- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 4, 2014

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - After a season of leaning on a quartet of senior guards, the Memphis Tigers are going inside this season to what leadership and experience they have.

Memphis faces a lot of unknowns going into its second season in the American Athletic Conference. Instead of being focused in the backcourt with senior guards like Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson, the Tigers’ experience lies with junior Shaq Goodwin and sophomore forward Austin Nichols in the post.

“We are very, very young and very inexperienced,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “We’re going to know a lot about us in November. That’s not going to make or break the season either way, but we’ll see what we can handle.”

The early schedule features the season opener Nov. 18 against Wichita State in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Shockers, undefeated in the regular season, earned a No. 1 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Their only loss came to eventual runnerup Kentucky. Other NCAA tournament teams, such as Oklahoma State, Baylor, Stephen F. Austin and North Carolina Central, are on Memphis’ non-conference schedule.

Memphis finished last season 24-10 and 12-6 in league play. The Tigers defeated George Washington in their opening NCAA tournament game before losing 78-60 to Virginia. That loss was indicative of their season because when the Tigers lost, they lost big. Seven of their 10 losses were by double digits.

“The thing nobody was happy with - myself, the players, the media, the fans - was when there was a run by the other team, we had too many times where it would avalanche on us,” Pastner said.

The departure of those senior guards doesn’t mean an overhaul of the Tigers’ offense.

“We played through the post a lot last year, so it’s not anything foreign to me or the other post players,” Goodwin said.

Memphis’ challenge is finding out who will help out Goodwin and Nichols.

“We’ve got to also make some shots because teams are going to collapse on us,” Pastner said.

___

Here are things to know about Memphis this season:

PASTNER’S PROJECT: In recent years, Pastner has taken wayward souls and turned them into productive players without problems. This year’s poster child seems to be Kedren Johnson, a transfer from Vanderbilt who averaged 13.5 points and 3.6 assists when he last played in 2012-13. Johnson sat out the 2013-14 season for violating university policy and was not allowed to return, opening the way for his transfer 200 miles west to Memphis.

JOHNSON’S CONDITIONING: Johnson came into the preseason so out of shape Pastner went a tad overboard in characterizing his conditioning. “He couldn’t beat anyone here on a line drill, and that includes any member of the media,” Pastner said. “He was that out of shape. Some of you would have probably lapped him on the track.”

CHANGE IN EXPERIENCE: Last year, Memphis not only had four senior guards in Jackson, Crawford, Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon but also center David Pellom, a transfer from George. That’s a whole starting lineup of departures. This year, there is only one senior on the roster in Calvin Godfrey, a transfer from Southern University.

NICHOLS STATUS: Nichols, the second-leading scorer among the returning Tigers, was the American’s rookie of the year. He sprained his shoulder this preseason and missed a week of practice. The Tigers will need him back at full strength by the season opener.

NEXT STEP: Despite going to the NCAA tournament the last four seasons, Pastner has not made it out of the opening weekend. “The next level for us is to advance to the second weekend,” he said.


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