JOHN L. PITTS: The ride might get bumpy for that Big Blue pit crew

TUPELO – The University of Memphis men’s basketball team has a pit crew. No kidding, at every full time out there are a half-dozen guys, all clad in snazzy blue shirts, who swing into action just like they were working on Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR machine.
They bring out chairs for the five starters to sit on, pass out towels and sports drinks, change tires and clean the windshield and maybe add a splash of gas.
I may be exaggerating that last part a little. But Memphis really does have a pit crew. I saw them in action for myself during Sunday’s game against LSU at a packed BancorpSouth Arena. Very impressive.
Memphis has a great pep band, too. As a recovering high school and college band step-parent, I know quality when I hear it. They had me when they played A-Ha’s “Take On Me.”
And Memphis has all kinds of dancing girls. And so many assistant coaches in nice suits it looked like a Men’s Wearhouse TV commercial. And a very passionate fan base, which happily helped set an arena attendance record and made a lot of noise at all the right moments.
And Memphis, as is the current fashion, has as many hangers-on and handlers and fan boys/girls as a rock band. They even have their own blogger, doing his bloggy thing from courtside.
And Memphis had a young head coach, Josh Pastner, who must often get mistaken for the team’s ball boy. (Maybe that’s why he has an armed escort, in case somebody tries to stop him from getting down to the court.)
Indeed, Memphis has all the trappings. They seem to be the very model of a modern college basketball program.
What’s not so clear, though, is what kind of basketball team is at the heart of all those trappings.
Memphis came into the game ranked No. 19 but that doesn’t mean much this time of year. I should know; I’m an AP poll voter and it’s not like I have seen all that many of the teams I’m voting on.
Parrish Alford and I sat on the sidelines of Sunday’s game and occasionally remarked to each other that Memphis didn’t look that good, even as it was showing enough poise to pull out a 70-61 win.
If LSU was any good, Memphis would’ve left town with a loss. The Bayou Bengals outworked Memphis, the pace was more to their liking, and the constant intrusion of the referees – 54 total whistles – kept Memphis from getting into a groove.
But the Tigers from Louisiana might have one guy who could crack the Memphis rotation. I’m pretty sure the manager from “Hoosiers” even logged a couple of minutes for them in the first half.
Still, it was a painfully close game for a lot longer than it needed to be, if Memphis really is a Top 25 team.
I suspect that these Memphis Tigers are the perfect SportsCenter team – about 30 seconds worth of dazzling highlights, many supplied by junior Wesley Witherspoon, and an additional blooper reel of freshman mistakes and attempts to make a great play when a plain old fundamental play would be the better idea.
Pastner appealed to Memphis fans for patience the other night. He’ll need his share of that, too, as he tries to figure out what kind of team this really is. There’s plenty of individual talent on the roster, but you can tell that it’s still November.
He may make them into something formidable by the time March rolls around. But before then, the Memphis schedule includes No. 7 Kansas, No. 20 Georgetown, No. 24 Tennessee and No. 11 Gonzaga.
That big blue pit crew and those fans had better buckle up. It could get bumpy.

Contact John L. Pitts at 678-1522 or john.pitts@djournal.com

John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal