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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.

 

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.

 

How to Cope Emotionally with Tiger Losses

On the off chance that any reader of this blog doesn’t already know this: I’m a Memphis Tiger basketball fan. Have been since 1985. 30 years.

I’m not a casual fan. Like most fans, I have an emotional history with the enterprise. For example, in 1990, the day after a particularly difficult season ending Tiger loss (to UT in the 1st round of the NIT) I was riding in a car with my mother when Phil Collins’ then hit song, “I Wish It Would Rain Down” came on the radio. I cried. I cried because I really wanted it to rain down on me. I wanted the rain to cleanse and renew me. I wanted the rain to wash away the overwhelming sense of loss and emptiness I felt after having invested so much energy and emotion into the outcome of that, and every, Tiger season. I connected with Collins’ visceral need for renewal in the depths of despair and failure. I had absolutely no idea at the time what he was actually singing about – I was 13 – but I freaking knew what he was singing about. Despair.

There’s also the anger. Most of these episodes were sort of like blackouts and what was conscious was quickly repressed- so the details are fuzzy – but I’ve thrown books, scared dogs, friends, and family members; damaged relationships, said things nobody should say about other human beings, stormed out of games and more. Worse.

The bottom line: I don’t like it when the Tigers lose. And that’s kind of the bad news.

But here’s the good news:

Over the years I’ve developed a method to circumvent these painful emotions.  It goes like this….

LUXURIATE IN THE WINS AND PRETEND THE LOSSES NEVER HAPPENED

This is a simple method and it generally works well. For example, I’ll typically watch wins on replay right after the game. I’ll read all the articles about wins. I’ll tune into talk radio after wins. I’ll check the RPI, the next few weeks’ schedule, maybe even check out some other college basketball just to see what’s happening. Why not? Good vibes all around. Soak it in. Really feel it.

After losses, on the other hand……………………………………….

…………………………………………..

Nothing.

Nada.

Total abstinence.

Go to a movie, do some laundry, call a friend, walk the dog.  Anything but think for a second about the fact that Memphis basketball just lost to Tulane. I’m serious about this – I will not waste more than 10 seconds if I can help it thinking about the fact that Memphis basketball just lost to Tulane. This isn’t difficult. I’m 37 now. I understand the broader picture – or at least enough of it to know that in the grand scheme of things, regardless of your personal religious affiliation or moral convictions, or beliefs about the universe – the outcome of a college basketball game just doesn’t register. So I move on, and spend my time doing other things. And how perfect is this? All that time I wasted re-watching games I already knew the outcome to? I’m now getting it back by moving on swiftly and without regret after a loss. Like it never happened. I’ll perk up just enough to know when the next game is (Thursday against SMU), and I’ll watch that one – but until then I’m free to completely ignore 92.9, The Commercial Appeal, Twitter, etc. A much needed respite.

One caveat: I always read Calkins.

Also, and here’s where some people may call me a bandwagon fan if they wish. When the team is bad, I’ll start skipping games – or taping / DVRing them to see if they win and then watching later only if they win. Now – keep in mind – due to the incredibly successful nature of the program, this tactic seldom gets utilized. In the last 30 years the Tigers have had just 3 losing seasons. Rare to be certain, but when the down years do come a little detachment is in order. For everyone’s well being.

There’s only problem with all this:

I decided to write a blog about basketball this year. In particular, Memphis basketball. So now I feel like I sorta have to write something. Not for the readership of bballjones.com, whom I appreciate. But for myself, because I kind of want to stick with this for a little while. So instead of writing some detailed breakdown of how the Tigers lost to Tulane, which you can get via Jason Smith if you really care, I wrote this. Whatever this is.

Now, as we do after each Tigers game, let’s hear from Philosophic Phil, Negative Nellie, and Realistic Ralph.  Please note that Philosophic Phil has replaced Positive Paul, who is now dead.

Philosophic Phil:

  • It’s great that the fans were treated to a spirited competitive game.
  • Tulane must feel so proud of their accomplishment.
  • Knowing and experiencing the agony of defeat makes the coming victory that much sweeter.

Negative Nellie:

  • The Tigers body of work is non existent.
  • Zero quality wins, and the potential bad (home) losses are piling up.
  • This means the Tigers are extremely far from NCAA tournament consideration.

Realistic Ralph:

  • Austin Nichols, 28 pts, 9 rbs, 4 blks. Wow. He’s clearly emerging.
  • Sure, Pookie coughed this one up – but he also had 9 assists – that doesn’t just happen by accident.
  • The Tigers were up 5 with under 4 minutes to go and just didn’t make that next play that might have sealed the game. It’s not as if they were out classed from the jump.
  • It is what it is. #IIWII

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIP Positive Paul

tombstonePositive Paul died today during a 74-66 Memphis Tigers home loss to Tulane. Despite the fact that Tulane is 11-3 and now 2-0 in the American Conference, this was a fatal blow to Paul – seeing as Tulane is still actually Tulane and not another school with a history of actually fielding competitive basketball teams this millennium. As Frank Murtaugh notes in his excellent game story, this was Memphis’ first home loss to the Green Wave since December 1992, shortly before George H.W. Bush left office.

