Memphis Hoping to Stop Spiral Down By Closing to Media

Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Memphis made the decision to restrict access to its men's basketball team Monday. It is just another step on the spiral down from the grand expectations to begin the year. Not to say we told you so, but...

Things are deteriorating quickly in Memphis. No, this isn't a UCLA-style meltdown, but it is important just the same.

Expectations ran high for the Tigers in their final season in Conference USA. They were supposed to be setting the foundation for a step up in competition. Only no one gave them the memo.

After a disaster of a holiday tournament at Atlantis, featuring what could possibly be seven, if not eight, NCAA Tournament teams, Memphis is 3-2. The wins have come against North Florida (which pushed the Tigers before they got their act together), Samford (ditto, and deeper into the game), and Northern Iowa (ditto, ditto).

No win was impressive, not even the ones that were supposed to be. The two losses were sloppy and more sloppy.

Pick any game and you can count the flaws in the Memphis program from start to finish. This team didn't look like they deserved to be in the Top 25. Now they aren't.

It has led to criticism at home, and now the team will become more insular, locking out most of the media freedom that had been a staple of the Josh Pastner-led Tigers.

Maybe it will work. Away from the bright lights of the media, maybe this team will find what is wrong with it, and make a turn for the better.

But isn't this just a way to control the spin? Isn't this just a way to prevent a deteriorating situation from becoming worse by say, a reporter walking in on an argument between teammates?

Frustration has to be high within this team. There is no Will Barton to lead them through thick and thin. There is no experience in the form of a Wesley Witherspoon left. This is a team playing essentially without a captain at the wheel.

That is not a knock on Pastner. He isn't the one making the on-court decisions to pass the ball to the other team.

He can't erase the freshman- and sophomore-type mistakes that this team is making. And they aren't freshman and sophomores for the most part. A team led by juniors shouldn't be averaging 14 turnovers per game, at least not one that was expected to be competing into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

A 3-2 record isn't the end of the world, especially with opportunities for good wins going forward. But the problems on this team have to clear up, and that doesn't look like it is an easy proposition at this point.

Not everything we predicted at the beginning of the year is happening (although a good majority of it is), but we did call out the insane expectations for Memphis given the returning value on the court. Will Barton was a huge presence for this team. Witherspoon wasn't as big, but was still a positive contributor.

The Tigers were bringing back a shell of the team that, entering the NCAA Tournament last season, could have been considered a top 10 squad (along with the team they lost to, Saint Louis). The whole season hinged on every player on the team making major strides into their sophomore and junior seasons. That was a lot of "ifs."

There were no returning stars, other than what people wanted to make out the roster. There was no McDermott. There was no Pangos/Harris. This was a team that needed everyone to make a big step, and then someone -- anyone really -- to make a big leap.

Most people thought that would be Adonis Thomas. But Thomas had a long way to go from a -0.2 HW30 score to a 6- or 7-win superstar (or even 8.2 like Will Barton).

This was going to be a difficult road, one filled with expectations fueled by the success of the last few seasons. But that fuel eventually runs out. At some point, you have to take a hard look at the team on the court and realize that it isn't the same as the guys who ran you to the national title game. It isn't even the same as the guys who ran you to the Sweet 16.

This is a talented bunch that has yet to learn what it means to play together as a team (and what color jersey they are wearing). Until that changes, and someone steps forward to lead them, this season will only get worse.

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