In the third round of the NCAA Tournament, the Memphis Tigers met the Michigan State Spartans, a game they lost by over 20 points. The Tigers were more than talented enough to win the game, but there was one obvious problem: Memphis did not have a post player that could handle the Spartans’ Louis Nix.
The problem reoccurred throughout the season as the Tigers never got consistent play from their big guys.
Tarik Black, who transferred to the Kansas Jayhawks, was in the dog house for most of the season, losing his starting spot after walking out of a practice and never seemed to be mentally there for the remainder of the year.
He was replaced in the starting five by now-sophomore Shaq Goodwin. Goodwin gave the Tigers a big boost in energy and was very impressive early on, but he was overly aggressive on defense and got in foul trouble in the first half many times, which kept him on the bench. Despite ranking No.7 on the team in minutes played per game at 20.7, Goodwin led the team in fouls (115) and averaged 3.2 fouls per game.
What made it even tougher was that the two backups, Ferrakohn Hall and Stan Simpson, rarely even saw time and were not reliable to say the least. D.J. Stephens, who is pursuing an NBA career, was the best post player for the Tigers and anytime a team’s best big man is 6-foot-5, there are going to be problems.
The good news though is that head coach Josh Pastner addressed the need in a big way with the Tigers 2013 recruiting class.
Incoming freshman big men Austin Nichols and Dominic Woodson give Memphis immediate frontcourt depth and a very bright future. Nichols is a Memphis kid and has an extremely high basketball IQ. Coaches were very impressed with how quickly he picked up on instructions and set plays and his competitiveness.
He runs the floor very well and at 6-foot-8, 200 pounds, he still needs to add a lot of muscle, but this five-star recruit immediately gives the Tigers a down low threat who can play defense and get to the rim.
Woodson is a mammoth of a man at 6-foot-9, 315 pounds and is a space eater. In high school, he overpowered opponents with his unique blend of size and quickness for a 300-pound player. Woodson has good set of skills and moves, and uses his size to his advantage on both ends of the floor.
It was apparent against better teams that Memphis just did not have the depth, size or strength to compete down low. Woodson has the size and strength to go one-on-one with any player in the country and finally gives Pastner an intimidating figure under the net.
Perhaps the biggest impact newcomer among the big men suiting up for the Tigers this season will be fifth-year senior George Washington transfer David Pellom. Pellom missed all of last season with a wrist injury and will play immediately due to the graduation rule, which allows players to play right away if they transfer and have eligibility remaining.
At George Washington, he averaged 10.4 points per game and led the team with 6.1 rebounds per game during his junior year in 2011-12. In A-10 play, he averaged a double-double and his 68.5 shooting percentage was the highest total in the program’s history. Pellom is a good rebounder and is very effective down low on offense and defense.
His experience will help the Tigers tremendously not only with scoring and defense, but also with helping Nichols and Woodson learn the college game.
Memphis won 31 games last year but as mentioned, the post play was a glaring weakness. How far Memphis goes in 2013-14 hinges on the production from the big men and how well they control the paint against the top teams in the country. The additions of Nichols, Pellom and Woodson are huge for a Tigers team that has not had a force down low since Joey Dorsey.