The face of the unquestioned leader
The Memphis Tigers' dominance over Conference USA has been amazing to watch over the past seven seasons, as they've won six of the last seven C-USA tourneys.
While they don't have the same fire power as they've had in the past (Derrick Rose, Will Barton, Rodney Carney, John Calipari), Memphis has continued its perennial success, winning 24 or more games seven straight years.
The rest of Conference USA can't hold a candle to those numbers.
Another impressive stat: Memphis is the only team in Conference USA to obtain a win in the NCAA Tournament since Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette left prior to the 2005-2006 season.
As Memphis enters its last season in Conference USA (before heading to the Big East next year), the Tigers will undoubtedly hold its own and dominate once again in conference play.
Here are the reasons why.
Junior guard Joe Jackson is the "Jack of All Trades" for the Memphis Tigers.
Last season, Jackson averaged 11 points per contest while dishing it off to the likes of Will Barton and Tarik Black to average four assists per game.
Jackson's numbers rose steadily from his freshman season. He averaged almost a full assist more than the previous year, increased his free throw percentage by .11 percentage points (from 73 percent to 84 percent), and lowered his inefficiency by turning the ball over less frequently (only 2.4 turnovers per game).
Not known as a shooting specialist, Jackson has been the team's second leading scorer two straight seasons. He'll be asked to do more offensively this year, due mostly to the loss of the aforementioned Barton.
Jackson will utilize his game-breaking speed in the backcourt to exploit weaker defenses in the zone. A dip-and-dime fiend, Jackson will find his teammates off the screen more times than not.
Although inconsistent at times, Jackson will clamp down and become the team's leader. His numbers will rise dramatically.
The hometown star, who has won two consecutive C-USA tourney MVP Awards, has a chance to be Conference USA's Player of the Year.
Young but experienced
While the loss of Will Barton to the NBA Draft wasn't the best outcome to help build confidence in a program, it did build experience and camaraderie.
The talented upperclassmen of Memphis are now familiar with and accustomed to running head coach Josh Pastner's system of play. Without Barton, the Tigers must find a way to replace his 18 points per game, a figure that is very plausible considering Barton often used isolations as his form of scoring.
This season, the run-and-gun offense of years past will be back. The team will be reliant on speed in the backcourt, power in the frontcourt. The ability to rebound—which has been an issue in the past—will be a non-factor this year. As the offense uses its speed to break down opponents, opposing defenses will have less of a chance to grab roaming rebounds, since Memphis should be willing to crash the boards more often.
Junior guards Antonio Barton, Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson each logged more than 20 minutes per game last season, giving the Tigers plenty of court time and experience.
Tarik Black, who averaged five rebounds per game in each of the past two seasons, will only get better with more time on the court. The 26 minutes per game he saw last year simply were not enough. Black will be a double-double man multiple games this season. His field goal percentage of 69 percent was second in the nation. Expect more of the same in 2012-13.
Incoming freshman Shaq Goodwin will play a huge role down low for the Memphis Tigers. He will help Memphis improve on the glass this season, without a doubt.
Goodwin, who was rated the No. 31 recruit in 2012 and a McDonald's All-American, possesses a large body that is deceptively quick. At 6'8", 240-pounds, his size, motor and athleticism are already college-ready (not to mention his tendency to play hard).
Goodwin has a chance to be a great player. His talent, power and frame gives him upside not seen from a Memphis player in quite some time. His jump shot, although raw at times, is slowly becoming part of his arsenal. Using his athletic ability, Goodwin will rebound at the same rate (if not more) than the gone, but not forgotten, Will Barton.
Shaq's unique combination of strength and agility will meld well with his frontcourt mates. He'll give Memphis fans a nice change of pace. The freshman doesn't shy away from contact nor does he lack a nose for the ball, as he possesses great anticipation for where the ball will land.
Memphis fans watch out, because this kid could be special.
Thomas needs to play up to his abilities
Sophomore Adonis Thomas will be getting the starting nod at small forward this season. Thomas will look for redemption after injuring his ankle last year, an injury which cost him a large chunk of the Conference USA schedule.
Thomas has NBA-level talent; it's just a matter of him honing those skills, a process which was frustrating at times last season.
At 6"6', 250-pounds, Adonis has all the talent in the world. He has the ability to drop 30 points on a team. He could grab 15-plus boards in a single game. He could play lock-down defense on three separate positions.
Last season, Thomas produced nine points per game to go along with three rebounds and an assist in 19 games.
He bulked up his slight frame from last season as well. He came into Memphis at around 200 pounds, but has added nearly fifty pounds since.
Thomas is dedicated to getting better, it's just a matter of staying consistent.
If he does, this kid will be a stat-stuffing deluxe.
One of the brightest young coaches in college basketball
It is amazing to comprehend that Josh Pastner took over the Tigers at the tender age of 31. Thirty-one!
Now entering his fourth season as head coach, Pastner will look to bring his experienced group back to the NCAA Tournament, where they went down in defeat last year in the Round of 64.
This is the first time in his young career that Pastner has had his rotation of guys consist primarily of veterans, something that is vastly overlooked in the college game. Coach Pastner has enough trust in his team to make the right decisions, which will allow him to focus on the weaknesses of their overall game and convert them into strengths.
The Memphis head coach got his big break after serving as assistant coach for the Wildcats of Arizona. Since then he has shown great promise as a head coach.
Pastner's biggest strength—which he picked up during his time with Lute Olson—is the ability to evaluate and recruit talent to his program. Bringing in the likes of the Barton Boys, Adonis Thomas and now Shaq Goodwin has proven this to be the case.
But Pastner is much more than just a solid recruiter.
He has a penchant to know the exact time in which to insert a player into the game, and situationally, what play to call. It seemed as though Memphis was always involved a close game down the stretch last season, and when they were, you were sure to see a wonderful play call from the neophyte head coach.
Look for not only the Memphis players, but Pastner himself to grow and mature.
Pastner has the guile, smarts and coaching wherewithal to win Coach of the Year in 2012-13.