20 Questions: Who is the Most Overrated Team in America?Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 2011
Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.
Question: Who is the Most Overrated Team in America?
Last week I made one fan base happy when I chose Wichita State as the most underrated team in the country heading into the 2011-12 season. This time around, another fan base is bound to have an equal but opposite reaction. At the end of every year, we college basketball fans look back on the season and ponder how we ever ranked a handful of teams so high back in November while we wonder how on earth we overlooked the team that “came out of nowhere” and made the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight. This piece will attempt to identify the team that is the most overrated as we begin the year. Of course this could completely blow up in my face but what fun is it without that possibility? I have a few teams in mind for this dubious distinction but one highly-rated club in particular has many blinking red lights at this point in time. No, it’s not Duke or Baylor with their questions at the point guard position. Nor is it Arizona, who lost Derrick Williams, or Marquette without the presence of Jimmy Butler. Those teams all have question marks but the team I’m most concerned about is the Memphis Tigers.
Josh Pastner’s team won 25 games last year but could only manage a fourth place finish in a mediocre Conference USA. To their credit, the Tigers rebounded from six regular season conference losses to win the conference tournament and give Arizona one heck of a run in the NCAA Tournament. Memphis returns everyone from last year’s team sans Will Coleman but this is still an extremely young group short on experience and cohesion. The Tigers turned the ball over an average of 15 times per game last year, with primary ball handlers Joe Jackson, Will Barton and Chris Crawford combining for over half of that total. Changing a sloppy style of play in one offseason would be quite an achievement for Pastner and his staff but expecting that type of improvement is a bit too much in my estimation. Memphis probably won’t average 15 giveaways again but a number approaching that will effectively ruin any chance they have of making a big postseason run.
Even more concerning than the turnovers is Memphis’ defensive performance. The Tigers didn’t really guard anyone last year, especially against the better teams on their schedule. In non-conference battles against Kansas, Georgetown and Tennessee, Memphis surrendered 81, 86 and 104 points, respectively. For a team that couldn’t buy a bucket from deep (Barton and Crawford shot 28.2% from three point land combined), that’s hardly a recipe for success. The Tigers ranked #63 in defensive efficiency and a painful #128 on the other end of the floor. In addition to its defensive woes, Memphis’ guard-heavy rotation didn’t rebound well or make free throws. Memphis will easily fall out of the top 25 if those statistics ring true again.
Despite all of their problems last season, the team did find its way to the postseason. That’s a positive sign with regards to chemistry, especially important for such a highly talented but young group of players. Reinforcements are coming this year but the team remains youthful. Adonis Thomas is Pastner’s best newcomer. At 6’6”, Thomas can play a multitude of positions making him an extremely difficult matchup for any opposing team. He clearly has loads of talent but he’ll have to find his niche on this team full of guards and wings. Thomas is the Tigers’ eighth player from Memphis proper on the roster demonstrating how Pastner has cleaned up locally on the recruiting trail. Ferrakohn Hall, a transfer from Seton Hall and another Memphis resident, will be eligible for the December 17 game at Louisville and should add depth to the relatively thin Tigers front court. Former Illinois commit and junior college transfer Stan Simpson makes his debut on Beale Street this year and has the potential to be a force inside along with sophomore Tarik Black. Memphis certainly doesn’t lack talent and potential, it’s just a matter of putting it all together and getting everyone on the same page.
While the strength of this team is clearly in the back court, Pastner may want to get his bigger players (including 6’9” Wesley Witherspoon) more involved to take some pressure off the guards while opening up the paint in the process. The rotation will consist of only two seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and a freshman so youth and inexperience will again be an issue for the Tigers. However, a guy like Thomas, the reigning Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year, is a terrific kid and should enhance the team’s chemistry. With so many local players on the roster, this team could find the right way forward at a moment’s notice. Memphis will be tested very early so we’ll have a good idea of just how far along they’ve come right away. A November 15 date with sleeper Belmont kicks off a brutal non-conference schedule. The Tigers then head to Maui where they’ll face Michigan and possibly Duke, UCLA, Georgetown or Kansas. It doesn’t get any easier in December as road trips to Miami, Louisville and Georgetown (with easy home games staggered in-between) get the team ready for conference play. Later on in February, Xavier heads to FedEx Forum for what should be a terrific battle between two of the best mid-major programs in the country. In order to get through its non-conference schedule relatively unscathed, Pastner will have to conjure up some magic formula to make the chemistry work from day one. It’s possible but I’d like to see it before I believe it. I actually like this team quite a bit but it has done nothing to earn the #9 ranking it received last week in the preseason coaches poll. I believe this is a solid Top 25 team that should get better as the season goes along but, until proven otherwise, it is not a top ten team capable of going deep in March.