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Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Memphis ready for test against Kansas

By Dana O'Neil


Back in the day, "Sesame Street" used to offer an educational staple, complete with catchy jingle:
One of these things is not like the others

One of these things just doesn’t belong

Can you tell me which thing is not like the others

By the time I finish my song?

Not sure if Josh Pastner will be humming it when he takes the court against Kansas for the opening of the Jimmy V Classic, but he’s well aware how appropriate the tune is to his current lot in life.

Bill Self, Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo (the latter two will meet in the nightcap) rank among the best in the game. Each owns a national championship ring; each has become virtually synonymous with his university.

And then there is Pastner, only 33 and only 41 games into his coaching career.

“When I was up there earlier this year, they were talking about how together we have something like 1,600 wins; I’ve contributed 31 of them,’’ Pastner said. “I know those three sat down with Andy [Katz] to talk about how they all won titles. I told him, ‘C’mon, what about my national championship as a walk-on [with Arizona]? That’s not fair. What’s different?’’’

Like any young coach, Pastner dreams of joining that upper echelon of the fraternity, but right now he’s got bigger fish to fry.

Josh Pastner
Josh Pastner has his Memphis Tigers off to a 7-0 start this season.
Namely making Memphis one of those upper-echelon teams.

The Tigers are currently No. 14 in the country with an unblemished 7-0 record, but Memphis has looked shaky in spots -- most notably, needing overtime to dispatch of Arkansas State -- and remains a team still trying to prove it belongs.

The Tigers are good and clearly once again the best in Conference USA, but Memphis doesn’t define success by its conference record.

“For us, my message has been pretty consistent,’’ Pastner said. “It’s about valuing every possession, treating every possession like it’s precious.’’

To drive his point home, Pastner made his team watch "The Best That Never Was," the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about Marcus Dupree. One of the most sought-after recruits in college football in 1981, Dupree broke Herschel Walker’s high school scoring records. But after two seasons at Oklahoma, his college career fizzled and he never became the player everyone expected.

“I want them to understand how short their window is here; don’t take anything for granted,’’ Pastner said. “I think they’re getting the message. I tend to repeat myself.’’

If the movie didn’t drive the point home, the game against Arkansas State might have.

The Tigers led by 11 at the half and then lazed and dazed their way through the second half, needing overtime to put away a team that had just one win.

Against Kansas, of course, if Memphis chooses to laze and daze through any stretch, the Tigers will find themselves staring at the back of a freight train.

Yes, the Jayhawks are still without Josh Selby, but that hasn’t slowed them down any. Kansas is third in the nation in scoring, averaging a blistering 89.9 points per game. Oh, and they also don’t miss much: the Jayhawks are the nation’s best-shooting team, sinking 57 percent of their field goals.

Memphis likes to go just as much, putting up 85.3 points per game (ninth-best nationally), but the team needs to stop forgetting the ball. The Tigers average 16 turnovers per game, careless mistakes that equate to undervalued possessions in Pastner’s opinion -- and more than likely points for Kansas.

“I don’t care who we play, if it’s Kansas or LeMoyne-Owen in an exhibition game,’’ Pastner said. “Teams are good. Coaches are good. We can’t help them out by not valuing our possessions. It’s about how we play, not who we play.’’

If the Tigers master that this season, they’ll be singing a different tune.