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January 9, 2014

Know Your Foe: Memphis Tigers

Memphis Tigers
Last season: 31-5, 16-0 Conference USA
This season: 10-3, 1-2 AAC
Coach: Josh Pastner
Record at Memphis: 116-37, fifth season
Overall record: 116-37, fifth season


SO FAR
After their non-conference schedule, the Tigers were 9-2, with losses at No. 5 Oklahoma State (101-80) and to No. 16 Florida (77-75) in New York. But they also beat Oklahoma State 77-68 in the Old Spice Classic title game in Orlando, Fla.,and they have a victory over LSU in the Old Spice. They opened American Athletic Conference play with an 88-73 victory at USF on Dec.31, then lost 69-53 at home to Cincinnati last Saturday. In that game Memphis shot just 33.3 percent, including 11.8 percent (2 of 17) on three-point shots, and the Tigers were outscored 30-14 over the final 12:34. They looked undisciplined and had 10 shots blocked.

Memphis likes to run at every opportunity, and the Tigers will force things. Before the Cincinnati game they were averaging 82.8 points a game, 21st in the country. But they were making just 4.9 three-pointers a game. They were fifth in the country in steals at 10.2 a game, and they had 10 against UC, but the Bearcats had 12 as well as a 10-4 advantage in blocks. Free-throw shooting has been a problem. The Tigers were hitting just 65.6 percent from the line, 275th in the country, and they were 9 of 15 (60 percent) against UC.

Memphis, which was ranked No. 18 before the UC game, returned three of its top four scorers and is starting three seniors, a sophomore and a freshman. They employ a three-guard attack and have no true center.

"We need to use our speed and our athleticism," coach Josh Pastner said before the season. "We are not a smash-mouth team. I'm sure teams are going to try to slow us down and keep the games in the 50s. I want the games in the 90s."

GUARDS
Joe Jackson, a 6-1 Memphis native who was named to the preseason All-AAC first team, is leading the team with an average of 15.2 ppg and is tied for the lead at 3.7 assists a game. He had a team-high 13 points against UC but made five turnovers and had just two assists. The senior is second on the team with 23 steals and is a good free-throw shooter at 87.5 percent.

The other starting guards are 6-4 senior Chris Crawford (9.1 ppg, fourth on the team) and 6-3 senior Geron Johnson (8.4 ppg, sixth on the team). Crawford, who leads the team with 27 steals, had a forgettable game against UC (five points, 2-of-11 shooting). Johnson, who had seven points against UC, made just 2 of 13 shots and is shooting a woeful 18.7 percent on treys (6 of 32 on the season, 0 for 5 against UC). He is tied with Jackson at 3.7 assists a game. Both are decent rebounders, Johnson at 4.9 rpg, Crawford at 4.0. Shooting has been a problem for both, Crawford at 37.7 percent, Johnson at 36.5.

The top backcourt sub is 6-1 senior Michael Dixon, a Missouri transfer who is averaging 11.3 ppg, third on the team. .He had 12 points against UC but made just 4 of 12 shots, including 1 of 6 on treys. He has started four games.

WINGS
Austin Nichols, a 6-8 freshman, is averaging 9.0 ppg and 4.4 rpg. He's shooting 54 percent and has tried no treys. He had just two points and one rebound against UC. He's a poor free-throw shooter at 54.5 percent.
The top sub on the wing is 6-7 freshman Nick King (6.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg), who had no points and just one rebound against UC. He's shooting only 42.5 percent on free throws.

Another sub on the wing is 6-10 freshman Kuran Iverson (2.1 ppg), who was rated the No. 27 overall recruit and No. 6 small forward by Rivals.com but has been a disappointment at Memphis, shooting just 30.4 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from the line.

BIGS
Sophomore Shaq Goodwin (6-9) is second on the team at 12.7 ppg and leads at 6.7 rpg. He had just six points against UC to go along with six rebounds. He is shooting 67.7 percent and leads the team with 22 blocks.
George Washington transfer David Pellom (6-7, Sr.) is averaging 6.4 ppg and 3.9 rpg and is shooting 71.7 percent. He had eight points and a team-high seven rebounds against UC.

Another sub in the pivot is highly rated freshman Dominic Woodson (6-9, 290), who is averaging 3.3 ppg and 1.4 rpg. He's another free-throw liability at 40.0 percent.

COACH
Pastner continues now-UK coach John Calipari's winning ways, and Memphis is one of just nine schools to have won 20 or more games in each of the last 11 seasons. Only 36, Pastner looks even younger.

BEST PLAYER
Jackson.

ALL-TIME SERIES
UofL and Memphis have met 87 times in a series that dates to 1949, with the Cards having a 53-34 advantage. They were both in the Missouri Valley, Metro and Conference USA.

FAST FACTS: Memphis has been to the NCAA Tournament 25 times and to the Final Four twice, in 1985 (third) and in 2008 (second but vacated under Calipari). The Tigers play in the 18,400 seat FedEx Forum, which will host the AAC Tournament in March. Memphis' victory over Oklahoma State this season was just its second over a ranked opponent in Pastner's five seasons.


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