The Memphis Tigers had another stellar year in the Conference USA, but stellar years in the Conference USA don't translate to major success in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers ran the table in the C-USA for the first time under coach Josh Pastner, but hit a wall come tournament time. They were almost upset by the No. 11 seed Saint Mary's in the second round and made a quiet exit against the Michigan St. Spartans, losing 70-48.
Here is what you need to know about the 2013-14 Tigers:
2013 Record: 31-5, 16-0 Conference USA
2013 Postseason: Lost in third round to Michigan State
Key Additions: Austin Nichols, Markel Crawford, Kuran Iverson, Nick King, RaShawn Powell, Dominic Woodson
The Memphis area breathed a sigh of relief when Joe Jackson, the team's leading scorer, surprised quite a few people and announced he would return for his senior season. That decision inadvertently forced Antonio Barton to transfer because he would be squeezed out of the rotation. Combined with the graduation of D.J. Stephens, Thomas' early exit and the transfer of Black to Kansas, and it looked like Memphis had a few holes to fill.
But Pastner took out a page from the old John Calipari recruiting book and came in with one of the best recruiting classes of his budding career. Of the six recruits coming in 2013, five are four-stars with the shining jewel of Austin Nichols leading the way as a five-star and the No. 17 recruit in the nation, according to Rivals.
Nichols should be able to come in and contribute immediately for the Tigers. Between all their departures ,the Tigers lost almost a third of their team rebounds. Pastner ran a pretty deep bench last year, but if the Tigers lacked anything it was a dominant big man, and that was painfully on display in their loss against the Spartans when they were outrebounded, 41-25. Woodson, coming in at 6'9 and 315 pounds, should also see substantial minutes in the post.
Iverson is a defensive stopper known for his ability to guard multiple positions, as well as talk a bit of trash in the process -- something he perhaps learned from his cousin Allen Iverson.
The surprising return of Jackson to the Tigers is the key cog that will make it all work. With all the talent coming in, the Tigers will be a younger squad, and having a senior running the show should help ease the youngsters into the rigors of college basketball. Jackson is more than capable of shouldering the load as he often did last year, but also knows when to let his teammates get in on the action, registering double-digit assists twice last season.
The Tigers will be going from the class of the Conference USA to the much more difficult American Athletic Conference (or at least more difficult for the year that Louisville and Rutgers are staying around). Memphis might also be the team that surprises the most early in the season. With all the hype of the Kentucky and Kansas freshman classes, it is easy to overlook Pastner's recruiting job this year.
But he did most of his hard work in 2012, getting five of his six freshmen then. As such, the Tigers' class fell off the headlines a bit, but with Jackson leading the way, they have all the tools to make a deep March Madness run.