tigers can live up to the statistical expectations by going 8-2, then they’d finish with a 22-10 record.
  • Given that they entered the year with 9 new players, it would be really hard – even for the most passionate fan – to be too disappointed with that kind of season.

Realistic Ralph:

  • The Tigers were playing Jacksonville State.
  • Jacksonville State – in case you were wondering – is a lower level Ohio Valley Conference team. Their current record in that league is 2-8, their overall record fell to 9-16 after the Memphis loss.
  • So we can’t glean much from the win – but we can see some of the, ahem, positive, things this Memphis team has begun to develop.
  • Perhaps the most encouraging sign of the season for Memphis? The major improvement in ball security. The Tigers finished with just 3 turnovers vs. JSU. It was the 3rd consecutive game in which Memphis’ turnovers were at 10 or less following Gonzaga (10) and ECU (6).
  • Turnovers were the Tigers’ biggest problem early in the year – so if that issue has truly been solved, then Memphis’ chance of finishing the season strong are enhanced.
  • Memphis continues to play together. The Tigers assisted on 20 of 30 made field goals. Josh Pastner has to be proud that this Memphis team – like its predecessors – play an unselfish brand of basketball.

Temple Tidbit Teddy:

  • The Tigers return to action this Saturday at Noon vs. AAC foe Temple.
  • Temple has won 4 games in a row.
  • Temple is 16-7 on the year and tied with Memphis and Cincinnati (in the loss column) for 3rd place in the AAC.
  • RealTimeRPI predicts Memphis to beat Temple 70-59.

 

Can Tiger Football & Basketball Be Successful Simultaneously?

Justin Fuente addressed the media on National Signing Day – as his program officially announced their most recent crop of football recruits. As I watched his comments, an old question resurfaced: Can Tiger Football and Basketball have great success simultaneously? Thoughts on that – and other issues – below.

Here’s the video (courtesy of Memphis TigerNetwork), with thoughts to follow:

  • The guy just sounds and looks like a football coach, doesn’t he? Fuente just doens’t look entirely comfortable with the media – just as any classic football coach isn’t.
  • Recruiting isn’t easy – Fuente mentioned the resources and various levels of the University that have to be involved and coordinated -from the President to the Athletic Director to compliance, academics, travel, marketing and of course football staff.
  • The involvement of so many University personnel re-emphasizes how important it is to have full buy in throughout the the entire University administration if a successful football program is to be built and maintained.
  • Full University buy-in is something that everyone associated with Memphis football admits was lacking in previous decades.
  • Conversely, everyone seems to realize that full buy in and focus is present now, and the results – on the field and off – are apparent.
  • In the context of a disappointing year for Tiger Basketball, it’s fair to point out that the University’s drastic focus on creating success for football has to have – logically speaking – taken away resources and attention from basketball.
  • Ask yourself how many athletic department across the country have highly successful programs in both sports simultaneously. You’ll find the answers to be programs – like Florida, Michigan, UCLA, Texas – with nearly unlimited resources. Memphis is not an athletic department with unlimited resources.
  • In the modern ‘realignment’ era, everyone knows that football drives the bus. Therefore critics of Tiger Basketball should understand that Josh Pastner isn’t playing with the same hand dealt his predecessor.
  • As a very small example, Fuente mentioned that his program’s uniforms helped in recruiting. Note that Fuente’s program received a complete re-brand prior to the 2013 season – which included multiple uniform combinations.
  • The basketball program, on the other hand, hasn’t received a uniform re-brand since Pastner arrived. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it should be understood that the University’s focus has shifted to football – as it needed to. This has to have had an effect on basketball, whether anyone wants to admit that or not.
  • The uniforms, as I said, are just a small example. Other areas subject to limited resources – travel budgets, staff budgets, recruiting budgets, etc…
  • Fuente mentioned the benefits of the AAC’s TV contract.
  • 2014 was the first year of the new AAC contract. Even though Memphis entered the new conference in 2013, during that campaign the old BIG EAST contract was still operational.
  • Specifically, Fuente mentioned that the AAC contract was, “easy to understand” and he’s right. He can simply tell kids that essentially every conference football game (except for maybe 1 per year) will be on an ESPN channel or CBS Sports Network.
  • It’s clear – as it has always been with Fuente – that he has a plan to keep taking Tiger football to that ‘next level’ – which may not necessarily mean more wins right away. What it does mean is that he’s trying to lay a foundation for long term success. It’s been fun to watch thus far and I’m sure Tiger fans can’t wait until next Fall to see his program try to follow up on 2014’s success.

Josh Pastner: “We Have Gotten Better”

Josh Pastner faced the media today in advance of tomorrow night’s non-conference match-up with Jacksonville State. Here’s the video (courtesy of Memphis Tiger Network), and some comments below:

  • Pastner mentioned that Memphis’ strength of schedule is 25th in the country. The non-conference SOS is 16th – which is obviously very good.
  • Pastner and (assistant AD for men’s basketball) Wren Baker do deserve credit for playing a tough schedule, but there’s a philosophical debate to be had about whether or not it was too tough.
  • That being said, hindsight is 20/20 and schedules are essentially made in 2-year increments (because of return contracts) so it’s not exactly easy to adjust the difficulty on a year to year basis.
  • Pastner is optimistic that having played a tough schedule will help his young team improve before the end of this year and going into next season.
  • Pastner addressed his team’s propensity to suffer scoring droughts – which is clearly a point of frustration for the staff.
  • He and his squad have done a good job cutting down on turnovers, so the next phase is to find offensive consistency.
  • This is the 2nd straight press availability that Pastner referenced the referees – and the need to get calls.
  • I didn’t notice a major problem with the officials against Gonzaga, but I’m sure a lot of fans who think Pastner is too passive on the sideline are actually happy to hear him express some frustration in that regard.
  • The Nick King transfer crisis seems to have passed – now that the sophomore forward from Memphis has played well a few games in a row. With Chris Hawkins out with an injury- King’s minutes should be fairly safe going forward.
  • Pastner says Memphis is a “way better team” than they were at 3-4. I tend to agree – though the lack of a truly established presence at the PG position continues to limit the ceiling for this team IMO.
  • The Tigers will have 10 games left after JSU – and it should be an interesting finish to the season. Short of a statistically improbable winning streak of, say, 12 games (to the AAC final) – Memphis’ hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament are basically non-existent.
  • Nevertheless, Memphis can establish itself against AAC competition – and with host UConn underperforming – the AAC tournament next month could be a wide open affair.

