Road to the Final Four at Ford Field: No. 17 Memphis
Memphis has certainly lost a lot in the past year: a national title game, three assistant coaches, and three players to the NBA.
But the Tigers are still poised to win.
Coach John Calipari still has a roster oozing with talent and athleticism that should capture the Conference USA title once again.
Gone is premier point guard Derrick Rose, supreme swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts, and the bulldozer under the basket Joey Dorsey. Their replacements are capable, but not as dominant meaning Memphis will be spending its season fighting to stay in the rankings rather than fighting to stay at the top of rankings.
Rose's departure doesn't leave Memphis without a true point guard as returning starter Antonio Anderson played the point two years ago before Rose suited up for the Tigers.
Anderson considered going pro, but returns as the team's best defender in the backcourt and floor general. The senior leads the returning players in steals and is also a decent long range shooter.
Despite the talents of Rose and Douglas-Roberts, Anderson averaged the most minutes per game, but late in the game Anderson was a liability. The 6'6'' guard is a horrendous free throw shooter at 57 percent.
Anderson's backcourt partner will be the man that tries to make Memphis fans forget about Derrick Rose.
Freshman Tyreke Evans finally picked Memphis as his school of choice over several other eastern powerhouses. Evans might be the best pure scorer of his freshman class and will pick up the slack of Rose and CDR who averaged 33 points per game last year combined.
The Pennslyvania product will fit perfectly into John Calipari's "Princeton offense on steroids." It's a dribble-drive motion offense that emphasizes the drive and kick. Evans can get to the basket, but also drill a three-pointer better than Rose.
Evans isn't the only impact newcomer.
Four star recruit Wesley Witherspoon stands 6'8'', but can play anywhere from the two to the four on the floor. Witherspoon isn't going to be a big time scorer during his freshman season, but he will prove to be a solid defender.
Memphis also picked up one of the best JUCO transfers in the country. Roburt Sallie can really score, but also distribute the ball. If Sallie lives up to the billing, he could be the starting point guard by the end, moving Antonio Anderson to the two, and leaving Evans as the swingman. Junior sharpshooter Willie Kemp would move to the bench.
Kemp can hit an open three and will be the beneficiary of an Antonio Anderson or Tyreke Evans drive. Kemp and fellow guard Doneal Mack will have lots of open looks from three in Calipari's offense.
Mack's role last season was to hit three pointers and that's about it. He took a three-pointer every 2.5 minutes he was on the floor and attempted almost four times as many threes than twos.
John Calipari will certainly have enough guards to operate in 2009, but the frontcourt will repeatedly cost the Tigers.
Memphis returns two players that have a significant amount of game experience. Robert Dozier will be the best body under the basket, but Dozier isn't much of a scorer. The senior will rebound the heck out of the ball and play with great tenacity.
The other returning forward is junior Shawn Taggart. The 6'10'' big man surprisingly won Memphis' Midnight Madness three point contest, but Calipari is going to want Taggart to stick around the basket when it matters.
After Dozier and Taggart, finding a big who Calipari can rely on to contribute is questionable.
Junior Pierre Henderson-Niles has finally lost a boatload of weight, dropping below the 300 pound mark. Even if Niles still isn't in the greatest playing condition, he'll be thrown into the mix as the first forward off the bench.
The aforementioned Wesley Witherspoon will also see time at power forward. Freshmen Angel Garcia and Matt Simpkins aren't really ready to contribute, but will in all likelihood be forced into action due to the Tiger's lack of frontcourt depth.
Predictions as well as best and worst case scenarios after the jump.
Memphis will go on a small tour of the Big East in the non-conference slate. The Tigers will host Syracuse and Cincinnati as well as travel to Georgetown. Memphis could also face Seton Hall in a tournament in San Juan. Calipari also challenges his team with a potential game against USC in San Juan and hosting fellow mid-major UMass.
The most anticipated game of the year will be a date with the Volunteers. Memphis will take a one game hiatus from its conference schedule to continue its ever-growing instate rivalry with Tennessee.
Memphis will also go out of conference in February to travel to Spokane, Washington to take on another potential top ten team Gonzaga.
Best Case Scenario
Tyreke Evans can score at will, Antonio Anderson is a shut down defender, and the frontcourt doesn't repeatedly gets burned by its lack of depth.
Memphis gets through its non-conference schedule with just two losses and in the process upsets either Gonzaga or Tennessee.
The Tigers lose just two games in Conference USA, ending their 42 game winning streak in the conference. Memphis wins the conference tournament and heads to the NCAA Tournament as a three seed where they advance to the Sweet 16.
Worst Case Scenario
Tyreke Evans isn't as good of a scorer as anticipated and the frontcourt is a disaster.
Memphis loses its two big showdowns as well as in its trip to Georgetown and when it hosts Syracuse. The Tigers lose at least five games in a much improved Conference USA and sneaks into the NCAA Tournament as a ten seed where they are bounced in the first round.
What Should Happen
Tyreke Evans scores at will, but the frontcourt persists as a major problem, consistently losing Memphis games. The Tigers lose three games out of conference and three in conference on the way to another Conference USA title.
Memphis enters the tournament as a five seed and is eliminated in the second round.
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