There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the Memphis Tigers and they are National Championship threats. There hasn’t been this much hype since John Calipari and current Detroit Piston Derrick Rose led them to the 2008 National Title game. There were many questions surrounding the hiring of Penny Hardaway as head coach a year ago. Now, after the school’s first postseason appearance in six years and a stellar recruiting class, expectations are through the roof.
The Memphis Tigers are Legitimate
Being a star player on a team can bring immense pressure. Being asked to come back and coach at your alma mater where you were a star player can raise that pressure even higher. However, Hardaway, a two time All-American for the Tigers, came in and owned the situation. He coached the Tigers to a 22 win season and an NIT appearance. The fans were excited too, as attendance last year doubled from the prior season. For a school with a rich basketball history, the goal is to be a championship contender. For many, the next set of glory days is expected to start this season.
Two weeks into the 2018-19 season, a shocking announcement was made on the recruiting trail. Hometown kid James Wiseman, the top recruit in the 2019 class, expressed his intent to stay home and sign with Memphis. His decision meant turning down Kentucky and former Tiger coach Calipari. Then, in May, Hardaway landed his second five-star recruit in Precious Achiuwa. Add in four-star recruits Boogie Ellis, DJ Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge, and Damion Baugh, and all of a sudden Memphis had the top recruiting class in all of college basketball. That resulted in many experts vaulting Memphis into preseason top ten lists.
On Court Reality
While the recruiting class looks great on paper, Memphis doesn’t have any returning starters. The only upperclassman on the roster is Isaiah Maurice, and he averaged a meager 13.5 minutes-per-game last season. This youth movement, while talented, will really test Hardaway’s coaching skills. Legendary coaches like Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski themselves struggle at times to get superstar freshmen to gel as a team. However, when they got their teams to click, they looked dominant and brought home titles. Building that team chemistry for Hardaway will be important, but will take time.
The American Athletic Conference won’t make it easy on Memphis and its star freshmen. Even though Houston is reloading, Kelvin Sampson’s squad tied with Memphis as the preseason favorite to win the conference. Cincinnati will be hot on both team’s heels, as they are led by last year’s AAC Player of the Year Jarron Cumberland. Non-conference battles against Oregon (11/12), Ole Miss (11/23) and Tennessee (12/14) will be a measuring stick before conference play. With the talent on the roster, Memphis should be a lock to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013. How far they advance will depend on how quickly this young team can find their groove.
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