Tigers Are Who We Thought They Were (Gonzaga Postgame)

As I watched the Tigers get blown out by Gonzaga Saturday night, I thought of Former Arizona Cardinals coach Denny Green’s famous post-game rant. The Tigers are who we thought they were. In other words: the least talented Memphis team – especially at the point guard position – in possibly 15 years. Nothing we saw against Gonzaga changed any of that – though you do have to give the Tigers some credit for playing hard and sticking together – in the midst of getting their doors blown off once again.

More after Denny’s rant:

It’s good every time, isn’t it?

Anyway – back to the game. Let’s hear from some of our friends:

Negative Nellie:

  • Tiger fans have to be very sick of seeing Memphis get blown out – because it’s happening a lot. 
  • In the last calendar year, the Tigers have been blown out 10 times.
  • The games and margins are as follows – beginning on 2/1/14: at SMU by 15, at Cincinnati by 13, vs. UConn by 19, vs. Virginia by 18, vs. Wichita State by 15, vs. Baylor by 24, vs. Oklahoma State by 18, at SMU by 14, at Tulsa by 18 and tonight vs. Gonzaga by 18.
  • That’s 10 times in the program’s last 35 games that Memphis has been blown out. I’m no statistician, but that’s 1 time every 3.5 games. That’s a lot of blowouts.
  • Certainly Memphis is young – but one has to acknowledge that the blow outs could indicate a deeper problem in the program.
  • Shaq Goodwin had 8 rebounds, some nice hustle plays and appeared to keep a positive attitude – but he also had 0 points on 6 shots and thus his Junior season continues to be a disappointment.

Philosophic Phil:

  • Some fans will disagree, but it’s always a glass half full / half empty thing with Pastner’s teams.
  • Half full – the Tigers – in a very hostile environment – fought hard and kept it close for a while. Then, after getting blown out on both sides of halftime, they scraped back in the last 10 minutes against what will be the the #2 team in the country this week.
  • Half empty – is this what the program has been reduced to? Feeling good about only losing by 18 to Gonzaga?
  • Half full – Trashon Burrell and Markel Crawford bring a lot of defensive energy to the lineup and appear to be nice pieces for the program going forward.

woody-woodpecker-o

  • Half empty – the Tigers have no true point guard on the roster. Pookie Powell – since high school – has always been more of a scoring guard. Kedren Johnson still isn’t back to his former level. Demarnier Cunningham plays hard but hasn’t proven he can be effective at this level yet (he also, by the way, is the only PG in the history of basketball who dribbles with an upper body strut that looks like a cross between George Jefferson and Woody Woodpecker (left)).
  • Unfortunately, the trio combined for a mere 3 total assists.
  • Half full – all 3 PG’s combined for only 2 turnovers. After their early season struggles holding onto the ball, the staff has slowed the Tigers offense down and figured out a way to not let turnovers beat them. Gotta give them credit for that adjustment.

Realistic Ralph:

  • There just has to be a story about Shaq Goodwin and why he’s so clearly regressed from last year. Is he unhappy with the coaching staff? Distracted? Bored with basketball?
  • I’m sure those close to the program know the answer to that, but nobody on the beat has written that piece. Maybe it’s not an appropriate story to write about a college kid. I get that – but it’s fair to say this coaching staff has had several different guys that they simply can’t get through to. Shaq is the latest, whatever the reason.
  • It would be one thing if Shaq hadn’t had a very promising Sophomore campaign – he is averaging fewer points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals from last year.
  • The Tigers next game – vs. Jacksonville State on Wednesday night at FedExForum, 7pm – is a nice late season cupcake before Memphis re-enters AAC play for the stretch run. Attendance prediction? Over / Under 5,500?
  • Memphis has some winnable games down the stretch – and if they can display the same kind of stick-togetherness and fight they showed in the last 8 or 10 minutes of the Gonzaga game, they can still finish the season on a high note.

 

 

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.

 

 

The (endless) Positive Nature of Josh Pastner

Memphis coach Josh Pastner was featured on Northwestern Mutual Presents NCAA Men of March – which aired earlier today on CBS. I’m traveling this weekend, so I missed most of the program. What I did catch appeared to be typical Pastner: he praised the program’s history, the city, and the fans. He was humble and reflective. Not at all self-promoting. I hope to see it soon in its entirety.

In the meantime, I came across an accompanying story, written by CBS’ Matt Norlander. It’s basically a factual account of what Pastner has accomplished at Memphis – but because Norlander is a neutral party – it’s written from a balanced point of view. It’s very hard to argue with Norlander’s points.

If you’re a fan of the program who has issues with Pastner, I would suggest reading it with an open mind.

Here’s another story about Pastner.

The other day, I wrote a blog entry criticizing Pastner’s use of an extended rotation.

Because I’ve had a brief relationship with Pastner – I thought I’d send him the blog to see what he might say in response.

He responded within 3 hours with an extended email. As you might imagine, it was classic Pastner. Here are some portions of his email:

I appreciate you being upfront regarding the criticism.  Which is all fair and welcomed.  In fact, I think it is a great another opportunity is out there to spread the message of Tiger basketball and give the fans another opportunity to get information.
He went on to explain his philosophy on substitutions a little further….
Our rotation needs to be 8 to 9 guys on a consistent basis.  I would actually prefer to play a 7 man rotation like I have done in the past years.
The difference for this season than the ones before is that we don’t have a lot of separation from top to bottom which makes it a little jumbled.  Where as in the years past the top 7 or 8 guys were clearly better than 9 thru 13.
And some of the reasons we have suffered large defeats are due to some of these factors when the run by the other team is happening – live ball turnovers, major scoring droughts (where at times we try to hit the 12 pt shot), and probably playing too many guys trying to find the right 5 to give us the best chance to get out of the funk we are in.
He makes some good points – and then he goes ahead and agrees with me (which is the quickest way to my heart) that part of the problem is playing too many guys. I’ll be very interested to see how he handles the rotation tonight at Tulane (7pm ESPNU).

I’m a fledgling blogger that had just written a piece offering direct criticism of his coaching philosophy. Pastner could (and maybe should) have easily just ignored the email or offered a brief response and moved on. Instead, he took the time to read the blog (apparently multiple entries) and responded with kindness.

For whatever you might think of Josh Pastner as a coach – he’s a pretty incredible person.

