On Saturday the Tigers succeeded in defending their home court against regional rival Ole Miss. The Rebels were no slouches and hit 12 of 27 threes while Memphis’ only triples came by way of Tyler Harris, who hit three shots from deep.
Memphis forward Precious Achiuwa stepped up in a big way for the Tigers with a 25 point, 11 rebound performance with 10 of 16 shooting from the field. This was the first game where Precious truly stepped up in the paint and took care of business, showing flashes of why he is a projected NBA draft lottery pick.
Alex Lomax and Tyler Harris, both local Memphis sophomore guards, played huge roles off the bench for Penny Hardaway. They each put up double digit scoring. Lomax added 7 rebounds and 7 assists in what was hopefully his breakout performance of 2019-20.
With the help of DJ Jeffries, the Tigers bench outscored the starters 52-37. Jeffries contributed 23 points and several highlight reel dunks, much to the pleasure of the home crowd.
On a sour note, guard Lester Quinones – who had been the most consistent Tiger this season – was injured in the first half and only amassed 9 minutes. The diagnosis is a broken hand and he will be out a minimum of 3 weeks, with some reports saying between 4-6. This is a huge blow for the Tigers, who will also be without star center James Wiseman until January 12th.
Isaiah Maurice drew the start on Saturday in the place of Wiseman, but had a very lackluster performance. During a press conference this week, Hardaway said that he will likely stick with Maurice in the starting lineup instead of inserting Lance Thomas, who had 5 rebounds and 3 blocks off the bench on Saturday.
The easy move for Hardaway would be to move DJ Jeffries to the starting lineup, but if he does that then he loses significant fire power off the bench. Jeffries led the team in minutes against Ole Miss despite coming off the bench. I think that if he is content in playing that role, the Tigers have a significant advantage over many of their opponents.
With Alex Lomax’s impressive performance last week, I would move him to the starting lineup to suit up alongside fellow guards Boogie Ellis and Damion Baugh, who have decent height and length for their positions.
Looking Ahead to NC State
On Thanksgiving day at three o’clock, you can push back the Turkey and tune in to watch the Tigers face off against NC State at the Barclays Center.
The Wolfpack will present a compelling matchup to the shorthanded Tigers. NC State is returning 6 of their 7 leading scorers from a year ago. They are a group that takes care of the ball and forces their opponents to turn the ball over.
Memphis will need to be alert and quick on defense as the Wolfpack are shooting 33% from three and also 54% from two. Similar to Memphis, they like to push the pace and get a shot off within the first 16 seconds of the shot clock on average.
Their high powered offense averages 84.5 points per game to Memphis’ 86.7. Coach Kevin Keatts’ squad is experienced with the average player having over two years of playing time under their belt.
For the most part, Keatt’s utilizes an 8 man rotation that is ripe with shooting talent.
Senior guard Markell Johnson is the main distributor, dishing out 6.8 assists – his assists rate is top 50 in the country – in addition to scoring 10 points of his own. Right now, he is not one of their more efficient scorers, but has the potential to punish teams based on his history. Johnson is shooting 10 percentage points lower than his career average and we can only expect that he will break out of this early-season slump soon.
The biggest offensive threat for NC State is CJ Bryce, a 6’5” senior who is the most efficient scorer on the Wolfpack roster and is averaging 17.7p/7.7r/2.7a.
Guard Devon Daniels averages almost 2 steals per game and takes 24% of NC State’s shots on his way to averaging 14.2p/3.7r/2.3a.
Down low, the best offensive rebounder for NC State is Jericole Hellems, who averages 9.7p/4.3r/1a.
With Wiseman out, Manny Bates will be the tallest player on the court at 6’11”. The redshirt freshman averages almost 4 blocks per game and is close to tops in the nation in block percentage.
A threat from the outside, stretch forward Pat Andree is shooting 41.9% from three this year. He is a graduate transfer from Lehigh. Braxton Beverly is another three point threat for the Wolfpack who averages 9.8p/3.7r/2.7a. Rounding out the bench mob is DJ Funderburk, a 6’10” forward who is contributing 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
To help get an insider’s perspective, I reached out to Steven Muma of BackingThePack.com with some questions to help shed some light what folks on the NC State side of things are feeling about this matchup.
Who has been NC State’s top newcomer so far?
There are only two to choose from, and while both have been good, I’ll give the nod to grad transfer Pat Andree, who came in from Lehigh. NC State recruited him to give the Wolfpack more perimeter scoring depth and he’s been as advertised so far, hitting 13-27 of his three-point attempts this season. He’s definitely more of a role player, but definitely the sort capable of changing the trajectory of a game by hitting a handful of threes.
Who has been the most consistent player on the roster and what can you expect from him night in and night out?
This season that’s been senior wing C.J. Bryce, who came with Kevin Keatts from UNC-Wilmington. Bryce isn’t a great jump shooter and doesn’t rely heavily on threes, which is fine since he’s always been a capable scorer from 15 feet and in. He’s scored at least 16 points in five of NC State’s first six games. He’s a pretty good rebounder for his size and a decent passer as well, so he’s able to do a bit of everything.
But Markell Johnson is the best player on this team, without question. He just hasn’t found the range on his jumper yet, and when that happens, I expect him to be the consistent leader that State needs him to be in order to reach its full potential as a team. Johnson has great quickness and is excellent around the rim, and those things will create problems whether or not he’s making jumpers.
What personnel matchup you are most looking forward to?
Before the season, I would have simply said “James Wiseman doing things against whoever” but since the NCAA rudely has taken that off the table (seriously, as a fan of basketball in general, I hate seeing NCAA shenanigans sideline a big-time talent like this) I’m looking forward to seeing how these teams’ guards stack up against each other.
What are some ways that Memphis can beat NC State and ways that NC State can beat Memphis?
The turnover column will be one to watch on both sides, since both of these teams have been good at creating turnovers. NC State likes to press more often than most teams and if that’s effective, it’s going to make winning a lot easier for the Wolfpack. Does Memphis’ youth become a problem for the Tigers there? We’ll see.
Memphis has been excellent on the offensive glass this season, while State has been only so-so on the defensive boards, and that’s always a key for the Wolfpack defensively. If the Tigers end up controlling the glass at that end of the floor, I could see that costing NC State the game. This becomes more critical if NC State isn’t forcing turnovers.
Keys to the game
- Contain CJ Bryce. The Tigers are going to need Damion Baugh to step up and play tough defense if he draws this assignment.
- The Memphis frontcourt is only as good as Precious Achiuwa. He will need another big game for Memphis to come out on top.
- Keep NC State off the offensive boards. No easy putbacks.
- Force turnovers. Memphis has done this all season and will need to keep this as part of their core.
- Hit a three or five. If NC State plays zone, like most teams have against Memphis, someone will need to break it. I’m looking at you, Tyler.
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Zak (@BarnBurnerBro) is a native Memphian who covers the Memphis Grizzlies, Tigers, and St. Louis Cardinals for The Barn. He spends his free time exploring breweries, restaurants, and leading the Ivan Rabb stan club.