The Memphis Tigers have been on a hot streak, with their most recent win coming against the Oregon Ducks. Will they live up to the hype in 2021-22? College basketball coaches weigh in.
Memphis is coming off a season where they won their first ever Conference USA Championship. They are now in the top 25 of the preseason rankings for the upcoming season, but will they live up to the hype? Coaches weigh in on whether or not Memphis can live up to the hype.
It’s unusual for a club to miss the NCAA tournament, lose four of its top seven players, and then be a preseason top-10 team the next season.
The Memphis Tigers of 2021-22, on the other hand, are anything from ordinary. While they failed not qualify for the NCAA tournament, they did win the NIT and would have been on Selection Sunday if one of their one-possession defeats to Houston in early March had gone their way. They lost a few important rotation players, but they restocked in the spring with three Power-5 transfers, including possible first-round selection Earl Timberlake, and a strong recruiting class that included two ESPN 100 prospects.
After that, in August, Penny Hardaway persuaded Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren to reclassify from 2022 to 2021 and play for Memphis this season. Bates and Duren are two of the most talented players in college basketball, and they are expected to be top-10 selections in the NBA draft if they choose to enter.
Those acquisitions have raised a lot of anticipation. The Tigers now have one of the most talented rosters in the nation, as well as a probable top-10 preseason ranking. Memphis was in a similar situation last year, when Hardaway brought in the top-ranked recruiting class in the country, headed by top prospect James Wiseman, but was on pace to miss the NCAA tournament until it was canceled due of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Despite the fact that there were mitigating circumstances that season — Wiseman’s suspension, a slew of ailments — Hardaway has failed to lead his team to the NCAA tournament in his three years as coach. He now has a squad that is too good to fail, with two big names at the helm.
We talked with several American Athletic Conference coaches who played Memphis in recent seasons and saw Bates and Duren many times to get a sense of how the pieces could fit and the possible problems Hardaway might face this season.
What has been a stumbling block for Memphis under Hardaway?
Under Hardaway, Memphis has won at least 20 games in each of the last three seasons, but has yet to reach the NCAA tournament. Its problems aren’t on the defensive end of the court. Last season, the Tigers had the highest adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation, and they weren’t far behind in 2019-20, ranking No. 5 in adjusted defensive efficiency, No. 1 in 2-point defense, and No. 3 in 3-point defense.
“Defensively, they’ve been outstanding. They’re a real nuisance to play against “According to one AAC coach. “They make the game tough for you by preventing you from running your offense. They divert your attention away from what you wish to accomplish. They’ll force other players on your squad to make plays, so you’ll need several players that can make and complete plays. Your top player will be taken off of a ball screen by them. They muck up your offense.”
Coaches throughout the AAC believe Jalen Duren’s shot-blocking and rebounding abilities will replace the void left by Moussa Cisse’s departure, and have dubbed him a “physical wonder.” They also expect difficulties adjusting to the intricacies of college football. Who Will Be Next?
Another coach said, “It just takes them a bit to get the defense really humming.” “Penny does not receive the credit he deserves for the defensive performance of those youngsters. They play hard, they play coordinated, and they play a certain defensive style.”
Memphis has struggled on the offensive end of the court this season. In 2019-20, KenPom.com rated the Tigers No. 210 in adjusted offensive efficiency, and despite progress last season, they were still below the top 100 nationally. Turnovers are the obvious reason, as Memphis has turned the ball over on roughly 22% of their possessions over the last two seasons, which ranks near the bottom of Division I. The Tigers, on the other hand, have struggled with shot selection.
“They simply haven’t been terrific offensively,” one rival coach remarked. “They have players that are attempting to make plays in the NBA. They have a poor shot selection and players that are doing things that aren’t their strong suits. I’m sure [newly appointed assistant coach] Larry Brown will help, but they’re a little isolation-heavy offensively and don’t play to their strengths. Then there’s the problem of turnover. They give everything up in the hopes of hitting a home run.”
What role do Bates and Duren play in resolving such issues?
Let’s start with the defensive end of the floor, since Memphis’ success has been based mostly on that. Duren will have an instant impact, according to every coach we talked with, and will smoothly fill the void left by Moussa Cisse’s move to Oklahoma State. Duren was one of the top shot-blockers and rebounders in the 2021 class, and he should be able to convert that talent soon.
“Duren, in my opinion, is a perfect match. They lost Moussa Cisse, and their defensive style, trapping and forcing you to scramble, need rim protection and size at the rim “one of the coaches said. “When you get stuck, you must reverse the situation and go make a play. The issue is that you were previously firing over [Precious] Achiuwa or Cisse, and now you’re shooting over Duren. That was a critical component of their defense. For them, he’s a huge component.”
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On the defensive end, Bates does not have the same reputation as Duren, and he immediately sparked debate about how well he would fit into Memphis’ defensive scheme.
“He didn’t seem fluid defensively when I saw him,” one coach observed. “He hasn’t done anything like run, leap, and push. Is he up to the task? Maybe.”
“Bates has a very high IQ. Dudes with a high IQ can protect themselves. Especially in Memphis, where it’s done in a unique manner “a different coach said. “It’s not always a black-and-white situation. They let their children to play freely and aggressively inside a defined framework and idea. Go grab him if he’s dribbling too near to the sideline. That’s something Bates will excel at. He has a high IQ and a good sense of what’s going on around him. It’ll be fascinating to see where the motor is located. Is he equipped with a defensive motor? I’m not sure. That will be the topic of discussion.”
Bates will very certainly be the team’s No. 1 option offensively from the start, the guy who has the ball in his hands in late-game, late-clock scenarios. Duren will serve as a low-post option and will have a significant effect on second-chance chances.