That’s not a new realization for Memphians, but it’s worth repeating.

Pastner’s Philosophy Fails Statistical Examination

20 years ago, I had a statistics teacher at White Station High School named Mr. Isom. He was an excellent teacher. Funny, informative, kind. I haven’t seen him since, but if he ends up reading this article I think he’s going to really like it.

In his post game press conference yesterday after Memphis dropped a 73-55 contest to Tulsa; Josh Pastner acknowledged that Memphis never got into a rhythm, had too many turnovers, was the slower team and was handicapped by a prolonged scoring drought. Everyone who watched the game can agree on all those points.

The next questions become why does the team have these problems and what can be done about them? It’s not that losing to a good Tulsa team on the road is unacceptable, but why was your team blitzed so badly that they found themselves down 28 in the 2nd half? Why can’t Memphis even be competitive in certain games against teams with equal, or arguably lesser, talent?

For his part, Pastner acknowledged that everyone, including himself, needs to do a better job. He then turned around and attributed the struggles to the fact that this is a young team. Pastner didn’t get into specifically what he could have done better, though he did mention maybe the “approach” could have been different.

You can watch the full video here if you’re so inclined.

I think Pastner is wrong, to a degree.

I think the problem is his overall philosophy on playing time.

Let me explain.

Let me explain, using basic statistics taught to me 20 years ago by Mr. Isom.

Pastner, before the Tulsa game, gave a very revealing quote regarding his philosophy and personal feelings on distribution of playing time:

“The game on Saturday (vs. UCF) I was able to play everybody, that’s always nice. I think with our team, as I’ve said…. it’s its own journey each game, its own entity each game. And uh….there could be a different 7 or 8 guys getting the most minutes game by game. Versus Tulsa we could have a group of 5 we could find that you (would least) maybe not expect that could play the entire 2nd half – as I’ve done before. Through time, through each game we find that combination and kind of just roll with it.”

 

“Guys that are playing well are going to get the time. Guys not playing well, we’ve got some other guys. Everyone’s interchangeable, everyone’s rooting for each other. Just find that mix or group of guys — whoever it may be on that day to get the job done.”

Pastner gets paid $2.65m per year to figure this stuff out, and I’m just some random guy with a blog – so take my opinion for what it’s worth.

I don’t think an elite program can be built around this philosophy. I’ve played organized basketball – I use the term ‘organized’ loosely but there were refs and a scoreboard. Anyway, in an organized, 40 minute basketball game – to be successful – a team needs about 7 or 8 guys, barring injury.

As you can see from his comments, Pastner acknowledges that 7 or 8 guys are going to get the bulk of the minutes at some point in the game, but there’s a two-fold problem with this approach:

(1) it requires playing all 11 early in the game – to figure out which 8 are going to get the most minutes later on (which defeats the point and is really somewhat arbitrary), and

(2) if nobody is playing well, how do you then decide who to roll with?

This problem reared its head against Tulsa – and the consequences were severe. Memphis played 11 guys more than 5 minutes against Tulsa and found themselves down almost 30 with 10 minutes to play. In other words, the decision never got made – and Pastner essentially had an 11 man rotation.

11 is simply too many guys to play extended minutes in a competitive game.

The statistics from across the country clearly back me up on this.

This is the part that Mr. Isom will probably love.

To figure out what successful teams in the country are doing with respect to their rotations, I examined box scores of top 25 teams from this past weekend and up through last night (Wednesday 1/21). I tried to find competitive games so I disregarded those where the margin was greater than 10 at half or whose final margin was above 20. I was able to examine 13 competitive games during that time period involving top 25 teams.

None of the ranked teams I examined played as many guys at least 5 minutes as Memphis did against Tulsa (11).

Here is the list of Top 25 teams and the number of players that played over 5 minutes in their team’s last reasonably competitive game:

Memphis – 11


Kentucky – 10

Kansas – 10

North Carolina – 9

Virginia – 9

Louisville – 9

Villanova – 8

Duke – 8

Northern Iowa – 8

Baylor – 8

Iowa State – 8

Wyoming – 8 (Even in a 3 OT game)

Notre Dame – 7

Dayton – 7

Because of Mr. Isom’s influence, I actually remembered how to calculate the mean, median and mode of the above data set. This is basic stuff, but it felt good to put that knowledge to use. If you’re curious as to what those terms refer to, at the end of this post I’ve copied a very cheesy video explaining the concept. It (the video) involves toads and worm with an Italian (?) accent.

Anyway……

The mean is 8.38 

The median is 8

The mode is 8

Therefore my theory, that it takes about 8 guys to be successful in basketball, seems to be backed up by the evidence.

Pastner is sticking with 11. And his theory that he can somehow identify the right 8 over the course of the early part of the game and then roll with those guys. I think that’s crazy, and I think it’s probably fueled by his desire to keep everyone happy – because he’s such a nice guy. See the above quote about how it was “nice” to play all the guys against UCF? I think he genuinely means that. I think it makes him feel good. But I think his nice guy tendencies are clearly getting the best of him here and costing his team and some of his players the opportunity to develop.

I could get into why I think (and apparently all the other successful college coaches think) that 8 is a better number than 11 and all of the ramifications thereof. It involves recruiting philosophy, roles, transfers, guys sitting on the bench, NBA aspirations, etc….but now’s not the time for that. Now is the time to let the statistics speak for themselves.

Thanks, Mr. Isom.

 

Coaching Carousel Stops & We Pay Tribute to Tommy West Exit Presser

Yahoo Sports’ excellent College Football writer Pat Forde recently penned a column on the apparent end of the 2015 Coaching Carousel. Indeed, it appears very likely at this point that Memphis is going to hang onto Justin Fuente for a 4th season. As Forde implies by listing it in his “Big Winners” section, that’s a good thing. He also makes mention of the fact that the entire AAC upgraded its coaching roster:

American Athletic Conference. League champion Memphis retained 2014 Coach of the Year Justin Fuente. And the entire Southwest Frontier upgraded: Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman to Houston; Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris to SMU; Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery to Tulsa. There will be more points in a league rife with struggling offenses.

As a celebration of the apparent end to the coaching carousel, I also wanted to take this opportunity to formally honor perhaps the most underrated video in coaching carousel history: The Tommy West Exit Presser of 2009 (hereinafter TWEP09).

