November 14 is when the Memphis Tigers opens its first season in the American Athletic Conference. However, on Thursday, head coach Josh Pastner and his team held their first official practice of the 2013-14 campaign.
Many might see it as what it is, just a practice. But for a Memphis team that has struggled to get off to a fast start in recent years, it’s more than just practice, it’s a chance to really work hard at getting everything down and improve team chemistry.
Last year, the Tigers entered the season in the top 25 and had high expectations. They quickly fell out of the rankings though, stumbling to a 1-2 record in the Battle 4 Atlantis with two lackluster performances against VCU and Minnesota. In the 2011-12 season, they got off to a 6-5 start before ultimately finishing 26-9.
The slow starts have resulted in much criticism for Pastner and the team, as well as lower NCAA Tournament seeds. The time for excuses is over, as fans finally got the tougher schedule they’d been crying for.
The next month of practices leading up to the start of the season is a time for Memphis’ talented group of freshmen and senior transfers Michael Dixon (Missouri) and David Pellom (George Washington) to get in tune with everything Pastner expects on the offensive and defensive ends of the court. It also is a time for them to learn their teammates tendencies and develop chemistry.
Team chemistry is absolutely crucial if a team wants to make a serious run at a conference and national title. Without it, there comes turnovers, sloppy play and many losses. The Tigers are as talented as any team in the country, but haven’t played up to their potential at times.
Some players said at the team’s media day that they are already developing good chemistry. If they use this first month to continue grow that bond and work hard on the fundamentals, they have a chance to do something special. For the first time in a few years, there is good depth in the frontcourt. The Tigers backcourt is one of the top-five in the country and can matchup toe-to-toe with the Louisville Cardinals.
It includes seniors Dixon, Chris Crawford, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson, all of which will play huge roles for the Tigers this year. Out of the group, Jackson is by far the most important player. He’s going to go down as one of the best Tigers ever and is the heart and soul of Memphis. He’s a great all-around player who not only scores, but gets his teammates open shots. Crawford can take over games when he’s on from three-point range and Johnson is a gifted scorer and defender.
They’ll have this month to help teach Kuran Iverson, Nick King and Markel Crawford, as well as compete and press them hard in practice to make them better.
If the Tigers get as much out of this month as possible, it will work to their advantage and possibly propel them to an early season title in the Old Spice Classic, which would give the team a huge boost in confidence and momentum heading into the rest of the year.
To sum up how good Memphis could be if it fulfills its vast potential, the team would be a serious threat to the Cardinals for the AAC‘s inaugural title, which will be played on the Tigers home court at FedExForum. Whether or not that happens is totally up to them. All the pieces are there and boy would Pastner love to silence his critics.