MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—- Memphis is 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 frontline as the 13th-ranked Tigers open their season Thursday night against visiting Austin Peay.
Memphis has three returning starters including Joe Jackson, who led the team in scoring last year with 13.6 points per game. Geron Johnson and long-range shooter and sixth man Chris Crawford both averaged 10.4 points. 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. David Pellom, a 6-foot-7 graduate student who played at George Washington, was going to join him, but he’s expected to miss five weeks after undergoing surgery on his left knee.
Freshmen Austin Nichols and Kuran Iverson could see playing time, but Iverson is suspended for the opener for playing in an unauthorized summer league game in Connecticut.
“You don’t produce, you don’t play,” Pastner said.
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 of 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 champion and No. 3 Louisville, Cincinnati, 19th-ranked Connecticut and Temple.
Jackson and Dixon are on the Bob Cousy 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.
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, while current Kentucky coach John Calipari officially won 214 games in his nine seasons at Memphis after the NCAA vacated the 2008-09 season.
Pastner will try to add to his win total against Austin Peay, which defeated National Christian College Association member Oakland City 84-69 in its opener Friday.
Ed Dyson scored 17 points as the Governors outscored the Mighty Oaks 40-22 in the paint, outrebounded them 46-27 and earned twice as many free throws.
Center Chris Horton pulled down a career-high 17 rebounds in addition to 10 points, and forward Will Triggs also added 10 points while grabbing seven boards.
These teams will be meeting for the fourth straight season after Memphis won 83-65 last December to extend its win streak in the series to seven.