“Bates is a natural offensive talent,” one coach remarked. “This is a three-level scorer.” He has a natural talent for it. He’s got some Durant-like qualities in that he’s a great ball handler and his primary skill is making pull-up jumpers. He gets to places after one or two bounces while he’s rocking and rolling. He has the ability to catch-and-shoot threes and get to the basket, but his specialty is getting to good places off one- and two-bounce pull-ups.
The coach went on to say, “Duren is a physical wonder.” “Offensively, he’s a beast. Exceptional rim runner. He’s a one-on-one player who knows how to put the ball in the hoop. Because he’ll be facing double-teams in college, he may have a tougher time adjusting. He’ll see a lot of various types of coverage and stuff. And he’ll be up against some older players.”
As a point guard, Bates?
In the weeks after Bates committed to Memphis, it has been apparent that the Tigers’ intention to utilize him as point guard was a major part of their recruiting presentation. It makes sense, given that Bates is 6-foot-8 and Hardaway was a 6-foot-7 point guard.
Throughout much of his high school career, though, Bates has been regarded as a pure scorer and a deadly perimeter shooter; creating for others has been an auxiliary element of his skill set. On the Nike EYBL circuit, he showed signs of improved playmaking skills, averaging 2.7 assists per game, including a nine-assist effort in mid-July.
Opposing coaches were understandably conflicted about Bates’ desire to play point guard.
Emoni Bates puts on a scoring clinic against Chet Holmgren and Team Sizzle, scoring 36 points.
“They use the pinch post for a lot of their work. All they actually need is a pass to get in “According to one AAC coach. “They’re quick to move and cut, and they’re really excellent at it. They’re fantastic at it. That isn’t a difficult sale for them. It’s a Chris Paul-style offensive with what they’re doing. When people think of a point guard, they often see a single player with a high usage rate who feeds the rest of the team. They allowed their forwards make a lot of choices when they were very good late in the year, when their offensive statistics were excellent. DeAndre Williams and Malcolm Dandridge gave a lot of those players the opportunity to create plays as passers.”
“In the situations I observed, [Bates] wasn’t a point guard. I’d want to see him more in a point guard role “Another coach chimed in with a retort. “He’s a big wing with a lot of shooting ability. That’s something he excels at. He has the ability to get hot and make shots. I simply didn’t see him assisting and stepping away from the screen to make plays for others. Point guards must be able to score, but they must also be able to improve those around them. That’s something I’d want to see more of. He shoots after coming off a ball screen. He’s thinking score now that he’s out of the house.”
The two most serious possible problems are chemistry and role allocation.
Memphis’ depth and talent will not be a problem this season. Three starters, three other members of last season’s rotation, three Power-5 transfers, four ESPN 100 freshmen, and two additional incoming recruits are among the Tigers’ returning starters.
The extent to which Hardaway can put it all together while keeping everyone pleased may decide how far Memphis advances this season.
If Hardaway can keep everyone pleased with chances on the floor, the Memphis Tigers have the depth and skill to be dangerous opponents this season. Getty Images/Ronald Martinez
“The issue they have is when the minutes are split, the shots are divided, and the players aren’t pleased with their responsibilities,” one AAC coach said. “Timberlake, Emoni, and Duren all believe they will pursue professional careers following this year. Late in the season, [DeAndre] Williams was the man. The top scorer was [Landers] Nolley. He’ll be looking for his shots. You’re not going to score 100 points every game, so someone in that group will be averaging six points per game and will be dissatisfied.”
“Last season, they took off when less was more. Guys started peeking over their backs “another coach has been added. “How will they be when you’re cycling in Tyler Harris, Earl Timberlake, and [Alex] Lomax?” says the narrator.
Last season, the Tigers got out to a poor start, losing to Western Kentucky and VCU in the first week, but things picked up when Williams, the team’s oldest and most experienced player, became eligible; Memphis was 4-3 without him and 16-5 with him. With ten players on this year’s squad having played in college, a quicker start was anticipated.
“I felt Memphis was going to take a huge stride before they acquired Bates and Duren, because they’re approaching this thing with three- and four-year players,” one coach said. “Guys who have gone through the rigors of the grind, the process, and the trip.” They’ve earned some favorable circumstances. Malcolm Dandridge, Alex Lomas, Lester Quinones, Landers Nolley II
“DeAndre Williams is their emotional compass, their pulse,” the coach said. “He plays with such a selfless attitude. He’s the one that, in my opinion, addressed a lot of their offensive issues. He simplified things since he’s such a terrific playmaker. They’ve worked hard for it. Those players had a great nucleus and core, and I figured they’d get them off to a terrific start in November and December.”
Last season, Memphis went 4-3 without DeAndre Williams and 16-5 with him. In 2021-22, he’ll be an important component of Hardaway’s plan. Justin Ford is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
Despite the worries, league coaches understand that adding two lottery selections to a club that won the NIT and has already reloaded via the transfer portal makes Memphis a dangerous opponent this season. The defense isn’t going away, and with Bates and Duren on board, the Tigers should be more efficient and consistent on offense.
Also, over the summer, Hardaway did more than simply bolster his playing squad. He bolstered his coaching team with Hall of Famer Jim Brown and NBA champion Rasheed Wallace.
“Penny does an outstanding job, and Larry Brown is the best there is,” one coach remarked. “I know how picky he is about passing the ball, moving the ball, making the extra pass, and changing sides of the court. They’re going to be very, really, really excellent if he can convince those people to buy in. If they can get on the same page, which I am certain they will. When Penny, Larry Brown, and Rasheed Wallace are asking you to do something, it’s a bit simpler. That gang is the only one who can get it done.”
The tiger sports report is a website that provides college basketball coaches with their opinions on the upcoming season. In this article, they discuss whether Memphis will live up to the hype in 2021-22.
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