Memphis, TN (Sports Network) - After watching most Division I teams tip off the season over the past week, the 13th-ranked Memphis Tigers will finally begin their campaign on Thursday night in a home matchup with the Austin Peay Governors.
Austin Peay started its season last Friday with a home win over Oakland City University, 84-69. Although it was a relatively easy win over a Division II foe, the Governors nonetheless hope that the victory is a sign of things to come after finishing just 8-23 overall a season ago. This is coach Dave Loos' 24th season on the bench for APSU. Only 13 Division I coaches have longer tenures.
Memphis comes into the season with sky-high expectations after a fantastic 2012-13 campaign, as it went 31-5 under fourth-year head coach Josh Pastner and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in the past eight seasons, beating Saint Mary's in the second round (54-52) before falling to Michigan State in the Round of 32 (70-48). The Tigers have been the class of Conference USA for nearly a decade with seven conference tournament titles since 2006, but they will now try their luck in the newly-formed American Athletic Conference.
Memphis holds a comfortable advantage in the all-time series with its intrastate rival, 17-4, which includes an 83-65 triumph at home in December of last year.
The Governors' found plenty of success from the floor in the opener as they drained 52.7 percent of their total shots, and all 11 players who saw action scored at least one point. Junior College transfer Ed Dyson paced the unit with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. Chris Horton was a beast in the paint with 10 points and 17 rebounds, while also producing at the defensive end with three blocks and three steals. The performance wasn't out of the ordinary for Horton, who averaged 8.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game a season ago. Will Triggs added 10 points, while last season's leading scorer Travis Betran (17.2 ppg), got off to a rocky start with just five points on 1-of-7 from the field. Despite a solid opener, Austin Peay will need to improve its efficiency from the foul line (20-of-36) to have any shot at achieving its goals this season.
Although Memphis will have a tougher time dominating in the AAC this season with the likes of Louisville and Connecticut expected to occupy the top of the standings, it's still one of the favorites thanks to a strong returning core. Joe Jackson is back for his senior year after leading the team in both scoring (13.6 ppg) and assists (4.8 apg) a season ago. Geron Johnson, also a senior, put up 10.4 points and 3.6 assists per contest, and both he and Jackson logged nearly two steals per game. Shaq Goodwin (7.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) made an impact in the frontcourt as a freshman and is expected to develop even further. Michael Dixon, Jr. sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules after scoring 13.5 points per game at George Washington in 2011-12, and he will be an important piece of the backcourt rotation. The Tigers also welcome one of the top recruiting classes in the country, with Austin Nichols (6-foot-8), Kuran Iverson (6-foot-10) and Nick King (6-foot-7) all expected to make an immediate impact.