Last Thursday afternoon, some 400 miles from where
The loss left the seniors in tears after the game, and when Pastner noticed them moping around in practice the next day, he brought them in for a pep talk.
"For crying out loud, there's no reason to be so depressed," said Pastner, who unlike Calipari and just about every other coach in America does not use profanity. "We just lost a game. Do I need to take you over to St. Jude's [Hospital]? No doctor called to say you're sick or that you're dying. We lost a game, that's all. Let's start another streak."
Such encouragement is to be expected from a boyish, teetotaling, 32-year-old
"When I took over, I went all over the city and told people, you can't judge me on what Coach Cal did the last four years," Pastner says. "It's not reality."
Making that challenge even greater was the way Memphis's top-ranked recruiting class disintegrated after Calipari left last spring.
Several other players whom Pastner was counting on also became unavailable during the offseason. One went to the NBDL, another got injured and remained in his native France, and a transfer who was about to become eligible tore an ACL on the first day of practice. That has left Pastner with a group that has little height and less depth. In each of Memphis's five losses, the Tigers have been severely outrebounded. They are a good defensive team (ranked 13th in the nation in steals) and are making a lot more three-pointers than they have in the past, but what has pleased Pastner most is their effort. Memphis is unranked, but the Tigers still are 14-5 and have an excellent chance to make the NCAA tournament. "I'm so proud of our young men," Pastner says. "The guys who are here, they didn't sign up to play for Josh Pastner, they signed to play for John Calipari. But they've given everything they have."
The good news is there are a lot of very good players who want to play for Josh Pastner. In just his first year on the job, Pastner has landed the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, a seven-man tour de force that features three players from Memphis (most notably point guard
Not surprisingly, he professes nothing but happiness for the success both his former boss and former recruits are enjoying in Lexington. "The way I look at it is, without Coach Calipari, I would never have been brought to Memphis and certainly would have never been the head coach at Memphis," Pastner says. "I hope that's us someday, I really do. But I know it's not going to happen overnight."
In the meantime, the Tigers demonstrated the power of positive belief by recovering from their dispiriting loss to pummel Houston at home on Saturday, 92-77. Let the record show the new streak stands at one.
• You see that guy
• That was a big win for Duke at Clemson, but it looks like
• Freshman point guard
• Explain to me how this is possible: Texas freshman guard
• I don't know whether to be extremely impressed that Michigan State keeps winning ugly, or concerned that this team is not as good as its perfect Big Ten record would indicate. I do know that if
• Zen Hoop Thought: Cornell's best win was its loss at Kansas.
• Northwestern's win over Illinois was critical because the Wildcats could end up competing with the Illini for an at-large bid. They lost in overtime in Champaign, and if they had been swept it would have been hard to overcome. I'm calling it right now: Northwestern is going to the tournament.
• Reason No. 4,315 why college hoops is better than the NBA: Proud parents who come to games wearing T-shirts bearing their son's name and jersey number.
• In the ongoing Great Conference Debate between the Big 12 and the Big East -- and really, no other league is even in the conversation -- I feel compelled to remind everyone that the Big East has four more teams. Thus, it is not an open-and-shut argument to cite the number of teams the Big East has in the top 25 or the top 10. Take last week's AP poll: Five of the 16 Big East teams were ranked. That's 31.3 percent of the conference. On the other hand, four of the Big 12's teams were ranked, which is 33.3 percent. Both leagues had two teams listed in others receiving votes. Furthermore, the middle and bottom of the Big 12 is clearly superior to the middle and bottom of the Big East. And there are three
• Speaking of the Big 12, when I asked Kansas State coach
• I saw my colleague
• The best part about Seton Hall's win over Pittsburgh on Sunday is the fact that 6-foot-8 forward
• Totally classless move by several dozen San Diego State students who dressed up as Mormon missionaries to mock BYU when the Cougars came to town on Saturday night. Riding the opposition is fine, but there are a few things that are off-limits, and religion is of them.
• If nothing else, Kentucky is proving once and for all that talent is more important than experience. Think of it this way: Experience is a luxury, but talent is a necessity.
• Kudos to UCLA for beating Washington and Washington State last week, but it is a little sad seeing a
• When I covered high school sports at the
• Nice job by
• The act of rushing the court clearly hit its nadir when Indiana fans did it after their Hoosiers beat Minnesota in overtime. I love that fans are starting to call each other out for this kind of lameness and refuse to storm the court themselves. There is no better example than Kansas State's fans refusing to rush the floor after the big win over Texas. Coolest move of the season, I say.
• Y'all know I've got a bit of a man-crush on Baylor, but I'll have lots of company next season when
• For all the chatter about North Carolina's struggles, not enough people are noting how much of the Tar Heels' troubles stem from injuries. They were missing two starters when they lost at College of Charleston, they just lost
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Kentucky (2)
Dropped from my ballot: North Carolina (22), Northern Iowa (23), Siena (25).
Ranking Kentucky No. 1 was a cinch, but it was surprisingly easy to decide how far to drop Texas. I just kept going until I got to the teams that also lost last week. Kansas State was a little trickier. Do I put more weight in the win over Texas (keeping in mind that the Longhorns lost again to a slumping UConn team playing without its head coach) or the loss at home to Oklahoma State? In the end I went with the win, but I also rewarded the Pokes by putting them on my ballot for the first time this season.
The middle didn't change much for me. Even if Gonzaga keeps winning, it will have a hard time cracking the top 10 because it does not play any more ranked teams. As I moved further down my list, I reconsidered some of the decisions I had been making in the past. The thing I am looking for most right now is quality wins. In other words, did that team beat someone else on my ballot? If not, they paid a price.
That's why I dropped BYU six spots even though the Cougars did not lose last week. BYU's best wins this season were over Arizona State and UNLV at home, and Arizona and UTEP on the road. They can make a better case by winning Wednesday night at New Mexico, but for the time being I felt the need to make a course correction.
Ole Miss is holding steady, largely because their neutral court win over Kansas State is holding up so nicely. Northwestern still makes my grade thanks to respectable wins over Notre Dame, Iowa State and on the road at N.C. State (where Duke lost), at Michigan (where UConn lost) and at home over Purdue. That's a pretty strong resume.
The lack of quality wins remains the only reason I am not ranking Vanderbilt, despite all the, uh, helpful suggestions from Vandy fans that they are ballot-worthy. The Commodores' best wins are over Florida at home and Alabama on the road. Not great, not terrible, but they also lost to Cincinnati and Western Kentucky on neutral courts. Vandy will have plenty of chances to make its case over the next two weeks, when it plays at Tennessee, at Kentucky, home against Mississippi State, at Georgia, and home against Tennessee.
Siena dropped off my ballot for the same reason I did not include Vanderbilt: No wins over another team in my top 25. My other almost teams were Northern Iowa, Dayton, Xavier, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Get me some more quality W's, boys, and I'll be happy to give you my vote.