Belmont went toe to toe with Duke for 40 minutes, eventually falling by a 77-76 final on the road. The Bruins were terrific a year ago, going 30-5 and making their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in six years. Nine players are back from that squad, so the effort against the Blue Devils was no fluke.
As for the Tigers, they boast a core of five standout sophomores, all of whom return to the lineup a year after capturing the Conference USA crown and narrowly upsetting Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Josh Pastner has done a tremendous job as a recruiter, keeping the program in the national eye since taking over for now-Kentucky head coach John Calipari. This game marks the season opener for Memphis, which is 9-1 in its last 10 lidlifters.
The only previous meeting between Memphis and Belmont resulted in a six-point win for the Tigers back in 2003.
Last season, Belmont's Ian Clark led the team in scoring with 12.2 ppg and earned Atlantic Sun Conference Freshman of the Year honors. In the opener against Duke on Friday, Clark hit 5-of-6 shots from the floor and finished with 13 points. The Bruins were paced by Kerron Johnson, who netted 15 points to go along with six assists. Drew Hanlen and JJ Mann netted 12 points apiece, while Mick Hedgepath contributed 11 points. Belmont turned the ball over 18 times and was outscored 20-16 from the foul line, two contributing factors in the loss. Still, the fact that the club outshot the Blue Devils from the floor and earned a rebounding advantage has to serve as a major source of confidence moving forward.
Will Barton is back to anchor the Memphis backcourt, a year after he established himself as a guard who could consistently score (12.3 ppg) and rebound (4.9 rpg). His brother, fellow sophomore Antonio Barton, is an excellent wing player who shot 44.2 percent from three-point land a year ago. Memphis also returns 6-0 guard Joe Jackson, 6-4 guard Chris Crawford and 6-8 forward Tarik Black, all sophomores who were starters a year ago. Jackson averaged 9.9 ppg and was a member of the USA Basketball U-19 squad this summer. Crawford led the team in assists and steals last season, while Black posted 9.1 points and five rebounds per tilt during his freshman campaign. Pastner also lured in one of the country's top recruits in Adonis Thomas, a 6-6, 205-pound swing player who will start immediately.