TWEP09 is amazing. Anyone that’s ever seen TWEP09 knows without question that it is amazing. Even so, I still think it’s vastly underrated. That’s how good it is. Amazing — and yet underrated. Go ahead and take a look, and then please keep reading and allow me to explain in even greater detail (below) why TWEP09 is one of the greatest pressers of all time:

So freaking good. Here’s a list of what makes it so:

1. The fact that it happened at all. A lot of times (perhaps most times) when coaches are fired, they don’t get a press conference on campus. The AD will have a press conference and maybe the coach will do an interview somewhere else. For example, when Bo Pelini was fired last year at Nebraska, he had to go to a local high school to profanely, verbally assault his former bosses (warning: explicit language). The fact that TWEP09 was a university administered press conference makes what happened in that video that much more amazing.

diabeetus2. The accent. Thomas Cleveland West, originally from Gainesville, GA, has a country accent that makes Wilford Brimley (left) sound like John F. Kennedy. Diabeetus. Somehow, West manages to make the word “fans” a 2-syllable word: fa-ahns.

A few months prior to TWEP09, I was in my car listening to West get interviewed on a post-game show. West kept referring to the next week’s opponent, Middle Tennessee State as simply “Mehdal.”  Something like, “We just gotta put this behind us and get ready for Mehdal”  and “Mehdal is going to be a real test for us.” The person riding in the car with me turned to me in utter confusion and said, “what the hell is he talking about, what on earth is a Mehdal? It took me a minute, but I finally figured it out. Ironically, West is currently the defensive line coach at Mehdal.

2. Stating the obvious. Is there a better opening line than, “Let me start by saying that it’s not fun and not easy when you get fired. That’s a bad day. Ok? That’s not a good day at the office.” 

First of all, no. There isn’t a better opening line. It’s amazing.

Second of all, no shit. No shit it’s a bad day. I love you Tommy West. I love you so much.

With this simple statement, West managed to:

(a) put everyone at ease with his country charm,

(b) somehow cause everyone watching to conjure up an image of ol’ Tom West as an aging, obselete, arthritic office worker making $16.60 per hour sitting in a cube pleading with someone from IT to help him find his “sent items” folder in his Outlook account. Ol’ Tom has been on the job 24 years and worked hard until one random day (today) his boss came in with tears in his eyes to break the news that he has to let ol’ Tom go because the hot shots in upper management just outsourced his job to Tianjin,

and

(c) set us all up to think he was going to be calm and folksy, when really he was about to lower the boom….

3. “Sour grapes” Stroke of genius for West to say that it would have been sour grapes had he complained as coach (which, by the way, he often did – particularly on George Lapides’ radio show) but now that he’s fired he is just going to get a few things off his chest. This was a fine setting of the table. Perfect.

Never mind the fact that complaining after you get fired still fully, 100%, qualifies as sour grapes.

4. “Now is the time to stand up!” This was the turning point of TWEP09, and it was incredible. West repeats this line twice early in TWEP09, and the 2nd time he does in a slow, emphatic manner. Now…..is the time…..to…..staaaand…….up. This is the moment at which it became clear this isn’t your typical, thanks for the opportunity see you down the road speech. This is a call to arms, and it worked. The viewer’s reaction went something like this: Uh, what is happening? Why is he yelling at me?  What? Is? Happening? Woah. He knows the history of the program. He knows it really well. He just mentioned Stobart. Wow, I’m impressed. He’s really thought this through. I can’t believe any human being alive besides myself even remembers who Chuck Stobart is. That was like, the late 80’s. This is really impressive. Maybe he’s right. He’s undoubtedly right, isn’t he? He mentioned Rip! Poor Rip. Poor poor Rip. Such a nice guy. Damn these big wigs. Damn Calipari. Rip beat UT! This is BS. I LOVE YOU TOMMY! WHY DID WE FIRE YOU?!?!? COME BACK!!!! DON”T GO!!!!!

5. “Do away with it” All snark aside, the fact that a recently fired coach – a coach who went to 5 bowl games in 7 years – stood up in front of the media with the school’s logo in the background and suggested the school should consider dropping football was really a pretty big deal. West’s frank commentary upped the stakes in Memphis and put pressure on the administration to finally do something. They still messed up the next hire (badly), but this was a turning point for Memphis in terms of investing in football. West deserves credit for going there.

And the fact that he did it with that accent makes me want to watch it 900000000000 more times.

6. Paihhnful. IT’S PAIHHNFUL! This is the enduring legacy of TWEP09. Again – an extra syllable here. PAIH-UN-FUL. 3 syllables. How much pain did we put this man through? How much pain did his bosses put him through? Jeez. Something seems terribly wrong. At this point, I really feel sorry for him, but more than that I really love the way he says this word.  PAIH-UN-FUL. Say it again. And again. So awesome.

Really sorry about that pain though.

7. “9 years. Hard years! Fightin’ years! Every day a fist-fight!” The passion and depth of emotion being displayed here is off the charts amazing, but I have to ask a serious question: what the f*&k is this guy talking about? Was he coaching football or fighting Sunnis in Kirkuk? Wow.

What kind of struggle has this man been up against? I mean, I realize your facilities are absolute dog sh*t, that you have to practice at the local high school because your AD can’t find a few thousand dollars in the budget to get you a turf practice field, and that for years John Calipari has sucked every morsel of attention and resource out of the athletic department. I get all that, but woah there big fella. Aren’t you maybe taking this a little far?

8. “I’m not saying this in a negative way.” Actually, yes. Yes, you are. That’s ok. We love it anyway. We really love it. Please, go on…

9. “Smart aleck articles.” Tom West doesn’t like smart alecks.

Tom West doesn’t care for your smarty pants, wisenheimer, wise guy articles.

Tom West wants you to show some respect.

Tom West wants you to pick up a gosh darned oar and start rowing.

10. Bob Winn.  Winn, the longtime media relations professional in the UM athletic department, calmly re-assumes control of the podium at the end of the YouTube clip when West is finished and shows absolutely no surprise or any emotion whatsoever. He calmly announces that some other such nonsense will be taking place at 3pm at the athletic complex. Never mind the fact that his fired football coach just got up there (like 8 seconds ago) and screamed about shutting down the program. That didn’t happen. Nothing to see here. Just mosey on over to the athletic complex at 3pm – they’ll have some cookies and coffee waiting. Thanks.

Gotta love that guy. Earned his paycheck that day.

There are dozens of other reasons TWEP09 is amazing. Without getting into too much detail, here is an abbreviated list: West’s hair, his shirt, his facial expressions and every single sound that emanated from his mouth.

