Since I am the type of fan who gets emotionally tied to my favorite teams, I can't possibly comprehend or understand what it could be like to be a Memphis Tigers fan. When the Tigers were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16, all signs pointed to the future being as bright as ever for the program. Head coach John Calipari appeared ready to bring in the most decorated recruiting class during his tenure at the school, and the commitment of the highly touted John Wall seemed to be coming any day. However, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. John Calipari decided to accept the open coaching position at Kentucky. The highly touted recruiting class that Calipari had assembled no longer existed, and the highly touted Wall decided to commit to Kentucky instead of Memphis. In an attempt to rub salt into the wounds of the program, it was revealed that there were some questions regarding Derrick Rose and his eligibility, and the team that made the Final 4 was officially wiped from the record books.
Despite the stream of bad new that the program faced, the Tigers rebounded nicely in promoting Josh Pastner to fill in for the departed Calipari. Pastner is an excellent recruiter and one of the top young coaches in the sport. It was just a matter of time before he was given the opportunity to run a program of his own, so this was definitely a smart hire. While it appears that this will be the first down year for Memphis in a long time, Pastner is the type of coach that can keep the program at the high level that fans are accustomed to. However, if there is a year to get your hits in on the tigers, this might be it.Last Season: Although it was originally considered a transition year after the loss of Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Joey Dorsey, Memphis emerged as one of the top teams in the country towards the end of the season. After dropping early season games to Georgetown, Xavier, and Syracuse, the Tigers went ahead and won 26 consecutive games. Unfortunately, the statement victory during the streak was the demolition of Gonzaga at the Spokane Arena. I will never forget watching that game from the first row and thinking that I had never seen a team that possessed so much length and athleticism at every possession. The huge winning streak earned Memphis a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the Tigers coasted through the first two rounds of the tournament. However, their terrific season came to an end at the hands of the Missouri Tigers in the Sweet 16.
New Faces: The most important new face for this program had no intentions of playing for the Memphis Tigers this season. However, a serious medical issue in his family brought Elliot Williams back to the city of Memphis. After playing as a freshman at Duke, Williams elected to return home to be near his family. Williams is an explosive guard who can be absolutely dominant when he has the ball in the open court. Not only will Williams start from day one, but he will also be arguably the best player on the team this season. Much is also expected of JC transfer Will Coleman. With the way he is built, Coleman will immediately draw comparisons to Joey Dorsey. Coleman has tremendous physical size and athleticism, but he has already had some issues with effort during the exhibition season. Another newcomer who will see some minutes is D.J. Stephens. Stephens is an undersized power forward, but he will thrive in the up tempo system that Memphis uses. Stephens has a tremendous motor and will bring great energy to this team.
Players to watch: Although he was mentioned in the previous section, Elliot Williams is certainly a player to watch for this team. Williams likely would have started for Duke this season, but he might be an even better fit in this system. Williams pushed his way into the starting lineup as a freshman Duke, and it will be expected that he take his game to another level this year. He is a very smart player, and he uses his great length and quickness to wreak havoc on the defensive end. Another guy who has to make the leap in production is Wesley Witherspoon. Witherspoon is truly one of the most unique talents in the nation. He has the skill set to be an elite point guard, but he has the size to play power forward and center for this team. I think the best comparison for his game is Lamar Odom, but it will be interesting to see how Pastner utilizes Witherspoon in order to maximize his unique skills. In Roburt Sallie, Memphis has one of the best shooters in the nation. Many college basketball fans will recognize Sallie for his performance in the NCAA Tournament. In their opening round game against Cal State Northridge, Sallie came off the bench to his 10-15 shots from beyond the arc and score 35 points. Sallie will need to be more consistent in his production this year, but he has the talent to be an excellent player.
Concerns: This will probably sound like I'm beating a dead horse, but the athleticism and length of Memphis causes concern for me again. Perhaps this year more than ever, Matt Bouldin will be relied on to produce at a high level in the most crucial games. Based on his previous performances against Memphis, I am a little worried how Matt will be able to lead and dictate the game if he is unable to be effective because of the length that Memphis will present. There aren't many team that can put a guy like Wesley Witherspoon or Elliot Williams on Bouldin, but Memphis is one of the teams that has that type of defensive weapons.
What we are watching for: While I do have concerns regarding how Matt will handle the athleticism of Memphis, I think the rest of the team should be adept at handling whatever Memphis throws at them. Although the group is young, guys like Mangisto Arop, GJ Vilarino, Elias Harris, and Meech Goodson have more length and quickness then this program is used to at those respective positions. This team should be able to handle the dribble-drive offense that Memphis has made so famous, and there is also enough depth for this team to run and pressure like it hasn't been able to in the past.