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The time is here and now for the 2013-2014 edition of the Memphis Tigers. This season marks the 4th year in a row that Memphis enters ranked in the Top 25. Yet previous campaigns have been marred by slow starts and inconsistency. This was evident last year as Memphis, who went 31-5 during the regular season, failed to advance past the third round of the NCAA tournament. Does 5th year head coach Josh Pastner and his team have what it takes this year?
If they do, it all will start with the guards. Even with the loss of Antonio Barton, Memphis comes in with arguably the most talented back court in the nation. Seniors Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson, and Joe Jackson all return for the Tigers. That’s great news, because all are versatile players who can also score the basketball.
The ringleader is almost certainly Conference USA player of the year Joe Jackson, who averaged 13.6 PPG last season. Jackson is an especially phenomenal distributor as well, averaging almost 5 assists per game last season. He is the most important piece on the team.
Chris Crawford is also a solid scorer. He put in 10.4 points per game and can light it up from 3-point range when he gets hot…like during the Conference USA tournament when he averaged a whopping 25.7 points per game. Last, but certainly not least, of the returning senior guards is the 6' 3" Johnson. He's one of the most active defenders on the team (team-high 1.8 SPG) and can score as well, with 10.4 PPG in 2012-13.
Even with the loss of Will Barton, Memphis comes in with arguably the most talented back court in the nation.
But that’s not all. The Tigers welcome another senior, transfer guard Michael Dixon Jr. from Missouri, who averaged 13.5 PPG two seasons ago for the "other" Tigers. Dixon is a talented play-maker in his own right, and if he can gel with his teammates, will provide yet another dangerous facet to the Tigers attack. To say that the Memphis back court is loaded this season may not be a strong enough adjective.
In the front court, the Memphis will be buoyed by senior transfer David Pellom, who averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds per game at George Washington. Shaq Goodwin, the 6'9" sophomore, also figures to be heavily involved as well.
Besides the roster, by far the most salient topic on the minds of many Tigers fans is the switch in conference. The newly formed American Athletic Conference will provide a vastly improved level of competition against which the Tigers can test themselves, since the schedule looks tough from start to finish.
In conference, the Tigers will twice face sturdy opponents such as defending champion Louisville, UConn, and Cincinnati. Out of conference, the Tigers will play at Oklahoma State, against Gonzaga, and at Florida. Yikes. It is no cakewalk to be sure, but if they Tigers can make it through this gauntlet, watch out for them heading into the tournament.
Memphis will surely rely on their guard play this season, as they have one of the deepest, most talented, and most experienced back courts in the NCAA. If they are going to make a run, their marquise players will have to rise of the occasion of a better conference, bigger stage, and a tougher schedule. It’s now or never for Memphis, and they know it.