Hard to believe it’s been over 5 years since TWEP09. A lot has changed – one coach of the Memphis football program has come and gone. I don’t recall a Larry Porter exit conference – because it didn’t happen. Because TWEP09 surely taught the folks at UM a valuable lesson about not doing that again.

Memphis fans don’t miss being a part of the coaching carousel, but any fan of life and humanity longs for more moments like TWEP09.

Despite Fan Displeasure, Tigers Show Mercy to UCF

There’s a scene at the end of the original Karate Kid where the evil Sensei – Kreese – tells Johnny to “finish” Ralph Machio, while the equally evil and unsportsmanlike dojo partners are yelling “no mercy” in the background and laughing hysterically like the villains that they were cast to be. It’s an unsettling display.

My friend referenced this scene at the end of the Tigers-UCF game today as Tiger fans (some, not all, of them) booed Memphis for not trying to win by 22 instead of 20. It was an appropriate comparison – not because UCF turned the tables with a crane kick to win the trophy…and the girl…while inspirational music started in the background. That didn’t happen. The comparison works because the fan reaction today was unsportsmanlike, aggressive and weird. I guess that’s why they’re called “fans” – short for fanatic. More on that in a minute.

Memphis drummed UCF on Saturday at FedexForum by the score of 99-79, and it didn’t have to be that close. Memphis coach Josh Pastner treated the last 10 minutes like an open practice, getting guys minutes who might not otherwise play as much and resting Austin Nichols and Avery Woodson – both of whom were banged up.

The cast of characters we hear from after Tigers games continues to grow and change. As you may know, Positive Paul died after the Tulane loss a few weeks ago. We continue to hear periodically from Realistic Ralph, Philisophic Phil and Negative Nellie – depending on the circumstances. Tonight we meet a new Tiger fan character, Embarrassed Eddie. Eddie felt very uncomfortable today – and he wants an opportunity to talk.

First, let’s hear from Ralph:

Realistic Ralph:

  • The Tigers out-rebounded UCF by 29. Now, UCF is about the 200th most efficient rebounding team in the country according to ESPN.com, so no reason to get too excited – but on the heels of a strong interior performance against Cincinnati it appears Memphis may be establishing, to some degree, its identity as a hard nosed, aggressive, rebounding outfit. Quite a change from the last few years.
  • Caveat to the above statement is that against a more physical, disciplined SMU team Memphis was exposed on the interior – so Memphis fans shouldn’t get ahead of themselves because the Tigers blitzed a pretty bad UCF team. Still, it was nice to see Memphis impose its will on a 3rd straight conference opponent.
  • Good sign for Memphis that Shaq Goodwin can at least still be counted on to show up every once in a while. He registered 16 pts / 10 rbs in 20 minutes of action. If he can deliver that kind of energy consistently, then Memphis really does have a dangerous front line combination (Goodwin, Calvin Godfrey, Austin Nichols, Trashon Burrell, Nick King).
  • Trashon Burrell, whose good friend Kuran Iverson left the program this week, showed up in a big time way against UCF. There was some concern that Burrell might go into the tank in light of the recent turmoil, but he was all over the place today in 28 minutes – registering 11 pts, 12 rbs and 5 assists. He is a key piece of this team going forward.
  • Other Tigers with impressive days included Pookie Powell (8 assists, 1 turnover) and Markel Crawford, (13 points, 5 rebounds). Woodson and Godfrey continued their strong play as well.
  • Memphis has an opportunity to climb right back into the conference race and make a massive RPI jump on Wednesday at Tulsa. Tulsa is currently 5-0 in the American after winning at USF today and they’re ranked 37th in RPI.

Embarrassed Eddie:

  • It was an odd – very odd – scene at the end of the game as many of the fans left booed loudly, apparently expressing displeasure at Pastner for not allowing his team to run up the score and try for 100 on the last possession.
  • I can understand wanting to see the team break 100. I can understand wanting to see Tiger walk-on Jake McDowell get the opportunity to score. I might even agree with those sentiments. But I don’t understand booing your own coach and / or players for trying to show class and sportsmanship. It was really a very weird and uncomfortable thing to witness.
  • There’s an argument to be made that maybe it shows less class to pull back and not score – and I suppose I understand that. But booing was still very odd and uncomfortable.
  • It’s starting to look like maybe, just maybe, all the Tiger fans who were apoplectic a few weeks ago were a little premature in writing the season off. Heck, we even killed off Positive Paul after the Tulane loss. The Tigers have now won 3 in a row and have pushed their record to 11-6 (4-2). There’s a lot of basketball left to be played and Memphis is going to have ample opportunities to continue building momentum heading towards March. Or they may fall back to who we thought they were a few weeks ago. Time will tell.
  • Of note: Stephen F. Austin has not lost since they beat Memphis. They have won 13 in a row and sit atop the the Southland Conference. The loss that really still stings Memphis at this point is the setback against Tulane in which Memphis led by 5 late. The Tigers are just a turnover or two away from being 5-1 in the AAC.

 

 

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.

 

Memphis – Cincinnati Feels Like the 1990’s

Getting ready to head down to FedExForum for the Memphis – Cincy game and it’s feeling a lot like the 1990’s:

  • Memphis is playing Cincinnati. Memphis played Cincinnati twice a year or more in the 1990’s and became fierce rivals during Bob Huggins glory years at UC. The 2 urban schools continued their rivalry for a few years after Cincinnati departed CUSA for the BIG EAST in 2005, but the series was finally dropped in 2009 until resuming last year with the creation of the American Athletic Conference.
  • Memphis is in a start-up conference with Cincinnati. The AAC isn’t the first start up conference for these 2 programs. Memphis and Cincinnati were two of the founding members of the Great Midwest Conference in 1991. The longtime rivals were almost a part of an expanded Metro Conference which would have become the first collegiate super-conference (w/ football). Had the expanded Metro come into fruition, UM and UC’s place in the college athletics food chain would be drastically different today. Instead, they chose to create the basketball-centric Great Midwest.
  • Memphis has regressed to the caliber of program they were in the 1990’s. The John Calipari era (2000-2009) seems like a distant dream right now. In the 1990’s Memphis was a program that appreciated making the tournament, and relished a post-season run – like the one Anfernee Hardaway’s Tigers made in 1992 before losing in the Elite 8 to Cincinnati (for the 4th time that year). Fan expectations aside, this is basically where the program is today.
  • Cincinnati is still Cincinnati. Though he’s on medical leave at the moment, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has continued the bruising, tough guy tradition of the Bearcat program built under guys like Herb Jones, Nick Van Excel, Corie Blount, Kenyon Martin, and Steve Logan. Games with the Bearcats in the 1990’s were physical wars – and tonight shouldn’t be any different – though the talent level may not be quite the same.

