Can Memphis and Josh Pastner Sneak Into NCAA Tournament?

Being a Memphis native, I see the turmoil that follows soon after tip-off just about every time the Tigers have played this season . . . on my Twitter timeline.

People want Pastner to start doing this, stop doing that, be more strict on players, loosen his grip on players, ect. Hell, half of them don’t want to see the sixth year coach back on the sidelines next season.

That said, like Axe body spray, winning covers up a lot of stink. Despite being in the midst of his worst start since he took over for John Calipari, all is not lost, yet.

The Tigers currently have wins over two teams with winning records, both being directional schools from the Carolina’s: North Carolina Central and South Carolina Upstate. Not impressive.

They are hovering right around 100 in both the RPI and BPI, which of course won’t get them in the field of dancing teams, nor even close. They aren’t being helped out by the conference much; the AAC is currently being led by Tulsa (11-5, 4-0), who has losses to the likes of Oral Roberts and SE Oklahoma State.

Assuming teams like Tulsa and Tulane regress back to their means, the likely top-dwellers in the AAC should be SMU (12-4, 3-1), Cincinnati (11-4, 2-1) and maybe a run-in with a team like Connecticut or Temple.

Memphis is currently 9-6, 2-2 in the AAC, with both conference wins coming over Houston. To get to a spot where the selection committee could justify them being in the tournament, which is where Pastner needs to be to get some of this pressure off, they are going to need roughly 21-22(ish) wins, which may include a run in the conference tournament.

Can they get to that number with two match ups against the likes of UCONN, Cincy, and Temple? There are a lot of foreseeable wins such as ECU/USF (twice each), UCF, Jacksonville State, Tulsa and Temple (both at home). That said, the road to the dance is going to have to include some road wins over the aforementioned UCONN, Temple, Tulsa, and for the Tigers to take care of business at home.

Jan. 31 provides an opportunity to right the entire ship with a win at highly-ranked Gonzaga, but beating ranked teams, especially on the road, has not exactly been Pastner’s MO at Memphis. Still, the Tigers’ athleticism could give the Zags trouble. I wouldn’t bet on the blue and gray, but crazier things have happened.

Any trip to post-season glory is going to have to be on the backs of the bigmen, Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin. Rebounding and blocked shots are just about the only two statistics where the Tigers compete nationally. They two average about 13 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per contest between them.

Nichols is averaging 13 points an outing, and Goodwin 8.7, which is down over three points from last season. A large problem has been the lack of steady guard play to not only feed the bigs the ball, but also take away some of the pressure from the paint.

If Memphis can get Goodwin going a bit more, keep Nichols consistent, keep Trashon Burrell–the Tigers second leading scorer who has missed a few games due to team violations–out of trouble, and settle down in the backcourt, the team from the bluff city can play into the month of March.

Some key dates for the Tigers tournament hopes:

Tonight: Cincinnati at home.

January 21st-24th: Memphis could really benefit from a Tulane and Tulsa road trip.

The previously mentioned January 31st: Gonzaga on the road.

March 5th-8th: The Tigers will close out the regular season with a UCONN and Cincy road trip. They need at least a split here.

If Memphis can do three out of the above four, I believe this year’s Tigers have a pretty good shot at avoiding being the first team since 2010 not to qualify for March Madness. If not, the seat becomes very hot on Josh Pastner, no matter how many highly touted recruits he brings in during the off-season.


*Section Photo credit to Grant Halverson, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Nelson Chenault, USA Today Sports.

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