Tigers Notes: Two new recruits, and predicted 2020 starting lineup

The last few weeks have been chalk full of developments for the Memphis Tigers basketball program.

On Tuesday, Penny Hardaway got his first commit of the 2022 class in 5-star guard Arterio Morris.

According to 247Sports, Memphis’ 2022 recruitment class now sits at #3, so Hardaway is off to a hot start in assembling his future roster. Morris is a 6-3 point guard who was born in Memphis and is about to play his junior season at Prolific Prep in California.

Only a matter of weeks after stepping down as an assistant coach under Penny Hardaway at the University of Memphis — he cited wanting to spend time with his family — former Memphis Grizzly Mike Miller accepted the job of head coach at local Houston High school. Technically, he will get to spend a lot more time with family, as his son Mason is a 4-star rising senior for the Mustangs.

I found this tweet hilarious as well as accurate.

Coach Hardaway also experienced a birthday last week, which prompted this post by NBA superstar LeBron James over on his Instagram feed.

Over on the class of 2020 recruitment side, 5-star center Moussa Cisse from local Lausanne, committed to play for the Tigers in the upcoming season. Cisse is near seven foot with long arms and his strength lies in his shot-blocking capabilities. We know that Penny feels strongly about defense, as Memphis was home to one of the stingiest groups last season. With Cisse and junior college transfer Ahmad Rand on the new roster, it is clear that protecting the paint will continue to be a main objective for the Tigers.

With Cisse on board for the 2020-21 season, who all will be in the starting lineup? A large part of the roster is returning, but there are still some gaps to fill.

Obviously, the biggest blow for Memphis is the loss to the NBA draft of projected lottery pick Precious Achiuwa. He was the main source of offense — though not efficiently — and a stalwart on defense. 

Memphis will also miss sharpshooter Tyler Harris, who carried the brunt of the three-point shooting load last season with almost 70% of his shots taken from deep. Harris is leaving the program to attend Iowa State.

With those two guys having moved on, here is what we can expect next season to fill out the starting five.

Point guard: Boogie Ellis – Hear me out on this one. Last season Ellis had the worst EFG on the roster with 40.9%. He did not have a great showing for most of the 2019-20 season, but for much of the year it seemed that he did not have a defined role on the roster. While his shooting was terrible, the former Duke commit should be set for a bounce-back season where he will be the primary ball handler in most lineups — one of the opportunities that drew him to Memphis and ultimately away from the Blue Devils.

Two-guard: Lester Quinones – In his freshman season, Quinones had the second highest ORTG for Memphis at 104. It was painfully obvious last year that the Tigers severely lacked offensive firepower — their offense was in the bottom third in the country. One bright spot was Quinones, who scored in double figures in over half of his appearances. Coach Hardaway will look to the tough guard to shoulder a larger offensive load next season in addition to bringing the defensive intensity that he showed in his freshman year. 

Wing: DJ Jeffries – Though his season was cut short due to injury, Jeffries showed much promise in his initial campaign in Memphis. He was the most efficient scorer for the Tigers with a 106 offensive rating. With his size, Jeffries provides Memphis with versatility on both sides of the ball. If there are hoops at any point next year, he has the potential to be an All-AAC selection and average north of 15 points per game.

Stretch-four: Lance Thomas – Over his last ten games, Thomas averaged over 1 three made and a block and a half per game. His ability to spread the floor will create lanes for the guards and also allow newcomer Cisse to play close to the basket. On defense, Thomas was an often-overlooked cog in Hardaway’s defensive machine, owning the best block rate on the team at 7.6 in limited (33%) minutes.

Center: Moussa Cisse – Pairing Cisse and Thomas down low on defense will make many teams think twice about trying to get to the rim. Though he did not face the stiffest competition in his high school schedule and his offensive production ability remains a question mark, Cisse will be immediately challenged to contribute. His rapid assimilation to the college game is a must if Memphis wants to make it back to the tournament.

(Possible starter) DeAndre Williams – Since I don’t trust the NCAA at all, I am going to be pessimistic and assume for the sake of this exercise that Deandre Williams will not receive a waiver. The 6-9 transfer was sidelined for a lot of the Evansville season with a back injury, but averaged 16 points and 6.9 rebounds on the year. If he is granted the waiver to play, then Thomas gets bumped from the starting five.

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