Though Cincinnati is currently ranked 34 in the CBSSPORTS.com RPI, the match-up tonight with Memphis (ranked 113) is considered a toss up by the smart guys in Vegas.

Should be a fun night -90’s night- at FedExForum.

 

Tigers have Football Bragging Rights, but is UT Best Hoops Program in State?

Yesterday the final College Football polls were released and Memphis fans were able to brag about their team’s historic top 25 finish. Among the teams ranked lower in the Associated Press poll (aka not ranked) than Memphis:

  • Notre Dame
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas
  • Texas A&M
  • Tennessee

That’s right. The University of Tennessee. At Knoxville. The Volunteers. They of the orange and white checkerboard end zones. Ranked lower than the University of Memphis. In football. At the end of the year.

That’s historic.

Now – it must be asked: if the two teams (Memphis and UT) were to play on a neutral field next week would Memphis actually be favored? Would they win? Let’s not get into that. It doesn’t matter. The point here is that the ranking is a wonderful accomplishment and nice bragging point for long suffering fans.

But real Memphis fans couldn’t stay excited for too long yesterday, because something else became very clear last night.

UT has the best basketball team, and maybe the best program, in the state.

Last night, UT’s men’s basketball team – under first year coach Donnie Tyndall – beat 19th ranked Arkansas for it’s 2nd top 20 win of the season. The Vols are now 10-5 on the year and 2-1 in the SEC – hardly jaw dropping numbers but pretty impressive considering Tyndall had to pretty much build a new roster from scratch when he got the job after Cuonzo Martin’s late departure for Cal last spring. Tyndall pieced together a team of JUCO transfers, Southern Miss recruits, and other castoffs and has the Vols playing his trademark brand of fast paced, athletic, in your face basketball. And they’re playing it well.

Tyndall still faces significant obstacles at UT. He’s being investigated for alleged NCAA violations during his tenure at Southern Miss and that’s a black cloud that could hang over the program for a while. But assuming the NCAA issues get worked out without major damage to Tyndall’s new employer, the Vols have a good coach on their hands. Anyone who watched Tyndall at Morehead State and Southern Miss understood that he can coach basketball.

If Tyndall is winning at this rate with a piecemeal roster, imagine what he can do if & when he has time to actually recruit and build his own. It’s a scary thought for Memphis fans, who prefer the suffering of Tennessee fans second only to success of their own athletic teams.

In the meantime, that top 25 football ranking isn’t going anywhere for several months.

So Tiger fans have that going for them, which is nice.

 

 

Is Funding an on Campus Stadium at Memphis Realistic?

Most supporters of the University of Memphis football program are tired of the on-campus stadium debate. It’s very 2007. Tiger Lane is awesome, and there’s really not a bad seat in the house at the recently spruced up Liberty Bowl. Given that it’s just a few miles down Central Avenue, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is basically an on-campus stadium anyway.

But last week, The University of Memphis’ co-tenant at the Liberty Bowl indicated an unwillingness to accommodate the University’s desire to install additional chair back seats.

The difference of opinion – and need to reach consensus with co-tenants before making changes necessary for the success of its football program – highlights the drawback of the University not having its own, real on campus stadium. In light of the Memphis football program’s recently completed 10-3 season – a campaign which saw the Tigers capture the American Athletic Conference regular season championship and Miami Beach Bowl Championship – is now the time for the University’s athletic department to explore funding an on-campus stadium?

Much has been written and said over the past decade or so about the possibility of an on campus stadium for the UofM. The basic history is that at one point a feasibility study commissioned by the UofM revealed that building an on-campus stadium would be feasible – but the powers that be decided against it. In 2013, Interim UofM president Brad Martin indicated in an interview with Geoff Calkins that the on-campus stadium debate was dead. Martin shut down the idea. Martin and current University President David Rudd (who was Provost under Martin) have pretty much been in lockstep on these issues, and with the athletic department at UofM focused on a $40 million facilities project on south campus – it would seem the debate remains dead.

So it would be silly to think there’s going to be an all out push for an on campus stadium just because Liberty Bowl Game Executive Director Steve Ehrhart is being inflexible about some chair back seats.

On the other hand, the developments of the past year might have Rudd and UofM Athletic Director Tom Bowen reconsidering their position – and perhaps they should. When considering this issue – the primary consideration is simple: funding.

Three of Memphis’ American Athletic Conference counterparts have built new stadiums in recent years – UCF, Houston and Tulane. Additionally, Cincinnati – who is thought to be a possible Big XII expansion candidate – is currently funding an $86 million overhaul of their on campus facility, Nippert Stadium.

Memphis, meanwhile, can’t put some chair backs in without getting road blocked by a guy – Ehrhart – who inked a deal with the SEC and Big XII, thereby denying Memphis’ current conference a valuable affiliation. Ehrhart clearly doesn’t have the University’s interests in mind and why should he – it’s not his job.

That can’t make Bowen and Rudd happy.

Bowen, Rudd and supporters of the football program could and perhaps should at least be contemplating the funding possibilities for an on campus stadium. In examining how UofM’s current rivals have paid for their new stadiums, there are a few main sources of funding available that UofM must at least think about:

1. Student Fees. This was a big source of funding for the University of Houston in building a brand new stadium that opened in 2014. According to the Houston Chronicle:

The UH Student Government Association put a $45 per-semester, per-student fee increase to a student referendum, and it passed by a wide margin as 73.9 percent of the voting body approved the increase.

Given the fact that UofM’s enrollment is approximately 21,000, over a proejcted 20-year bond payoff period, such a student fee could theoretically raise approximately $37.8 million towards an on-campus stadium. After a 10-3 campaign that brought great excitement to the University, is there a better time for such a referendum?

2. Club Seats and Suite Sales. This was the primary source of funding for the University of Cincinnati. According to USA Today, Cincinnati sold rights to 18 suites which are scheduled to bring in $2 million per year over the course of a 20-year bond payoff. That’s another $40 million. Cincinnati’s club seats brought in another $2.5 million per year. Memphis could surely approach those numbers.

