Tigers ready for Belmont

University of Memphis coach Josh Pastner scheduled Belmont, a 30-win team last season, for the first game of the season purposely.

University of Memphis coach Josh Pastner scheduled Belmont, a 30-win team last season, as the first game of the season purposely.

"I thought, ‘Let's play Belmont for the opener game,' because, again, it gives us a great indication of where we are as a team — things that we do well, and things we might need to work on," Pastner said. The No. 10 Tigers kick off their 2011-12 campaign tomorrow at 11 a.m. at FedExForum against a Bruins team that returns virtually every player from last season, including Memphis native Ian Clark.

The move is risky on some level for Pastner and the Tigers, as Belmont took No. 6 Duke down to the wire last week at Cameron Indoor before losing by a single point, 77-76.

"Belmont's a very, very good basketball team," Pastner said. "I've been saying it since the schedule came out. This will be one of the toughest home games we play all year long and one of the toughest games period. I just think they're a really, really good basketball team. We'll know a lot about our team after tomorrow's game." The Bruins are led by Clark and senior forward Mick Hedgepeth. In their loss to Duke last Friday, Hedgepeth scored 11 points and secured seven rebounds against a front line of Duke's Plumlee twins.

It's no secret that the Bruins, who led the nation last season in scoring margin of victory at 20.9 points a game, rely heavily on the three-point shot. The Tigers struggled in their two preseason contests allowing their opponents to score an average of 9.5 threes per game.

It won't exactly be a clashing of styles, either. The Bruins are a transition team and, like the Tigers, are at their best when they have as many possessions as possible — a quality that could play right into Memphis‘ hands.

"The more possessions for us, the better," Pastner said. "We want a game where there's a lot of possessions. We like that."

Regardless of the outcome, though, Wednesday's game should act as a good litmus test for the Tigers as they prepare for the Maui Invitational Tournament and beyond.

"We're not preparing just for tomorrow's game," Pastner said. "The Belmont game, and Maui, and the games after that are going to help us prepare for conference play and beyond that. This is, again, part of the toughness of the schedule, to continue to help us prepare for the big picture."

Last season, Pastner was criticized for scheduling a relatively weak non-conference slate that featured games against LSU, Tennessee State, and Austin Peay.

While the Tigers started the season 9-1 through its first ten games, the record was somewhat deceptive because of their opponents' inferior level of competition.

This time around, the Tigers can ill afford a slow start; after tomorrow's game against the Bruins, the Tigers head straight to Maui for a first-round game against No. 18 Michigan.

Sophomore forward Tarik Black said he and his teammates are up to the challenge.

"If you want to start out fast, we'll start out fast," sophomore forward Tarik Black said. "We're just a young, hyped team. We love to play and we love to be competitive. We're tired of banging up on each other."


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