After significant turnover over the offseason, a closed scrimmage and an exhibition game against LeMoyne-Owen, the University of Memphis men’s basketball team’s season opener versus Southern Miss is at FedExForum Saturday.
Memphis will hope to pick up their first win of the season against their former longtime Conference USA foe. Tigers’ coach Josh Pastner, who’s entering his seventh season at the helm, said the team is ready and excited for the season to kickoff and a chance to go 1-0. A phrase made famous around Memphis by Tiger football coach Justin Fuente.
It’s the first official game for a Tigers’ team that has 10 new faces, including the highly touted Lawson brothers, and will take the court without former star forward Austin Nichols, on the roster, for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
Nevertheless, there were positives from Memphis’ 107-88 win against LeMoyne-Owen on Nov. 6. The offense, which looked stagnant for most of last season, moved the ball extremely well. Alabama transfer Ricky Tarrant ran the point as he scored 22 points and recorded three assists in the win.
Shaq Goodwin, who will be counted on to lead the team this season, recorded a double-double (17 points, 14 rebounds) and showed the aggression many Tiger fans are hoping to see in the 2015-16 season. Also the Lawson brothers, Trahson Burrell, among others, had solid to good performances in Memphis’ win.
“Scoring 107 points was good,” said Pastner at his press conference Thursday. “I thought we moved the ball well. We didn’t let it stick, which has been a really big part of the program for me in my time here. Making the extra pass. The open man is the go to man. I don’t think last year we did nearly a good enough job. I like where we started at, but we got to keep that same philosophy moving forward.”
However, the Tigers’ defense will have to improve upon its performance against the Magicians. Especially with No. 8 Oklahoma visiting the Bluff City Tuesday. LeMoyne-Owen shot 58 percent from the field in the first half and 60 percent from three-point range.
“We’ve been good guarding the three in my time here,” the seventh-year coach said. “That’s been a big stickler of mine, defensively. We have not been good the two times we’ve been on the court, defensively. We have to do better on that. That will be something we really need to be better at.”
Pastner also added the team can’t overextend their defense too much, because they don’t have a shot blocker of the caliber of Austin Nichols or D.J. Stephens like in past seasons.
“We had those type of guys who could protect us in the back,” he said. “That’s why I always talk about how we can’t be in scramble mode or full rotation. We have to keep the floor shrunk. We got to trust in help (defense) and be in the right position.”
Memphis and Southern Miss will face off 7 p.m. Saturday at FedExForum, the first of 21 home games for the Blue and Gray this season. The game can also be streamed at ESPN3.com.
Shaq Goodwin, who is the team’s top returning scorer from last season, and the Tigers open the season on Saturday against Southern Miss.