Why Josh Pastner Really Needed Kedren Johnson

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 9th, 2014

It’s only October, but newly eligible point guard Kedren Johnson may be the key to helping Memphis coach Josh Pastner keep his job. It’s now been five full seasons since Pastner took over for John Calipari, and the 37-year old coach has done an admirable job filling those sizable shoes by winning at least 24 games in each. Pastner has proven what everybody already knew — that he was an excellent recruiter — and Memphis has never lacked talent during his tenure. But the years of padding win totals in Conference USA are over, and Pastner’s two NCAA Tournament wins and zero Sweet Sixteen appearances pale in comparison to Calipari’s achievements. The fans are starting to get restless.

 Josh Pastner has Memphis in the Third round for the Second Straight Year. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Memphis has five 24-win seasons under Josh Pastner, but lack of postseason success is making his seat warm. (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

Rumblings about Pastner’s job security began as far back as the beginning of last season, and although the team showed promise during an extremely competitive conference schedule, it was the same old story in the NCAA Tournament as the Tigers were whipped by #1 seed Virginia in the Round of 32. The upcoming season is unquestionably an important one for Pastner, which is why yesterday’s news that Johnson can play point guard for his club this season must be music to his ears.

Johnson was Vanderbilt’s leading scorer as a sophomore in the 2012-13 season and is the rare guard with size who is also a true point guard and above-average distributor. He averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game that season and was among the top 100 players in the country in assist rate (30.4, according to KenPom). He is a versatile talent who can bully smaller point guards with his size and strength but has also proven he can shoot (35 percent on 157 attempts from behind the three-point line as a sophomore). He is good, but Memphis needed him for more reasons than just his talent. If Johnson’s waiver to play this season wasn’t accepted, the Tigers were going to start the season – in prime time against Wichita State, mind you – without a single backcourt player with any Division I experience. That is why Johnson may be not only one of the most important transfers in the conference, but also the country. Memphis doesn’t want Johnson so the Tigers can simply be better, they need him so the Tigers can be good.

Fellow AAC contender UConn will be expecting former five-star recruit Rodney Purvis to make an immediate impact this season in Storrs, but Purvis will have plenty of help from two or three returning starters. Johnson will be Memphis’ only guard with any experience and he will be the primary ball-handler and best perimeter player on both ends of the floor right away. One AAC coach told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that, “guards are what ultimately win – that is why they need Johnson so badly.”

Kedren Johnson has emerged as Vandy's best player (AP)

Kedren Johnson was Vandy’s best player in 2012-13. Now he will be Memphis’ floor general. (AP)

Now Memphis has its lead guard and Johnson should flourish thanks to the rest of the talent around him. Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols are better than anyone Johnson played with as a sophomore in the SEC, and sophomores Nick King and Kuran Iverson, as well as Southern transfer Calvin Godfrey, give Memphis a formidable front line for Johnson to work with. The redshirt junior will also be expected to make an impact on the defensive end. For all of their inconsistencies, Memphis’ four-headed backcourt was always exceptional at creating turnovers and their defensive pressure was a big reason why Memphis won games last season. At 6’4″ and 215 pounds, Johnson has all the skills to be that same type of defender that Pastner covets; now he will just need to prove it.

Give Pastner credit because the Tigers aren’t going to shy away from anyone this season. Their non-conference schedule includes games against Wichita State, Baylor, Gonzaga and Oklahoma State.  Without Johnson, the Tigers weren’t likely to be favorites in any of those contests and almost certainly wouldn’t be a contender for the conference title. Luckily, Pastner doesn’t need to think about what life would be like without Johnson anymore; he just needs to make the point guard’s presence count.

His job may be depending on it.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

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