There probably aren’t too many college basketball coaches who have found themselves on the hot seat just one season after winning more than 30 games, but after a disappointing loss to Oklahoma State on Tuesday that left him 0-13 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, Memphis coach Josh Pastner is probably feeling a bit toasty. Tuesday’s showdown with the Cowboys was supposed to be an opportunity for Pastner’s Tigers to prove that they were ready for and deserved national recognition. Instead it served as the latest public service announcement on why you should never trust Memphis in big games. Sure, Oklahoma State may have won the game anyway because Marcus Smart doesn’t belong in college basketball and Stillwater is not an easy place to play, but Memphis didn’t even make it competitive. It’s probably unfair to judge this year’s team based on its second game of the season, but Pastner shouldn’t get to be so lucky.
Pastner’s reputation as an up-and-coming coaching superstar didn’t really begin until he graduated fromArizona and became an assistant at his alma mater under Lute Olson in 2002. Pastner’s reputation as a tireless worker preceded him and he quickly used that work ethic to establish himself as one of the best recruiters in the entire country, luring stars like Channing Frye, Mustafa Shakur, and Chase Budinger to the desert with a combination of charm and persistence. That recruiting prowess (as well as Olson’s retirement) played a big role in Pastner moving on to become an assistant coach and lead recruiter at Memphis, working under the Godfather of Recruiting himself, John Calipari, for the 2008-09 season. Calipari resigned after the season to take the job with Kentucky and it looked like Pastner would follow Calipari to Lexington. But the college basketball coaching ranks were experiencing a bit of a youth movement and a passionate and energetic 31-year-old like Pastner was the poster boy for this shift.