By Jeff Goodman
Hey Memphis fans: It could be worse. Much worse.
Athletic director R.C. Johnson could have hired someone not named Josh Pastner - and your program could have been without Will Barton, Adonis Thomas, Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Tarik Black.
Virtually irrelevant nationally and mediocre even within Conference USA.
Sure, the Tigers haven't met expectations this season under its 34-year-old third-year head coach. They are 6-5 with a pair of losses to Georgetown, one to Michigan out in Maui, a road setback to Louisville and a home loss to Murray State. Despite all five losses coming to ranked teams, it's remains unacceptable to Memphians.
But this is still a team that should roll through Conference USA and have a shot at making the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season in the Pastner regime.
There's a reason why Pastner wasn't Johnson's first choice to follow John Calipari.
He was young, inexperienced and unproven. Just about everyone understood it was going to take him some time, but then Pastner began to do what he does - which is work relentlessly and assemble elite talent, the kind of players who force us, as writers, to overrate the team despite their youth.
Pastner has always been regarded as one of the nicest guys in the business. He was the "good cop" at Arizona and even as his brief time as an assistant to Calipari. However, now he needs to change that. He needs to be tougher, find a way to instill fear into his players. Throw a chair against the wall at halftime, maybe even take a sip of Coke or guzzle a beer.
I've said I think he made a mistake replacing two veterans in the business in Glynn Cyprien and Willis Wilson - with two young ex-NBA guys: Damon Stoudemire and Luke Walton. Now Walton is back in the NBA and Pastner brought on Jimmy Williams - who is a veteran assistant coach that was out of the business.
This is a team that should get well soon. There are three home games - against Robert Morris, Charlotte and Tennessee - prior to the start of league play.
Barton (19.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) is playing like a superstar, but nearly everyone else needs to pick up their game -- and there's no remedy like C-USA. Joe Jackson may not be a true point guard, but he's more than adept when going up against other guys in the league. Black obviously needs to learn how to remain out of foul trouble, but now Pastner has added depth in the frontcourt with the addition of Seton Hall transfer and Memphis native Ferrakohn Hall.
And Thomas is a star-in-waiting, someone that will get better each and every game.
We all forget the paltry leftovers that Calipari didn't take with him to Kentucky, what the program looked like just two years ago. If guys like Wesley Witherspoon, Pierre Henderson-Niles, Roburt Sallie and Doneal Mack were anything more than ordinary, Calipari would have found a way to take them with him to Lexington.
Instead, they were left behind.
Bruce Pearl didn't want this job, Florida State's Leonard Hamilton wasn't taking it -- and neither was Baylor's Scott Drew. I'm not certain Pastner was the ideal fit for this particular position, but he has done an impressive job keeping most of the top local players home (except for Jarnell Stokes) and also found a way to being in high-level guys like Barton.
Sure, Pastner and the Tigers aren't living up to the hype.
But at least they are relevant.