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No. 8: Memphis Tigers

Image (1) memphis-tigers-logo.jpg for post 328

2009-10 record: 24-10 (13-3), second in Conference USA
Lost to Ole Miss in NIT
Coach: Josh Pastner, 24-10, 1 year
Last NCAA appearance: 2009
2010-11 roster [click here]
2010-11 schedule [click here]

The good: Given the talent on the Tigers’ roster, it’s like John Calipari never left. In just his second season, coach Josh Pastner’s assembled a group of freshmen any program in the country would envy.

Guards Joe Jackson and Will Barton can match any team for sheer athleticism and scoring ability. Wing Jelan Kendrick is a smooth player, while forward Tarik Black is a capable rebounder. Add them to established players Will Coleman (an explosive forward) and underrated scorer Wes Witherspoon and Memphis should have no trouble getting back to the big dance.

The bad: The old freshman adages still apply, despite Kentucky’s best effort to dispel them last season. The learning curves are steep and the season is long for even the most talented players. Memphis should be able to coast during some stretches of C-USA play, but this looks to be a hot-or-cold team come NCAA tournament time.

A Final Four spot is possible, but so is a first-round exit.

The unknown: Can this team play defense? Witherspoon and junior Angel Garcia are soft inside, adding pressure to Coleman’s shot-blocking skills. Both Will Barton and Antonio Barton can play defense, but freshman often have trouble adjusting to the college game’s speed and rigors of a 35-game season.

The Tigers won’t need the zone and junk defenses Pastner had to employ last season, but they’re a far cry from their halcyon days of 2007-09.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.