Tigers host the Bradley Braves on Tuesday as both teams look to build on hot starts

Next man up is a fitting motto for the Memphis Tigers basketball team this year. It certainly helps when that next man is almost guaranteed to be a highly touted prospect in his own right. Even with James Wiseman and Lester Quinones off the floor, the Tigers have found ways to win.

On Thanksgiving, the Tigers and NC State Wolfpack played a contest in a sparsely populated Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Over the course of the game, the Tigers treated us to the best first half of the season, but also showed us that they are still a young team who needs to work on protecting leads and taking care of the ball against experienced teams.

All told, the Tigers were able to hand on to beat the Wolfpack 83-78 in the neutral site game. 

NC State star guard Markell Johnson had his long-awaited breakout game against Memphis, putting up a stat line of 22p/5r/6a. He was 7/11 from the field and looked much more like the player he has been in previous years.

Also for NC State, Jericole Hellems added 17 points while DJ Funderburk put in 14 points of his own in their losing effort. 

In the first half, Memphis put up a staggering 55 points in what was easily their best 20 minute showing of the young season. Precious Achiuwa continues to impress and led the Tigers with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Achiuwa showed more of that lottery talent and prowess by bringing the ball up the court several times and proving that he is more than just a post up athletic big man. As the icing on the cake, he even added his first three point make of the season. 

Boogie Ellis had the monster half that we have been waiting on and scored 21 points in the contest, hitting two of his three shots from deep. Ellis’ play was critical in the first half. 

Off the bench, Tyler Harris added three of his own treys. This is something for us to keep an eye on. If Harris can keep spreading the floor with his shooting off the bench, Memphis will continue to be a tough team to game plan for. 

Side Notes: Malcolm Dandridge saw the floor for the first time this season. Lance Thomas put up 8 points and 4 rebounds in only 15 minutes in addition to 3 blocks — he now leads the team with 10. 

Despite a second half scoring drought and a flurry of foolish turnovers, the Tigers won this game with their shooting (51% from the field and 66% from three) and rebounding (35-21 advantage and 35% offensive rebounding percentage).

Bradley Scouting Report

Despite bringing in a large group of newcomers, Coach Brian Wardle is returning several key contributors from last year’s Missouri Valley tournament championship team. 

Senior point guard Darrell Brown, a former 3-star point guard and Team Penny athlete, is a threat from three (37.8%) and also knows how to help his teammate score — he has a 29.7 assist rate. 

Forward Elijah Childs is averaging nearly a double-double with 12.9 points and 9 rebounds per game. Another senior guard, Nate Kennell is a threat from deep for the Braves. Kennell is averaging an astonishing 47.5% from three and his effective field goal percentage is an impressive 65.3%.

Down low, the Braves have 6’11’’ Koch Bar, who puts up 8.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

As a team, Bradley is one of the better offensive rebounding units in the country with a top 30 offensive rebounding percentage. Overall, the Braves are shooting 36% from three and also protect the rim well with a top 75 block rate. 

Inside Look

To help get an insider’s perspective, I reached out to Larry Larson of the Bradley Scout with some questions to help shed some light what folks on the Bradley side of things are feeling about this matchup.

Who has been Bradley’s top newcomer so far?

Bradley is a team that lost a lot of key pieces from last year’s MVC tournament championship squad, hence the arrival of three transfers and five freshmen. Of the eight newcomers, three are redshirting, and only one, redshirt junior guard Danya Kingsby, has played significant minutes. Kingsby was in the starting lineup until last game, when he was moved to a bench role. In the Braves seven games, he’s averaging 7.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. While many fans likely expected more out of him on the offensive end, his impact has come on the defensive side of the floor. He’s often been the one to draw the opponent’s best scorer in the backcourt, and is second on the team in steals. His effort hasn’t shown up in the box score, but he’s been a very solid veteran addition to an already experienced backcourt. He’ll likely draw Boogie Ellis, now that Lester Quinones won’t play against the Braves. 

Who has been the most consistent player on the roster and what can you expect from him night in and night out?

Picking a single consistent player on the roster is difficult. However, my pick is senior guard and Memphis native, Darrell Brown. Brown is a four year starter, and it shows when he’s on the floor. When the team needs a bucket, he finds a way, whether it’s through an assist, a deep three or by getting to the foul line. Whether or not he’s having a good shooting night, he’s going to shoot a high volume of shots. Brown has scored in double figures every game he’s played and is the team’s leading scorer. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him score a season high in his hometown. Brown’s passing game has taken a step this year, as he’s averaging 5.8 assists per game. When consistent players come to mind, I also think of sophomore forward Ja’Shon Henry and junior forward Elijah Childs, but the offense revolves around Brown. Look for him to be the difference maker in a game vs his godfather and Memphis head coach, Penny Hardaway. 

What personnel matchup you are most looking forward to?

This game has been circled on the calendars of Bradley fans, and likely players, since the schedule came out. Needless to say, there’s a lot to look forward to, even after James Wiseman’s suspension ruled him ineligible for this game. Quite frankly, Wiseman would’ve been a big matchup problem for the Braves, forcing them to rely on their outside shooting. With Wiseman’s absence, I’m most looking forward to the matchup of Bradley’s frontcourt of senior center Koch Bar and forward Elijah Childs vs Precious Achiuwa and the rest of the Tigers backcourt. Bar bulked up and increased his range over the offseason, and the game should be a good high-major test for Childs, who is a big-game player. As a sophomore, Childs was named MVC tournament most outstanding player, and led the team with 19 points in Bradley’s close first round loss to Michigan State. I’m excited to see how he’ll perform in this big early season matchup. If the Braves receive good performances from both their big men and keep Achiuwa below 15 points, they’ll give themselves a really good chance at winning. 

What are some ways that Memphis can beat Bradley and some ways that Bradley can beat Memphis?

Looking at this matchup on paper, Memphis is obviously favored, but as the season has gone on, Bradley’s chances of victory have improved. Memphis fans know how valuable Wiseman and Quinones have been to the team early on this year. Their absence really helps Bradley’s chances. For Bradley to win, they’ll first need to establish a rhythm and push the pace early on. Pushing the pace has been a focus of head coach Brian Wardle this year, and the Braves have struggled when failing to establish the pace. As indicated by their 5-2 record, they’ve found ways to win, but there’s less margin for error against a good team. Second, they’ll have to win the aforementioned battle in the paint. In both the Braves losses this season, they’ve been outscored in the paint. They’ll need to outscore the Tigers in the lane if they are to win. 

As for Memphis, they’ll need to focus on locking down the Braves big playmakers, specifically senior guards Darrell Brown and Nate Kennell. Kennell has scored 20 points in two of his last three games, and Brown will have an extra gear playing a college basketball game in his hometown for the first time. 

The BarnBurner’s Keys to the game

  • Win the arc. Tigers need to hit from deep and also contest three point shots from the Braves.
  • Defensive rebounding. Memphis can’t afford to give up extra points.
  • Turnover battle. Take more than you give. Both teams force turnovers at a high clip and protecting the ball is critical.

Recruiting Notes

Over the weekend, Memphis extended an offer to class of 2021 5-star SF prospect Harrison Ingram.

Memphis has yet to receive any commitments from prospects in the class of 2020, but they are still one of the frontrunners for 5-star guard Jalen Green. There is a lot riding on whether or not Memphis can sign Green.

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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.

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