Positive Paul leaves behind 3 siblings:  Negative Nellie, Realistic Ralph and Philosophic Phil.

 

Positive Paul, Negative Nellie & Realistic Ralph (Western Illinois edition)

Tiger fans are well aware that Josh Pastner prefers Positive Pauls and does not like Negative Nellies.  We at bballjones.com respect both. At the end of the day however, we strive to be more like Realistic Ralph.

Here’s a little something from all 3 viewpoints:

 

Positive Paul:

  • Trashon Burrell can play. The JUCO transfer from Lee College (TX) has now scored in double figures in 8 of the first 11 games of his Division 1 career.  On Tuesday evening, he pulled down 9 or more rebounds for the 4th time this season.  He is active, has good range (37% from 3pt range this season), finishes at the rim and averages almost 2 assists per game as well.
  • This Memphis team plays hard and plays together.  The undisputed strength of Pastner’s Memphis teams over the years is their propensity to play unselfish basketball (at least offensively). This squad is no different in that regard.
  • Memphis’ point guards, Pookie Powell and D’Marnier Cunningham, combined for 17 points, 8 assists and just 4 turnovers. Though Cunningham will struggle to guard bigger players, he’s incredibly quick and attacks the lane.  It will be interesting to see if he can be effective against AAC teams. He struggled against Oklahoma State, but that was his first Division 1 game. A high level donor in the front row last night insisted that Cunningham is going to be better than Joe Jackson. As far as I know, said donor has no background in scouting.
  • This may be the best rebounding team Pastner has had at Memphis. They have a gang rebounding approach and have out rebounded all but 3 opponents so far – coming close in those matchups. Against Western Illinois on Tuesday night, King had 10 rebounds, Burrell and Godfrey finished with 9 each.
  • With a 4th consecutive win, Memphis pushed its overall record to 7-4 heading into conference play. Confidence is rising and if the guard play continues to improve (remember that Pookie Powell is still a Freshman), Positive Paul can allow himself to dream about Memphis competing with SMU, UConn and Cincinnati for a top seed in the AAC Tournament.

Negative Nellie:

  • WTF is up with Shaq Goodwin?  The Junior, presumed team leader and pre-season all conference selection got suspended for a “violation of team rules.”  Memphis didn’t need another distraction heading into conference play – and another game where their best rotation isn’t deployed.
  • Blending Goodwin back into the lineup during high intensity conference games in January won’t go well.  Calvin Godfrey and Nick King combined for 24 and 19 on Tuesday night and neither one is going to want to cede minutes when Goodwin returns. One can easily foresee chemistry problems – something Pastner has never been adept at handling well.
  • Memphis still has too many defensive breakdowns – and allowed a bad Western Illinois to play them even (37-37) in the 2nd half on Tuesday night.
  • FedExForum has been moribund the last several home games. On Tuesday, it was half full at best. Although folks that attend these types of games tend to be the most loyal, vocal and supportive fans – it’s clear there’s a depressed energy around the program right now.
  • Fan reality is enhanced by the fact that it’s unlikely this Memphis team will make the NCAA tournament. Sure, it’s too early to write them off (just ask Positive Paul), but They’re 7-4 with an RPI (CBSSports) of 144 heading into AAC play. Of the remaining opportunities on the schedule, only Gonzaga (8) is in the top 30 of the RPI. SMU and Temple are both top 50, so there will be chances to make up ground, but perhaps not enough.

Realistic Ralph:

  • It’s actually nice to hear Pastner a little deflated and beat down. Ralph doesn’t wish ill upon Coach Pastner, but in the post-game show he sounded more like a basketball coach, and less like a self-help guru than he’s ever sounded.  Pastner needs to focus on this team and its development – not giving incessant shout-outs to the managers and walk-ons and otherwise saving the world. Ralph likes his basketball coaches a little tired, a little defeated and somewhat cynical (think Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim, RIck Pitino, etc…). Sounds like Pastner may finally be getting burnt out on the idea that he can be all things to all people.
  • Memphis opens the AAC schedule with 2 challenging, but winnable, home games against Houston (now coached by Kelvin Sampson) and a surprising Tulane team that sports a 9-2 record and went toe to toe with #13 Washington on the road last night before falling by 9 points late.
  • Memphis’ worst loss thus far was to a Stephen F. Austin squad that is still ranked in the top 100 of the RPI (72).  The others are all top 50 losses:  Wichita State (7), Baylor (30) and Oklahoma State (46).
  • On the other hand, Memphis doesn’t yet have a top 100 RPI win.  It’s best triumph was against North Carolina Central (100).
  • Memphis has some emerging talent, hasn’t quit and is definitely getting better.  That’s what fans want to see.

 

 

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

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

 

Positive Paul

 

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

 

Negative Nellie

 

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

 

Realistic Ralph

 

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