Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 11/14/11
What you need to know about the 2011-12 Memphis Tigers: Anything less than a Sweet 16 NCAA tournament appearance will be considered a disappointment. Is it fair that a third-year coach has to deal with the ultimatum of Sweet 16-or-bust? Probably not. But with the roster that Josh Pastner returns, along with the additions of stud freshman Adonis Thomas and junior college transfer Stan Simpson, its a reality Pastner will have to face. The Tigers will be the most talented team in Conference USA by a landslide and can play nine or 10 deep. Seniors Charles Carmouche and Wesley Witherspoon should provide the Tigers with the leadership needed to make a run in the tournament. Memphis gained some much-needed experience in last seasons second-round loss to Arizona, which came down to the final play, and the Tigers should be able to channel that into a deeper run this time around. While the season wont be a failure if the Tigers dont advance to the Sweet 16, it would be a disappointment on some level considering the team's talent level. Memphis wont lose more than two games in Conference USA. Memphis teams during Pastners time as head coach havent exactly run through C-USA like some of the Memphis teams from the last decade. Last season, the youthful Tigers went 10-6 in conference play, an understandable record considering the best teams in the league were built around seniors. They lost by 15 to Marshall, were thumped by 15 against Rice, and got demolished by 27 points against UTEP. The team atoned for its struggles when it mattered most, however, and snatched the C-USA tournament from the grips of the Miners. Now that UTEP has lost the majority of its production to graduation, the balance of power should shift back to Memphis. In terms of sheer talent, Memphis is far and away the best team in C-USA. Tulsa, Marshall and UCF return the bulk of their rosters, but the Tigers should return to their days of dominating the conference this season. Will Barton will be the Conference USA Player of the Year. Its not exactly a national championship guarantee, but thats neither here nor there. Barton was the highest-ranked prospect in Pastners top five 2010 recruiting class, which included Joe Jackson, Tarik Black and Chris Crawford. While he led the team in scoring as a freshman last season at 12.3 points per game, Barton tended to force the issue in flashy plays that often resulted in turnovers. The flashiness will probably always be a staple in his game, but Barton has demonstrated more control thus far in two preseason games. The 6-foot-6 wing was 18-of-26 in the preseason and averaged 24.5 points per game. The competition will obviously be fiercer in C-USA, but Barton is a crafty scorer and should be able to take advantage of most C-USA teams. Rices Arselan Kazemi is poised to have a solid season as well, but if Barton can play anywhere close to the level hes at right now, the sophomore will firmly be in the conversation for C-USA player of the year at the end of the season. At least two Tigers will declare for the NBA Draft. This should be qualified with the addendum that as many as four will go if the Tigers make an Elite Eight or Final Four run. Barton, the Tigers leading scorer last season, is probably the most intriguing pro prospect at 6-foot-6. He has a natural feel for the game and, with his length, can be a tenacious defender. If he can improve his shot from 3-point range -- he shot a measly 26 percent from deep last season -- its likely Barton will be a surefire first-rounder. Black, who is in tip-top shape after dropping 22 pounds in the off-season, was one of the more consistent players for the Tigers last season, averaging 9.1 points and five rebounds a game. Black will surely be on the NBAs radar after the season ends. If the Tigers are still playing by the end of March, Thomas and Jackson may have opportunities to jump, as well. Josh Pastner will be in line for another raise. Although he just re-upped with Memphis this off-season -- Pastner was given a five-year contract extension at 1.7 million per -- hell probably deserve another raise after the season. Pastner, 34, will be one of the hottest names in the college basketball coaching ranks, especially if the Tigers make a run in the tournament, and there will be plenty of programs vying to lure him away from Memphis. To this point, the Memphis administration has shown that it understands Pastner will be in high demand in the future and it has acted accordingly. After this season, which could potentially be a very special one for Memphis, athletic director R.C. Johnson will probably need to dig a little deeper to avoid being a victim of the coaching carousel.
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