NEW YORK – Continuing with interviews from the Jimmy V Classic event this week, I caught up with Josh Pastner, the Memphis Tigers coach.
Here’s what is meant by everything being relative. While fans of former Big East schools, such as UConn, may lament the demise of the old conference, Memphis couldn’t be more excited to be leaving Conference USA for a league, the American Athletic Conference, that includes strong brands like UConn and Cincinnati – and, for one year, Louisville.
Pastner, 36 and very youthful, and he exudes enthusiasm for the AAC:
“Mick Cronin has done an amazing job at Cincinnati,” Pastner said, “he’s been awesome. Kevin Ollie, what he did last year, was terrific and [UConn’] loaded. I look at them as two elite programs, UConn and Cincinnati, two well-coached programs. Their names are strong, not only within the Region but nationally. Very strong, as strong as any other teams out there.”
“… I think the league’s really good. I personally think it’s the best basketball league, or we’re right darn there, in the country. When you’re talking top to bottom, there’s going to be a lot of good teams.
I think UConn’s going to be really good. I know coach Ollie has done an amazing job there. It wouldn’t surprise me if some people picked them as a sleeper pick to win the league. I know the obvious choice would be Louisville, but UConn’s darned good.”
Last season, Memphis was 31-5, and 16-0 in C-USA, and the Tigers won the league tournament. But that earned them a No. 6 seed in the Midwest Regional. They were eliminated by Michigan State in the Round of 32.
“We left Conference USA, which I thought was a really good basketball league, on a 27-game winning streak,” Pastner said. “Last year, we went undefeated in the league. Us and Gonzaga were the only teams entering the NCAA Tournament with 30-plus wins, so I was pounding on my fist the entire time for respect, you know? I think now, going into the American, the perception and everything else, you’re not going to have to do that, you just take care of business on the floor.
“I think it’s going to be a heck of a league, I’m telling you., it’s going to be a really good basketball league. This is going to be, I believe, a five or six team NCAA Tournament league.”
How are the Tigers going to be this season?
“I like our team, I love our guys,” Pastner said. “We’ve got good guys. We’re long, we’re fast, were athletic, that’s how we play. We’re young, we’ve got a lot of freshmen and a lot of seniors.”
One of those freshman is Kuran Iverson, from Northwest-Catholic High.
“… You know what, Kuran has a lot of ability,” Pastner said. “He’s just got to keep his game tight, he’s gotten better since he’s been here. His body’s good, he’s added muscle. But the biggest thing is he just got to learn how to be fundamentally sound every possession. There will be some ups and downs, but he’s a talented young man and his best basketball is ahead of him.”
Memphis will host the AAC Media Day on Oct. 16, and the first AAC Tournament March 12-15. The Tigers and Huskies play in Memphis on Jan. 16, and at the XL Center on Feb. 15.