It's time to take Memphis seriously again. That's what should be the takeaway from the news that broke Tuesday morning that former Missouri guard Michael Dixon will be transferring to Memphis, according to a report from Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com.
You may have forgotten about Dixon because he didn't play last season. And you may have forgotten about the post-John Calipari Tigers in the last four years as Josh Pastner has routinely signed talented recruits, beat up on Conference USA and hasn't been a real threat to anyone else in March. Pastner got his first (and only) NCAA tourney win this past year.
The training wheels are off now.
The Tigers make the move to what used to be the Big East—now the American Athletic Conference—and Pastner has a roster that can clearly compete.
Pastner spent the last few years defending the league, but he might as well have been a used car salesman trying to sell a rusty old pickup with leaky oil. The league didn't get Memphis ready for the tournament or give any reason for the committee to award Memphis with a high seed.
The AAC isn't on par with the old Big East, but there's some worthy leftovers. Memphis will face Connecticut, Cincinnati and Louisville next season in addition to fellow newcomer Temple.
Without Dixon, Memphis would have the third-best backcourt in that group behind Louisville and Connecticut and would have competed with Connecticut as the second-best team in the league. With Dixon, the Tigers should be the clear pick for No. 2, and you could argue the Memphis backcourt is the best in the league.
Dixon is that good. So is Joe Jackson.
Missouri's offense was so good in 2012 because Frank Haith put Phil Pressey and Dixon on the court together, surrounded them with shooters, spaced the floor and let those two attack off the dribble.
Pastner would be wise to do the same.
If you don't remember how good Dixon was, simply look at his numbers. In his junior year, he was one of the most efficient guards in the country on the most efficient offense.
Dixon played starter minutes off the bench and averaged 13.5 points and 3.3 assists. He got to the line 132 times and shot 87.9 percent there. He made 57.8 percent of his twos and 36.8 percent of his threes. Those numbers repeated would have made him the best player on Pastner's team last season.
Memphis already had a nice roster returning and the third-best recruiting class in the nation coming in, according to Rivals.com. Pastner already had a solid starter at shooting guard in Geron Johnson. Now he just has better options.
Dixon can come off the bench and play both the 1 or 2, or Dixon could start next to Jackson and Johnson could come off the bench and play both the 2 or 3.
There's no guarantee that Dixon will be able to play next season, but it's hard to believe the NCAA would disallow it. Parrish reported that his source told him that Dixon will apply for a NCAA waiver to play immediately. As Parrish noted, Dez Wells was allowed to play last season for Maryland under similar circumstances after transferring from Xavier.
How high should Memphis be ranked in the preseason if Michael Dixon is allowed to play?
Dixon was the best available transfer in a market that is getting stronger every year. The reason it took this long for him to sign on with someone is the obvious red flag that got him kicked out of Missouri—allegations of sexual assault for a second time.
Dixon was never charged, so you cannot blame Pastner for taking a chance on the guard.
There's the possibility that this could blow up in his face if Dixon gets in trouble. But there's also the possibility that Memphis gives Louisville something to actually worry about in the AAC, climbs into the top 10 next season and makes a run in March.
Pastner has a roster that can play with the big boys. Now it's time for him to show that he can coach at that level.