3. Naming Rights. International Paper Stadium? FedExStadium? $15 million over 10 years sound o.k.? That’s what Houston got for their stadium. Seems realistic.

4. Ticket Surcharges. Clearly, one of the primary reasons the powers that be at the UofM have been reluctant to pursue an on-campus stadium is because they’ve been tapping donors for other projects (FedExPark, Weight Room, new basketball facility, IPF, etc…)  a great deal of late. There’s only so many times you can go back to the well.

If an on-campus stadium were ever to become a reality for Memphis, the everyday fan is going to have to get involved where it counts – the checkbook. This could be done structurally through a ticket surcharge, or a seat license. Either way, let’s assume that the loyal 20k base of Tiger football fans – you know, the ones that showed up to all the cold weather games this year – would each be willing to pay $100 annually over a 20-year period. Let’s say this came in the form of ticket surcharges – this would account for another $40 million.

Taking these various funding streams together – one can realistically imagine the UofM being able to put together enough funding to finance a stadium project. Sure, it would take a ton of hard work, initiative, political will and courage. Until last week, such a project seemed unnecessary. After all, Rudd and Bowen have to be concerned with the south campus projects first, and also have to be accounting for the various structural changes to college athletics (see: cost of attendance increase) which will drastically alter the budget of their athletic department. They have plenty on their plate without having to worry about a giant stadium project.

And yet it’s also clear that the UofM needs to do everything within its power to position itself for the next wave of realignment – whenever it comes. If athletics is a priority, the UofM needs to keep investing – particularly in football. Realignment 101. Invest. In football.

If the average fans, and students, and corporate partners are all willing to chip in a little – and if their current home is occupied by by a co-tenant who is making their life and mission more difficult – don’t the powers that be at the UofM owe it to themselves to at least reconsider the idea of funding a new stadium?

 

 

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.

U of M AD Bowen Shouldn’t Let Ehrhart Call the Shots on Stadium

According to an article out today by Phil Stukenborg, University of Memphis officials would like to add 10,000 chair-back seats to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The move makes sense for Memphis because it would (a) reduce capacity of a stadium that is clearly too big for their needs and (b) add nicer seating that would enable Memphis to justify higher ticket prices for those (chair-back) seats. It makes perfect sense.

There’s only one problem: Steve Ehrhart, Executive Director of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, appears to be throwing up a roadblock. Here’s the quote from Ehrhart in Stukenborg’s article:

“Until we have the opportunity to discuss this with our partners — the Big 12 Conference and the SEC — a potential loss of seating capacity could be a very important issue,” Ehrhart said. “We just think it’s important to stay at the 60,000 figure.”

First of all, Ehrhart appears to be talking out of both sides of his mouth – Is it important to talk to your partners or have you already made up your mind that it’s important to stay at the 60,000 figure? Sure sounds like he’s already made up his mind. Also, could Ehrhart be using the specter of the Big XII to tweak Memphis a little? Memphis is certainly willing to do anything the Big XII wants, but does that conference really care if capacity is reduced by 5k? Seems a bit far-fetched. After all, the Big XII’s payout for participating in the Liberty Bowl game is locked in by contract. It’s not as if any Big XII school is going to bring more than 25k people to Memphis in December and create a huge demand for tickets.

Ehrhart went ahead and let Stukenborg know what his priorities are:

Ehrhart said there are more pressing concerns. He’d like to see the cramped press box area expanded, as well as areas for radio and television broadcasts. He said four radio networks — including a Spanish network broadcasting Texas A&M football — broadcast from the Liberty Bowl, which has accommodations for two radio booths. Special arrangements were made to accommodate the additional radio teams.

Surely Bowen shares Ehrhart’s concerns about the press box, but the Memphis Athletic Director can’t and shouldn’t be happy that Ehrhart is pulling rank on the chair-backs. As co-tenants of the stadium, Memphis plays 6 or 7 games a year there- Ehrhart’s organization plays one.

Bowen should flex some muscle on this if he has to. Without the U of M as a tenant, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is not a viable entity for the City of Memphis. Without the U of M playing 6 games a year at the stadium, there would have been no political will for Tiger Lane construction or the 2011 renovations which added new lighting, a scoreboard (paid for by U of M boosters), new turf and other upgrades to the concourse. Those upgrades allowed Ehrhart to lock in affiliations with the SEC and Big XII, while eliminating a meaningful tie in with Memphis’ current conference – The American Athletic Conference.

Perhaps Ehrhart remembers this detail from the news announcing the 2012 renovations:

Hedgepeth said the U of M’s offer to guarantee the funds kept the city from having to approach the stadium’s other two tenants, the Southern Heritage Classic and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl game.

If Memphis ever decided to build an on-campus stadium – something that based on recent projects at Houston and Tulane could feasibly be done for a cost of $80 -$90 million – the Liberty Bowl game would have absolutely zero leverage with the city or the University. The Southern Heritage Classic and the Liberty Bowl would either (a) continue playing at a city owned stadium that the city would have no real incentive to maintain (remember what happened to the Pyramid after the Grizzlies left for example?) or (b) negotiate a lease with the University of Memphis to play their games on campus, or (c) leave town.

Obviously nobody in Memphis wants the Liberty Bowl Game to suffer. And former Interim U of M President Brad Martin made it pretty clear that the powers that be at The University of Memphis are no longer interested in pursuing an on campus stadium. Could that position change if Ehrhart continues to selfishly disregard the needs of his co-tenants so publicly? Possibly.

 

 

 

 

Analyzing the Ways Forward for Josh Pastner & Memphis

Memphis fans are beginning to wonder…how is the Josh Pastner era going to play out? To answer that question one needs to first consider the various ways the current season will unfold – and then understand the options the Memphis administration and program’s financial backers have as they attempt, as they do every year, to make sure the program stays or returns to an elite level.

According to Memphis Roar’s Grant Milner, Josh Pastner is not going to change the way he runs his program. He’s going to keep suspending guys for not obeying team rules, even if the ultimate sacrifice is the ability to win games. Here’s a quote via Memphis Roar from Pastner after the SMU game regarding his overwhelming propensity to use suspensions as a disciplinary technique:

I will not change. I don’t care what the situation is. What is popular is not always going to be right. I can promise you that, but what is right is not always popular. I’m sticking to my guns. I will not waver on my line or principle for any one individual. Period. I believe in that. That’s from the fiber of my cloth on that. So, if anyone thinks we’ve lost any control, they are in outer space. If anything, I’ve got too much control because I want to make sure that guys do right. That’s important to me.

