Last week, I talked to Memphis coach Josh Pastner about the state of his program.
He was hopeful. He had every reason to be. The addition of Michael Dixon Jr. to a veteran backcourt solidified the most important element of his program. And his third-ranked recruiting class gave him the services of forwards Nick King and Austin Nichols.
Pastner has a nonconference slate that will give him and his team another chance to prove that it can win big games (1-13 overall against the Top 25 in the USA Today coaches' poll) and possibly make a run in the NCAA tournament.
That’s why Tuesday’s 101-80 loss to No. 7 Oklahoma State was such a devastating blow for the program. Losing is one thing. Taking a 21-point punch to the gut and failing to do anything to stop Marcus Smart could have a lasting effect on a Memphis team that looked imbalanced and disjointed in a tough road game. Pastner’s starting guards went 0-for-7 from the 3-point line and committed 10 turnovers.
The good news for the Tigers? That was only their first major test. They could face Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic next week. They’ll play Florida in mid-December, a few weeks prior to the start of American Athletic Conference action.
They have time to regroup. But for a program with so many new faces, every game will influence whether that becomes a reality. Yes, the team’s Saturday opponent, Nicholls State, is 0-3. Memphis, however, was a mess on Tuesday.
The American features two premier programs, Louisville and UConn, at the top. Will Memphis compete with those teams and make a serious push for the conference crown? The team that got bullied by Oklahoma State won’t. But it’s early.
Memphis needs a win, a restart and a short memory, especially with another potential shot at the Pokes on the horizon. Saturday's opponent might not be pivotal for the Tigers, but their performance certainly could be.