In just a matter of seconds, the Memphis Tigers went from a possible to serious AAC and NCAA basketball title contender Wednesday when news surfaced that fifth-year senior transfer Michael Dixon was granted eligibility to play in the upcoming season.
Once head coach Josh Pastner gave him the news, Dixon was overwhelmed and broke down crying. After everything he had been through in the last year, Dixon got his second chance.
The guard was kicked off the Missouri Tigers team last November after he was accused of sexual assault for the second time. Though he was never charged, Missouri decided to avoid dealing with the backlash and told him to take a hike. He opted to go to Memphis and knew he would only be able to play if the NCAA gave him a waiver.
After a nearly three-month wait, Dixon and the program’s wish came true, and, in the process, the backcourt just got scary good.
The biggest thing Dixon brings is experience, something that will be big for the Tigers come AAC and NCAA Tournament time. In his three years at Missouri, he played in 101 games and made 25 starts. His best year came in 2011-12, when he put up 13.5 points and 3.3 assists per game on his way to being named the Big XII Sixth Man of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
He played an integral part for the team’s 30-5 record and No. 2 seed in the big dance, and has a great chance to start for the Tigers. Pastner has to feel good about the depth and experience his team has at the guard position. Even without Dixon, Memphis had a talented, veteran set of guards with seniors Chris Crawford, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson, as well as freshmen Markel Crawford, Nick King and, at certain times, Kuran Iverson.
Adding Dixon gives them four seniors who have “been there and done that.” The Tigers play an up-tempo style and with even more depth now, Pastner can rotate fresh legs in and out to keep the game at a frantic pace and tire their opponents faster.
Dixon’s defensive prowess fits Memphis’ philosophy to a tee. Pastner preaches active hands and creating turnovers to get out and running to his players, but he probably won’t have to say much to the fifth-year senior. He’s a lock-down defender and routinely guarded the opposing team’s best player, unless of course that player was in the post.
He has very active hands and averages over a steal per game (1.5) for his career. Dixon will help tremendously with backcourt defense. The Tigers struggled last season to maintain guards who could drive, particularly against Louisville, where Peyton Siva and Russ Smith combined for 38 points by driving to the paint unimpeded and scoring or drawing fouls. Dixon is great at on-the-ball defending and will give the Tigers a huge boost.
Equally important as his defense is his offense. He wasn’t named Sixth Man of the Year for no reason. He ranked fourth on the team with 13.5 ppg despite coming off the bench and being fifth on the team in minutes per game (26.7). Dixon is a good ball-handler, but you would like him to dish the rock out more with his passing skills. In his defense, he is more of a scoring guard than a passing guard. Still, a few more assists would be good for his game.
He also adds another shooting threat outside the three-point line. He’s not great with a career mark of 37.8 percent, but that is not bad either. Opposing defenders will give a lot of attention to Crawford, which could create open spot-up shots for Dixon.
The sheer talent of the backcourt is going to make it hard for opponents to guard the Tigers, and Pastner even said to expect a four-guard lineup at times this season. The Cardinals might be the defending national champions, but with Dixon on board, Memphis possesses the best group in the AAC, and has a case for the best in the country.
There’s something brewing in the Bluff City. College basketball, you have been warned.