A few quick impressions from the Tigers’ season-opening 97-81 victory over Belmont on at FedExForum:
Words such as fast, athletic and quick hardly do justice to this University of Memphis team. It’s impossible to imagine any team having an advantage over the Tigers should that team dare to try and run with them. Most likely, those teams will be running to their own death. As forward Tarik Black said, “If a team wants to run with us, we’re open arms – `c’mon, let’s run.”
The Tigers’ No. 10 ranking in the AP poll is legit. They have top-10 talent, which by definition means they have Final Four potential. An injury to Black, their largest inside presence, might be impossible to overcome long-term, but there is so much depth everywhere else. Antonio Barton is a starting point guard on most Top 25 teams and he played all of 13 minutes because Joe Jackson was simply playing too well to remove from the court.
As for Jackson, I’m inclined to believe the player that scored 20 points with seven assists and just two turnovers against Belmont is the player we will see most of this season. He progressed greatly at the end of last season and he seems to be growing more comfortable by the day in being a point guard first and a scorer second.
Senior Wesley Witherspoon might be a different story. Give him props for a great debut game this season – 22 points on 8-for-8 shooting, 3-for-3 from 3-point range – and hustle that went beyond his five rebounds and two steals. I don’t think we’ll see a lot of the lost Witherspoon who wondered through last season, but I also don’t think he will consistently play with this level of efficiency or grit. Reality lies somewhere in the middle, which is fine.
Freshman Adonis Thomas is the real X factor. Coach Josh Pastner has said many times that the X factors are Jackson and Witherspoon, that if they don’t try to be supermen and just play their games, the Tigers will have a special year. I disagree, in part, because I think Jackson will have a breakout year and Witherspoon will still have his off nights. When those off nights come, Thomas can make up for them. When there’s foul trouble, as there was in the first game, Thomas can play down low and allow the Tigers to go small. If Thomas has a great year as the Super Sixth Man, so will the Tigers.