The Memphis Tigers are coming off a successful 2012-13 campaign, finishing 31-5 and a perfect 16-0 in the C-USA. They won their third-straight C-USA tournament championship and head coach Josh Pastner finally got that elusive first NCAA Tournament win. Overall, it was the Tigers’ best year since the days of John Calipari.
However, Memphis never was considered an elite team last year for a number of reasons, with the most obvious being their lack of big men to patrol the paint. Quite frankly, aside from Shaq Goodwin, who had a solid freshman year but was too inconsistent, the Tigers hardly had a low-post presence and basically went just three deep in the down low.
Tarik Black, who transferred to the Kansas Jayhawks, never played to his capabilities and had a falling out with Pastner and the team, leading to him coming off the bench for much of the remainder of the year. The Tigers best post player was D.J. Stephens, and though he played brilliantly last year, he was not a true big man at 6’5”.
Pastner knew it was a huge need for the upcoming season and he answered the bell by signing local Memphis five-star prospect Austin Nichols and four-star Texas native Dominic Woodson. Both are expected to have significant roles this year, but the biggest difference maker will be senior George Washington transfer David Pellom.
Pellom sat out last season with a wrist injury, but his play before all but speaks for itself. During his junior year in 2011-12, Pellom put up 10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, while also setting the school record for field goal percentage in a season at 68.5 percent. He played even better in A-10 games, averaging a double-double.
The big aspect Pellom brings to the table for Memphis is that he is a very good rebounder, something the Tigers did not have a lot of last year. Memphis was exposed in the paint against big teams, most notably against the Michigan State Spartans in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, a game in which they were out rebounded 49-29. Michigan State forwards Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne made a meal out of the Tiger frontcourt, combining for 27 points and 18 boards in a sound 70-48 beating.
Pellom immediately gives Memphis a solid rebounder and low-post defender. He isn’t the bulkiest guy at 6’8”, 220 pounds, but he has excellent footwork and an innate ability to block off his man and get in position to pull down boards.
He also has a nice arsenal of post moves and provides a reliable scoring option down low, which will help open up the Tigers’ shooters more often. Memphis does not necessarily need him to average over 10.0 PPG however, because they have a barrage of players who can light up the scoreboard.
Because they were in the C-USA, the Tigers got away with a lot of things just off their pure talent and athleticism. That won’t fly in the AAC against teams like the Louisville Cardinals, Cincinnati Bearcats and Connecticut Huskies. That’s why Pellom’s presence is such a huge lift for the team. Had he not joined, the most experienced guy would have been Goodwin. Pellom will give Memphis veteran leadership and will help mentor and teach Goodwin, as well as freshmen Nichols and Woodson.
With Pellom on board, the Tigers went from “Yea, but…” to a serious contender to upend Louisville in the AAC and make a run at a national championship. Don’t expect Memphis to be pushed around so easily this year. Pellom, along with Goodwin and the newcomers, have given the Tigers a much more intimidating look under the basket.