New season, same old story in Conference USA as the Memphis Tigers are undoubtedly the team to beat. It will be Memphis' final season in C-USA before heading to the Big East.
The key for the Tigers to stay in the national picture will be the maturation of their guards. Joe Jackson and Drew Crawford both arrived on campus as highly touted recruits, and while they've shown flashes at times, have struggled to produce at a consistent level. Antonio Barton provides experience off the bench and JUCO transfer Geron Johnson will add some scoring.
A healthy Adonis Thomas will be relied upon to replace the scoring of Will Barton, who left early for the NBA Draft. Thomas is a tough matchup due to his strength, but can also shoot the ball from deep. Freshman Damien Wilson is an athletic slasher who should fit the Tigers' up-and-down style of play.
Tarik Black's presence on the floor will be essential for this team to reach its full potential. He has had major issues staying out of foul trouble, which has been costly since he is the team's only true back-to-the-basket post option. Ferrokhan Hall brought some athleticism to the floor after transferring in from Seton Hall. He figures to compete with McDonald's All-American Shaq Goodwin for the starting power forward position. Goodwin is extremely active on both ends but very skilled with the ball in his hands.
Stan Simpson and Hippolyte Tsafeck each played sparingly a year ago and provide Josh Pastner with more size and depth up front. D.J. Stephens has been used as a versatile energy player and should see spot minutes as well.
Conference USA figures to be relatively weak this season with the exception of Memphis. For the Tigers to truly dominate the league and remain a Top-25 caliber team, they need their backcourt to play like upperclassmen while Thomas develops into the player that he is capable of becoming.
Player to Watch: Joe Jackson, PG
Jackson did cut down on his turnovers last year, which was a step in the right direction, but his decision-making and shot selection could still use some improvement. If he can fully adopt his role as floor general and not try to do too much especially when pushing the tempo, that will help Memphis tremendously.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/22 vs. VCU (Battle 4 Atlantis)
11/23 vs. Duke/Minnesota (Battle 4 Atlantis)
11/24 vs. Louisville/Northern Iowa/Missouri/Stanford (Battle 4 Atlantis)