The Tigers enter the 2015-16 season with a new-look team from a season ago, adding 10 new faces—eight of which are freshman.
Memphis will rely heavily on its seniors this year, as the team, as a whole, will be very inexperienced. Only six players return from last year’s 18-14 team, which failed to reach the postseason for the first time since 2000.
Four scholarship seniors—Shaq Goodwin, Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell, and Alabama transfer Ricky Tarrant—will be tasked with leading the young squad back to the NCAA Tournament.
Goodwin, a second team All-American Athletic Conference preseason selection, will be looked to as the team’s leader, as he has been with the team longer than anyone else.
Goodwin said he knows he will have to be in a leadership position this year and focuses on leading by example.
“You know I always just try to go 100 miles per hour,” Goodwin said. “It has been brought to my attention that I have to be in a leadership position at all times. My coaches and the other players do a good job of telling me ‘that’s what you have to do,’ even tough I feel like it’s naturally in me, I have to be more assertive. That’s why you might see me extra focused or putting extra into whatever I’m doing because I know I have to step up even if I feel like I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing, I have to take another step and do more.”
Goodwin averaged 9.6 points per game and led the team in rebounding with 7.1 rebounds per game last season. Memphis will need both of those numbers to increase this season, as the Tigers lost their leading scorer and second leading rebounder from a season ago, when Austin Nichols transferred to Virginia in July.
Senior guard Kedren Johnson, who is battling a potential season-ending shoulder injury, will be very important to Memphis’ postseason dreams as consistent point guard play and inefficiency behind the three point line were two of the biggest problems for the Tigers last season.
Although Johnson averaged only 6.7 points and 2.7 assists per game last season, he seemed to gain momentum towards the end of the year, averaging 9.9 points, 4.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds over the last 11 games of the season. He also finished as the second best three-point shooter on the team, behind Avery Woodson (37.7 percent), connecting on 35 percent of his shots from long range.
Forward Trahson Burrell is poised for a break out senior year for the Tigers. Burrell came to Memphis with expectations as a big time scorer, averaging more than 25 points a game at the junior college level. Although Burrell didn’t post gaudy numbers in his first year at Memphis, he became one of the most consistent players on the team as he finished third in both scoring (9.1 points per game) and rebounding (5.2 rebounds per game).
Like Johnson, Burrell was playing some of his best basketball towards the end of the year, including a season-high 22-point game, which led the Tigers over the UConn Huskies. With a year under his belt at the Division 1 level, Burrell will be expected to be an even bigger scoring threat from the small forward and shooting guard positions.
Alabama transfer Ricky Tarrant is by far the biggest addition to this year’s Memphis team, other than highly touted incoming freshmen Dedric and K.J. Lawson. Throughout Tarrant’s college career, he has averaged 14.6 points per game, including 13.1 (second highest on the team) points per game last year for Alabama.
The addition of Tarrant provides Memphis with a strong option to bolster the point guard position. Although Tarrant, who is projected to be the Tigers’ leading scorer, has struggled with his shooting (39.8 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from three) over his career, he is known to be someone who can consistently get to the rack and score at will—an option the Tigers were missing last year.
Tarrant, who is coming off of recent knee and foot injuries which sidelined him for the second half of the season last year, will need to stay healthy if the Tigers hope to rebound and reach the postseason.
Goodwin said the team has been studying the 2014-15 season to see where they can make improvements, which he believes will help them get better in the long run.
“We look at our film and tapes from last year and make corrections from there,” Goodwin said. “(We are) looking at what we did wrong. We lost a lot of games last year by one or two points, so we have been looking at old film, seeing what we can change and make steps to get better, slowly but surely.”
The pressure is on for the seniors to step up and lead this team to be successful, but Goodwin said the Tigers have the personnel to look past the pressure and focus on the task at hand.
“I never was one to feel pressure because I like to embrace a lot of opportunity, but the pressure is definitely here,” he said. “I think with team and the coaches that we have we will be able to not focus so much on the pressure, but focus on what’s in front of us.”
Senior Shaq Goodwin will be expected to lead Memphis both on and off the court this season.