Nobody should begrudge or condemn Pastner for disciplining his players and teaching them life lessons. Good on him. On the other hand it would be nice if he could do that and also find a way to win a lot of basketball games. One has to really wonder why Pastner’s players are breaking his rules so often, even if, as he says, the transgressions are nothing serious or morally reprehensible. And if it’s not that serious, as Pastner so often implies, why can’t he find some other way to get his point across?

Leaving that question aside for the moment, consider that there are really only 2 likely outcomes for this year’s team:

1. Pastner’s Tigers keep fighting, make the NIT or some other non-NCAA postseason tournament.

Oddly, this is really the best case realistic scenario for Pastner’s squad. Qualifying for the NIT could be a stretch for the current team, who may struggle to stay above .500 as they get deeper into AAC play. Perhaps Pookie Powell turns into a solid college point guard by the end of the year, and Demarnier Cunningham into a serviceable backup. Perhaps Austin Nichols continues to emerge as a 1st team all AAC level performer and some other guys (Godfrey, Woodson, Burrell, Crawford) settle into their roles. Maybe even Shaq Goodwin can rediscover how to make use of his immense talent. But even if everything breaks positively for Memphis from here on out, the dream of a 5th straight NCAA tournament is basically dead. The quality wins are non-existent and the potential bad losses have piled up.

2. Pastner’s team continues to fracture, does not improve, and Memphis misses the postseason entirely for the first time since 1999-2000. The year was 2000 and according to the story, if Memphis interim head coach Johnny Jones’ team had won one additional game in the CUSA tournament, then Memphis would have qualified for the NIT and was prepared to offer Jones the permanent job as Head Men’s Basketball Coach. The runner-up candidate who would not have been hired under that scenario? An then-assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers named John Calipari. For the first time in 15 years, Memphis is in some danger of missing the postseason entirely. In terms of talent level, wins / losses and the general vibe around the program, it’s safe to say that Memphis’ program has regressed to the Johnny Jones level. By the end of the year, Memphis fans may have to accept a dose of reality about how far their beloved program has fallen. Nobody needs to be reminded that ticket prices and donor requests have not fallen to the Johnny Jones level.

Such a scenario would leave the Memphis administration with a few options of their own, though obviously the latter would increase the noise and / or apathy surrounding the program:

1. Do nothing (other than maybe force some staff changes) and Hope Pastner turns it around. Unless someone with (a) a lot of sway within the athletic department and (b) deep pockets, really wants to make a change, this is the likely scenario. Obviously these people do exist and everybody has heard a rumor, but for at least another year, if not 2 – it would seem more likely than not that Josh Pastner leads the Memphis program. Pastner makes $2.65m per year on a deal that runs through 2019-2020. That’s $13.25m in guaranteed money. According to the Commercial Appeal’s Kyle Veazey, who analyzed the contract after it was signed in 2013, there is no buyout for Memphis in the contract:

Dismissing Pastner solely because of the team’s performance would be costly for the U of M. The Tigers would owe Pastner the balance of his contract — as many as four full seasons’ salary, if he’s dismissed before the date the contract automatically renews — if they wished to part with him.

In retrospect, Memphis’ attitude toward the 2013 Pastner contract negotiation was probably akin to how a lover badly betrayed in a previous relationship exhibits over-protectiveness and neuroticism in their next relationship. “YOU’RE NOT GOING TO LEAVE ME ARE YOU? YOU CAN’T LEAVE!” Memphis administrators and boosters were still so traumatized by the images of John Calipari leaving millions on the table to hop a private plane to Lexington that they threw all that money at Pastner – who as recently as 2013 had become one of the bright young stars in the profession and was a legit candidate at USC and possibly a target of UCLA. It’s amazing how 2 years can change everyone’s perspective such a great deal.

2. Be proactive in helping Pastner make a lateral move (or step back move) similar to Frank Haith leaving Missouri for Tulsa in 2014. This is an intriguing option. There are a lot of people, myself included, who really like Josh Pastner. Because he’s been personally very kind to me and my family, it’s painful to think of him being pushed out in any way. Yet the truth is that Pastner and Memphis may be better off moving in different directions. He may find more happiness in a less pressurized environment where he can focus solely on running a program the way he sees fit without constant comparisons to his predecessor and without the intense focus of the fans and media that the Memphis job generates. This is not to suggest that the pressure in Memphis is that great or that Pastner has somehow been treated unfairly, just that maybe he’d prefer a change of scenery. Everybody knew that following Calipari was not going to be easy.

According to Veazey, if Pastner leaves Memphis before April 6, 2015, he owes the University $600,000. After that date the number drops to $500,000. Memphis could decide to go ahead and waive that clause – by offering an amendment to the contract – in hopes that Pastner might then be more inclined to make a lateral move. There are other things Memphis could do financially to incentivize such a move without straight up firing Pastner, such as offering an exit bonus which would allow him to take a lesser paying job without as drastic a paycut. Ultimately Memphis might be able to pay Pastner and a less expensive new staff the combined amount of money they’re paying Pastner and his.

Perhaps Pastner could then end up at a place like Nevada or Stanford – or some other less high profile program in the Mountain West or PAC 12 – or even a place in the AAC like UCF. There are good jobs available at schools with less basketball tradition than Memphis. AD’s and fan bases of such schools might be thrilled to get a recruiter of Pastner’s caliber who took 4 straight teams to the NCAA tournament.

3. Fire Pastner. I don’t see this as an option because (a) $13.65m seems like way too much money – even for folks with very deep pockets – and (b) you just don’t fire a guy who has taken his program to 4 consecutive NCAA tournaments while compiling a record of 138-50, unless there are some major ethical or behavioral problems going on. Despite the frustration of the fan base, such a move is basically unprecedented – though UT once fired Jerry Green after 4 straight NCAA tournaments when the environment around his program became so toxic he went on the radio and told fans to “Go to K-Mart” if they didn’t want to watch his product. He could have at least had the respect to suggest Target.

Without the benefit of being around the Memphis program on a day to day basis, I can’t say whether the dysfunction of the current internal situation rises to the level where a change of this nature is being contemplated. Obviously Pastner vigorously denies that he has lost control of the program, and I’m inclined to believe him, for now.