University of Memphis coach Josh Pastner is upfront about it — his team’s trip to Maui last week was a lot more turbulent than he had hoped.
Despite going 1-2 and finishing in sixth place, however, Pastner said he feels the Tigers are on the cusp of being a very difficult team to beat.
“We have a long way to go to get better on things. But on the other hand, we are really close on those things,” Pastner said. “If we can clean a couple of those things up, we can be really, really, really good. Very hard to beat. We’ve got to decide if we’re committed to cleaning it up. Just the little things. We do those, we can be as good as we want to be.”
The Tigers dropped their first-round game against then-No. 15 Michigan, 73-61. Memphis looked disjointed against the different defensive schemes Wolverines coach John Beilein utilized and forced matters offensively, which led to an excessive amount of three-point shots.
The Tigers bounced back against Tennessee, 99-97, in double overtime, but dropped a close on to Georgetown in the fifth place game, 91-88, in overtime.
A common theme from each of Memphis’ showings in the Maui is the lack of rebounding. The Tigers were outrebounded by a margin of 116-86 in their three games in Maui, much of which is due to sophomore forward Tarik Black being unable to stay in the game due to foul trouble.
The Tigers also seem to have an issue with execution down the stretch. They either force their offense or stall too long out of timeouts in crunch-time situations, which Pastner acknowledges.
“I felt, defensively, we were good in a lot of areas on executing the things we need to execute,” Pastner said. “Offensively, there’s things that — again, every time we’re in a timeout, it’s got to be following the gameplan exactly. These are lessons for guys to understand. If we tell you to do this, you can’t veer off.
“We as a unit have to learn from those mistakes that we’ve all made, from the top on down. We’ve got to get better from those.”
Although the final results clearly weren’t desired, neither Pastner or his players are looking at the trip as detrimental. The truth is that while the Tigers came away with more losses than wins, playing a tough November schedule could make a huge difference for a young team later in the season.
“These were three good teams,” Pastner said. “Does it guarantee you anything? No, because every game you’re going to have to bring it, starting (tonight) against Jackson State. But we’ve been through it at a high level, to where we can say ‘This is our area of weakness, and this is our area of strength. Let’s build on both.’”
Going 1-2 in the Maui also changes little for the Tigers. Memphis has proven in recent years that it can dominate Conference USA and still make deep runs in the NCAA tournament. Its goal for this season is no different, sophomore forward Tarik Black said.
“It doesn’t change anything. Everybody takes a loss,” Black said. “There hasn’t been an undefeated team since [Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana team]. It’s the same goal. Still trying to be persistent and be poised. … We’re going to take losses. Every team takes a loss.”
Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, the Tigers get back to work against Jackson State on Monday at FedExForum. It will be a good opportunity for Memphis to reset and focus on its glaring weaknesses that the Maui exposed as the Tigers prepare to enter the heart of non-conference pay.
“We’re so close, to tell you the truth,” sophomore point guard Joe Jackson said. “We’re right where we want to be. It’s just, we haven’t played that many games. It’s going to come like it came last season at some point. We just have to keep playing games and keep getting better.”