Business as usual: No. 11 Memphis can’t win a big game
It’s a topic that has become all too common for hoops fans in the city of Memphis.
The Tigers entered the season with all kinds of hype and promise, finding themselves ranked in the top 15 based on the immense talent on their roster. And in their first marquee matchup of the season ... they don’t show up to play.
On Tuesday night, the team with arguably the nation’s most talented back court got eviscerated by Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, getting smacked around as the No. 7 Cowboys took a sledgehammer to the Tigers, winning 101-80 in a game that certainly wasn’t as competitive as the final score would indicate.
It was embarrassing.
But it wasn’t unexpected, unfortunately. That’s what happens when you’re Josh Pastner and you’ve developed a reputation for the complete inability to win a big game. He’s now 0-13 against teams ranked in the AP top 25. He did win a game against St. Mary’s in the NCAA tournament last season -- the Gaels were 48 hours removed from playing in the play-in game in a different city -- and Randy Bennett’s club was ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll at the time, so in fairness, Pastner has beaten a top 25 team in his head coaching career. Barely.
(MORE: Marcus Smart added his name to the Player of the Year list)
It was also his first career NCAA tournament victory.
No. 11 Memphis was supposed to be different this season. They have four talented seniors in their back court with the addition of Michael Dixon, and those four were supposed to provide the leadership necessary to buck this trend of losing when the lights are the brightest. They were going to be able to spread the floor and create mismatches and rely on their bevy of offensive talent to be able to breakdown defenses and win games. Dixon, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson were going to give opposing back courts fits as they tried to handle the ball and run offense. There was going to be a mental toughness spurred on by the addition of Dixon, a bulldog of a lead guard that has been through enough ups-and-downs in his career to realize that no game can be taken for granted.
Instead, it was the same old stuff from the Tigers. That spread offense was a disaster, as Pastner’s team looked like they were running AAU sets offensively. Instead of having any kind of flow or movement on that end of the floor, the Tigers seemed content to simply swing the ball around the perimeter until one of their wings decided to try to beat their man one-on-one.
How’d that work out? Their vaunted back court combined to go 8-for-34 from the floor with ten turnovers. Dixon and Johnson were especially bad, finishing 2-for-20 combined. As a team, the Tigers were 2-for-24 on shots outside the paint.
As bad as they were on that end, Memphis was worse defensively, allowing Smart to basically do whatever he wanted to.
At some point, that’s forgivable. Everyone has off-nights, and when one of the best players in the country gets into the kind of rhythm that Smart was in last night -- he scored 24 points in the first 12 minutes of the game -- that’s tough to deal with.
What’s unforgivable is the fact that Memphis rolled over and took it.
I don’t know if it’s right to say they quit last night. I think the more accurate description is that they were resigned to their fate, like the culture of the Memphis locker is the expectation of a loss. They took their beating without really fighting back. That’s a bad sign for a team playing in a league that now includes Louisville and UConn and Cincinnati.
So what’s the answer?
I don’t know, but one thing that’s clear is that the people of Memphis are tired of asking the same question, over and over, year after year.
And when the media in Memphis starts doing things like saying that Josh Pastner can’t coach, it won’t be long for him in that town.