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NCAA Basketball Memphis Tigers

Memphis’ X-Factor: Freshman Austin Nichols

Austin Nichols

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Earning significant playing time as a freshman at a basketball powerhouse is a daunting task. However, Memphis Tigers freshman forward Austin Nichols has done just that, convincing coach Josh Pastner to not only give him big minutes, but also include him in the starting lineup. He currently is putting up 10.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and is second on the team with 10 blocked shots.

Shooting 55.1 percent from the field, Nichols has shown that he takes smart shots, and has had a few breakout performances. He scored 20 points against Nicholls, and led the team in points and rebounding with 19 and eight in a 76-69 win over LSU.

Every college team dreams of having an offensively productive big man. If Nichols shows more consistency, Memphis will have two — Nichols and sophomore Shaq Goodwin. The latter is having a big year, averaging 13.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. Senior point guard Joe Jackson leads the team with 15 points per game.

This team has nice complementary pieces in Michael Dixon Jr., Chris Crawford, Nick King and Geron Johnson. However, Nichols has an upside that none of those guys possess. If he can produce at a more consistent level, Memphis can be a pest to deal with in the American Athletic Conference. They would match up well against Connecticut, who lacks an inside game, and Louisville, who has been inconsistent on the interior as well.

While Nichols might be a year or more away from being completely dominant, he will be Memphis’ X-factor this season. If he can deliver and post around 12-14 points and 6-8 rebounds a game, I’d look out for Memphis in the postseason.

Dan Karpuc is an American Athletic Conference basketball writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_karpuc, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.