August 1, 2009

How will Memphis fare under Josh Pastner?

At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college basketball coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport. We have two questions this week - one today and one Sunday.

Today's question: Now that the dust has settled a bit from the coaching change, how do you think Josh Pastner will do at Memphis this season and going forward?

David Fox's answer:
Imagine Lane Kiffin without his foot in his mouth. That's Josh Pastner - a young, energetic, first-time college head coach. Memphis fans will hope for the best with Pastner. They'll hope his experience coaching with John Calipari and Lute Olson (similar to Kiffin's time with Pete Carroll) will rub off on him. But there should also be a feeling of dread that this move could be a monumental bust. He's not likely to recruit the same caliber of player to Memphis as Calipari - those guys are all at Kentucky now. Pastner is no slouch as a recruiter, so he'll get his share of kids. But what will the team look like? How will they play? "We met Saturday [June 27] as a staff for the first time to go over, to talk about basketball, ideas, concepts, philosophies we want to instill in the team going into the fall in the individual workouts," Pastner told the Memphis Commercial Appeal in July. "We were throwing out different ideas offensively, defensively, rebounding, different sets." That makes it sound like the 31-year-old coach will be learning some things - right down to basketball philosophy - on the fly.

Jason King's answer:
I liked the Josh Pastner hire at Memphis four months ago, and I'm an even bigger fan of it today. Most people probably thought that replacing a high-profile name such as John Calipari with a 31-year-old, first-year coach would cause the Tigers to take a major step back in recruiting. Well, Pastner may not be able to land as many five-star prospects as his predecessor - at least not yet - but he's proven that he's not going to settle for second-tier recruits like most of his colleagues in Conference USA. Instead, Pastner is pursuing the same caliber of prospects as Memphis' former staff, having already landed commitments from five-star shooting guard Will Barton and his brother, Antonio, for the 2010 class. Although things took a disappointing turn in the end, Pastner also won a heated recruiting war against schools such as Georgetown for five-star power forward Latavious Williams, who signed with Memphis before announcing a month later that he was skipping college to play overseas. Still, the Tigers' roster is stacked with enough quality parts to be a top-25 team. In fact, they may have one of the top backcourts in the nation with returnees such as Willie Kemp, Roburt Sallie, Doneal Mack and Duke transfer Elliot Williams. The biggest question now is how Pastner will do from an Xs-and-Os standpoint. There is also a concern that Pastner's youth will make it difficult for him to demand respect from his players. Whatever the case, Pastner has done everything right thus far, and fans have seemed to notice. If they - and the administration - are willing to show a little patience, Pastner will turn Memphis' risk into a reward.

Steve Megargee's answer:
Memphis undoubtedly will take a couple of steps backward in its first season under Josh Pastner. Last year, the Tigers boasted one of the nation's most talented and well-rounded rosters playing for one of the best coaches in the nation. Now they have a first-year head coach running a team that's woefully thin in the frontcourt. Memphis has so much talent in the backcourt that it still has a reasonable chance of winning the Conference USA title, particularly if the NCAA grants Duke transfer Elliot Williams a waiver that allows him to play this season. But this isn't a team capable of winning 30 games again. The real question is how Pastner will fare in future seasons. He has such a great reputation as a recruiter that I assume Memphis will continue to be the top program in Conference USA for many years to come, but it remains to be seen whether the Tigers can maintain their status as a team that consistently gets to the second week of the NCAA tournament. I have my doubts. A more likely scenario is that Memphis reaches the NCAA field more often than not under Pastner but doesn't recapture the heights of the last few seasons.



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