I don’t know what Memphis Tiger fandom is like for you. But I can tell you what it’s like for me. Each year starts the same – with a hopeful, yet terrified feeling down in my gut. Though we are just a few short days into the 2020-21 season, the hopefulness has already been tempered and that terrified feeling has turned to a distinct disappointment.
Last season Memphis finished with the 210th most efficient offense in the country, largely due to the fact that they were one of the most turnover-prone teams in the NCAA.
However, they were monsters on defense, forcing the lowest eFG% in the nation from their opponents. That was their saving grace on many occasions and helped them gut out some games they otherwise would have lost.
Unfortunately, you have to score in order to win consistently. I think the general consensus among fans at the outset of this season was that despite Memphis losing their best player in Precious Achiuwa to the NBA, things were supposed to look better on the floor. Guys like Boogie Ellis and Lester Quinones were tapped to improve after putting a season under their belts. In addition, the Tigers’ most efficient offensive player in DJ Jeffries returned after an injury-shortened freshman season.
So far, this has not been the case.
With what might be an outlier of a first game against Saint Mary’s, Memphis has not been a fun team to watch. Against the Gaels, Memphis came out with guns blazing. They looked tough. Boogie Ellis shot the cover off the ball, and Memphis allowed only one made three on 18 attempts. Penny Hardaway’s squad came out hot and never took their foot off the gas and beat a WCC team handily that they were expected to beat.
Turn the page to the next day, and the Tigers completely lost their fire against Western Kentucky. Memphis was little-brothered in the paint. The young bigs for Memphis got exposed by the experienced post players of the Hilltoppers – primarily by Charles Bassey who went for 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 blocks. Sure, Memphis was able to secure an early 10 point lead, but it was all downhill from there. Memphis was outrebounded 42-28 and despite shooting 45% from three (9-20), lost by six points. With the presence of Bassey and the threat of his shot-blocking, Memphis only shot 39% from inside the arc. In fact, they only hit 11 of their 23 shots at the rim and 7 of 23 from mid-range. They also got carved up by Carson Williams, who found a way to seal off the defense on every entry pass and put up a game-high plus -18.
The lone bright spot in this game for Memphis was Landers Nolley, the transfer guard from Virginia Tech. He showed a fire that most of the Tigers couldn’t find. A fire that gives Memphis fans hope that he can be a veteran leader that helps push this team over the hump. Nolley put up an impressive 25 points that included 6 made threes. There were multiple times where you could tell he was fed up with the lack of movement and decided to try and take the game into his own hands. When it doesn’t work, it looks bad, but when you put up numbers, it can be encouraging.
Alas, Nolley didn’t bring enough juice to get the Tigers the W.
Now we get to where things really stunk. Did you watch the entire VCU game? If you did, then you earned your die-hard fan card.
Yes, I did watch it all, thanks for asking.
Did I regret watching it all? Mhmm, let’s just say that I’ve watched a lot of EYBL games with higher entertainment value.
The best way to describe this game is that Memphis slept walked through it. I’m assuming they thought that VCU would just roll over as the lower ranked team and give Memphis the victory to close out a disappointing tournament appearance.
Spoiler alert – that’s not what happened. Memphis was the squad that rolled over and got embarrassed to wrap up the inaugural Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic.
The Tigers made 20 shots the entire game and gave the ball away 19 times! I felt like this deserved to be bolded.
What had been encouraging three point shooting earlier in the week totally fell off a cliff with the guys’ third game in as many days. The offense was stagnant and it looked like playground hero ball. Am I being too tough right now? I feel like I might be, but then I remember the game I watched the other night and I’m not sure that’s possible.
Going forward, Memphis has to work on feeding the hot hand and keeping momentum going. This taking turns one-on-one strategy is not going to work. Against Saint Mary’s, the guys were flying around, moving without the ball, making cuts, and generally looking like they had a plan. That all stopped in the subsequent games and the offensive strategy seemed to revert back to what we saw for most of last year.
All this being said, I am super far from the “Fire Penny” Facebookers. You guys have to be crazy to think that’s the right decision at this point. Memphis already (rightfully) fired Tubby after just a few short seasons and the program can’t get into a habit of maintaining such a short leash with their coaches. How does that look to potential coaches and recruits?
Also, you may not want to think about it this way, but Penny is Memphis. He gets more grace than someone who shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. If you don’t like that fact, then I’m sorry, but that’s just how it is. Penny Hardaway came to a program that was in total disarray when we needed him the most. He didn’t have to do that. The Tigers are now nationally relevant again and that’s more than I can say for most of the last decade. Now that I’ve defended the man, I do expect some wins to help soften the blow of this slow start.
As we all know, those W’s can heal plenty.