MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Memphis Tigers are loaded in the backcourt. Coach Josh Pastner has a quartet of guards, all seniors, with significant college experience and postseason resumes.
"Having four senior guards is really good and exciting," Pastner said. "You're not going to get to coach that many times in your career. To have veteran guards is a big thing."
A nice situation, except Pastner also must find time for all those guards and somebody to play the front-line.
Memphis has three returning starters including Joe Jackson, who led the team in scoring last year averaging 13.6 points a game. Geron Johson and long-ranger shooter and sixth man Chris Crawford both averaged 10.4 points a game. All three had more than 100 assists last season.
Completing the quartet is Michael Dixon, who transferred after a tumultuous time at Missouri. His last season with the Tigers was in 2011-12, and Missouri went 30-5 with Dixon averaging 13.5 points and 3.3 assists.
Pastner promises a more up-tempo defensive approach to keep teams off balance. Those guards allow for free substitutions.
"We've always played fast, but we're going to take it up another notch this year," Pastner said. "If we're going to play like I want us to play and you're giving maximum effort, it's going to be hard to play the maximum minutes everyone wants to play, so there's going to be subs."
Inside, Memphis' only returner with significant playing time last season is sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin, highly recruited out of high school only to fall short of expectations. Joining him is David Pellom, a 6-foot-7 graduate student who played at George Washington. Freshmen Austin Nichols and Kuran Iverson could see playing time.
"You don't produce, you don't play," Pastner said.
Memphis enters the season with a high-ranking recruiting class, depth at key spots, experience on the roster and an anticipated preseason Top 25 ranking.
The Tigers went 31-5 last season and finally won an NCAA tournament game with Pastner. Now they want a faster start in their first year in the American Athletic Conference after squandering preseason promise the past couple years with unsteady starts before coasting through Conference USA en route to an NCAA berth.
"The last two years, maybe we weren't in the on-the-court condition that we needed to be in," Pastner said. "We spent a lot of time working on that during the preseason."
Memphis is expected to finish high in this new conference. But this league is tougher than C-USA, which Memphis dominated since the mid-2000s. Former conference foes such as Tulsa, UAB, Tulane and Southern Mississippi have been replaced by defending national champ Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut and Temple.
Five things to watch at Memphis during the season:
TOUGHER SCHEDULE: The Tigers play only one exhibition Nov. 8 against Christian Brothers before opening the season Nov. 14 hosting Austin Peay. Their nonconference schedule includes a visit to Oklahoma state on Nov. 19 and a game with Florida in New York on Dec. 17. Their new conference features a round-robin with Louisville visiting March 3, and a visit from Gonzaga breaks up the American schedule Feb. 8.
TWO for COUSEY: Jackson and Dixon are on the Bob Cousey Award watch list for the top point guard in the nation, one of only two schools with a pair of players on the list. Harvard is the other.
POSTSEASON STEP A YEAR: Pastner's Tigers finally got past their first game in the NCAA Tournament last year. In two previous trips, Memphis was eliminated in its opening game. The Tigers defeated St. Mary's 54-52 last season before losing to Michigan State 70-48.
PASTNER COACHING CLIMB: In just four seasons, Pastner is 106-35 (75.5 percent) and ranks sixth all-time at Memphis. The late Larry Finch tops the list with 220 wins. Current Kentucky coach John Calipari officially won 214 games in his nine seasons at Memphis after the NCAA vacated the 2008-09 season.
NBA CONNECTIONS: The Tigers share space at the FedExForum, also home of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies. The two teams play several day-night doubleheaders during the season with the Tigers playing the lunchtime game, and the Grizz taking the court at dinner. The 6-10 Iverson is a second cousin of former NBA guard Allen Iverson.