Memphis Basketball Preview: #33
Overall Rank: #33
Conference Rank: #1 Conference USA
2008-09: 33-4, 16-0
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: John Pastner (First year at Memphis, 0-0 overall)
Some of the names may not sound familiar, but do not expect Memphis to drop off the face of the Earth even though they lost their coach and their top four scorers from a year ago. Certainly things will be much, much more interesting in Conference USA than they have been recently, but the Tigers are still a team to contend with.
Key Losses: G Antonio Anderson, F Robert Dozier, G Tyreke Evans, F Shawn Taggart
Four incoming wings that include Drew Barham, Tyler Foster, D.J. Stephens and Malik Thomas will provide depth, but there are a few more experienced players who will make a bigger impact. Junior college transfer guard James Harvey will help replace Antonio Anderson and Tyreke Evans, but it is fellow junior college transfer Will Coleman who will likely be starting from day one. Coleman, a 6-9, 250 pound forward, has the size to battle under the basket, but he is also surprisingly agile and will use both of those skills to finish around the basket and hit the glass. Elliot Williams, a transfer from Duke, will be eligible to play immediately after starting 12 games for the Blue Devils a season ago.
Williams has some competition on the perimeter for a starting job though and that goes to show the amount of talent that was mostly sitting on the bench in Memphis last year. Doneal Mack is the team’s top returning scorer at 8.7 points per game and could be the team’s go-to-guy if he can start hitting the long ball more consistently. Roburt Sallie is already a consistent shooter and should once again be a great sixth man. Willie Kemp might not be a great scorer like Evans was, but he is a steady ballhandler and an experienced senior who should be ready to take over the leadership role.
The frontcourt has more questions. The loss of Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart leaves a couple huge holes under the basket. Those two combined to average 23.3 points, 15.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocks during the 2008-2009 campaign. Nobody is going to put up numbers like that this year. Wesley Witherspoon is an intriguing option though. He is really a big 6-9 wing who does his best work running up and down the floor, but if new Coach John Pastner lets him run free, Witherspoon could be in for a big year. Pierre Henderson-Niles started ten games last year, but he has lacked the conditioning to play more than 15 minutes per game. If he can stay in shape, he can be a solid contributor to the frontcourt.
Who to Watch:
The most important players on this team will end up being the newcomers who are not freshmen. Kemp, Sallie and Mack are a formidable trio on the perimeter, but they will need help from Williams and Harvey. Williams was a highly touted recruit heading into Duke and is still a young player with his best days ahead of him. Perhaps it is the play of Coleman that will be the difference between the NCAA and the NIT. Coleman has to give the frontcourt a scoring punch and some toughness or Memphis will get beat under the basket by many teams, and not just non-conference opponents.
Tulsa and UTEP are going to give the Tigers a run for their money, but the Tigers arguably still have the most talented team in the conference. Whether or not that talent turns into victories will depend on the transition of the coaching regime and how quickly the newcomers can adjust to life in Memphis.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Willie Kemp, Senior, Guard, 2.9 points per game
Elliot Williams, Sophomore, Guard, DNP last season
Doneal Mack, Senior, Guard, 8.7 points per game
Wesley Witherspoon, Sophomore, Forward, 4.0 points per game
Will Coleman, Junior, Forward, DNP last season
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