The Memphis Tigers have been a national laughingstock for the past few seasons, and all of their peers in college basketball are better off. Here’s what they’re doing wrong, why it might be fixed soon, and who could bring them back to prominence if they do
The “memphis basketball coaching staff” is a topic that has been trending recently. We asked college basketball coaches and NBA scouts about the Memphis Tigers and what’s wrong with them, and if it was fixable.
Memphis coach Penny Hardaway likened his club to an AAU team after an 82-79 defeat at Georgia on Dec. 1.
He told reporters, “Looking at this, I’m absolutely devastated.” “We have the appearance of an AAU squad. It seems to be in horrible shape, and I’m not sure what these individuals are thinking.”
Hardaway claimed the atmosphere in the Memphis locker room was “miserable” three days later, after a 67-63 defeat at Ole Miss.
Hardaway told The Athletic, “We’ve got so much hostility in our locker room with veterans being envious.”
The remarks, more than the results, threw the collegiate basketball world into frenzy. What the hell is going on in Memphis? was a common topic in the tweets and messages. Who is to blame? Is it possible to repair it? Is everyone going crazy?
Memphis’ season is already at a fork in the road, and it’s just December 9th. After starting the season at No. 12, the Tigers are now 5-3 and on a three-game losing skid, with games against Murray State, Alabama, and Tennessee coming up in the next week and a half. This talk might seem irrelevant, prophetic, or somewhere in between by the conclusion of that span.
We chatted with a few opposition coaches and NBA scouts to get a sense of what’s going on with the Tigers.
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One opposition coach noted, “They’re outstanding at turning players over and have tremendous length around the rim.” “When we broke the pressure, we instructed our men to go into the attack as soon as possible and score the ball. Punish them while also forcing them to interrogate one another. Use a variety of attacks. We needed to attack them in transition against their press, since they didn’t have rim protection and couldn’t turn us over in the half court.”
The defense, according to one coach, will improve as the season develops.
He said, “It’s difficult to have a very, really strong pressing squad unless you have really, really excellent synergy.” “There’s a randomness to pressing that makes it incredibly difficult to deal with, and that comes with chemistry.”
So far against Tennessee Tech, Emoni Bates is looking the part, hitting his second triple of the game.
The Bates/Duren Puzzle
Bates and Duren, two great high school prospects and expected top-five NBA draft choices, were the focus of most of the preseason buzz in Memphis. Both athletes were in the 2022 high school class when they decided to reclassify and commit to the Tigers in August.
Naturally, both players have been made scapegoats for Memphis’ sluggish start, especially Bates, considering the attention he received throughout his high school career.
In his first three collegiate games, Bates averaged 16.0 points on 57.7% shooting, but in his last five games, he has averaged 8.8 points on 28.8% shooting.
Jonathan Givony, an NBA draft analyst for ESPN, laid down what he’s seen from Bates in the first month.
Against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Emoni Bates displays his vision with a great dish.
“[Bates’] figures are very close to those of high school.” “He simply has a lot less volume,” Givony said. “His real shooting percentage is just 51%, which isn’t ideal. In EYBL, however, it was just 49%. He’s doing the same thing, but in a far more challenging circumstance. They haven’t fired a shot in his direction, which is difficult. However, you must remember yourself that he is just 17 years old. This is how many 17-year-olds might seem.
“I’m impressed with how quickly he’s learned to adjust defensively. He was a real jerk in AAU and high school, but he’s transformed into this guy who just plays his tail off now. He’s not an easy target. Now he’s having problems. He may be ignorant, too helpful, and gambling, and he isn’t powerful enough to go past screens, so he runs into them. However, I believe he has performed well. In terms of effort, without a doubt. Plays with a lot of heart and has good intuition.”
Duren was dominating in the early going, averaging 15.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 4.8 blocks in his first four games — stats that have since dipped to 5.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks.
Despite being fouled, Jalen Duren grabs the ball in transition and converts at the rim.
“It’s difficult since he’s not a derogatory reference.” Givony stated, “He’s not going to rescue you offensively, and he’s not a solution to the issue.” “You’re not going to hand him the ball and tell him to make plays with his back to the hoop.” He has no idea how to install screens right now since he isn’t physically inclined. Learning how to play pick-and-roll, knowing when to set at the correct moment, and knowing when to roll takes patience. He has no idea what any of those things are right now. That seems reasonable, given that he turned 18 just a few weeks ago.
“On the offensive glass, he’s dominating, and on defense, he’s [outstanding]. He makes errors there as well, but he can switch quickly. He may be a wacky shot-blocker at times. He can stop a shot into the third row even when he is beaten. He’s one of a kind when it comes to mobility. I’m not as down on him [as Bates] because we knew he’d be a big project coming into the year. Size, length, body, movement, and hands, on the other hand, cannot be taught. On our globe, there are only so many people like that. He’ll go high whether he’s selected fourth or ninth in the draft.”
Bates and Duren, according to almost every coach and scout we talked with for this article, are being unjustly blamed for Memphis’ early-season woes. And, based on Hardaway’s comments to The Athletic regarding his veterans, the blame seems to be shared not only by outsiders but even among Tigers teammates.
With a hand in his face, Emoni Bates makes a 3-pointer for Memphis.
“You’re bringing in not just two new men, but two new guys who should still be in high school. They’re not only new, but they’re also young “one of the coaches said. “They’re attempting to win high-stakes games. You’re getting everyone’s best effort, and these players haven’t played in the Peach Jam in six months. The expectations of everyone were a bit too high.”
Another coach who has faced Memphis this season believes that additional experience against college-level opponents will help Bates and Duren improve on some of the areas they need to work on. They’re now depending on skill sets honed against lower-level high school and AAU competition.
“How hard you have to play to win in college,” he said, “is a different level than what those guys have probably seen at the Peach Jam and all that other things.” “People are playing the scouting report on you, and people aren’t letting you get what you want.” Duren must realize that he must be a physical 5, rebounder with a strong motor, and rim protector. At the rim, it’s just a force. Rebounder with a double-digit rebounding average. Unless he’s poised to dunk or lay it in, he shouldn’t touch the ball. Bates must be a willing passer and have the ability to move without the ball. He stands when he doesn’t have it.
Emoni Bates makes a difficult jumper over a handful of opponents.
“They’re both young, and they don’t realize how hard you have to play yet. It isn’t yet fair for anyone to criticize them. Every year, the 1-2-3 players aren’t going to be Kevin Durants right away. Some years, those players have an immediate effect, and other years, they don’t.”
While both players seemed to be probable top-five choices at the start of the season (ESPN’s 2022 top 100 had Duren at No. 4 and Bates as one of the finest prospects in 2023), the conversation around Bates’ and Duren’s draft value is already shifting. Should it, though? Duren is still ranked No. 4 in ESPN’s 2022 rankings, and Bates has 19 months before he can join the NBA draft.
Will being a part of a tumultuous squad have an affect on either player? It is unlikely, based on recent history. Before being taken first overall in 2017, Markelle Fultz was a member of a 9-22 Washington squad, while Ben Simmons was a member of an LSU team that was listed in the preseason top 25 but failed to make the playoffs. Of course, Simmons was picked first overall in 2016.
One NBA official told me, “I actually don’t believe there’s much of a shadow over any of them.” “Duren had a lot of success in high school, and Bates doesn’t seem to be the sort of loser. It’s more about how they affect the game and whether or not they’re willing to persevere in the face of adversity. How do they deal with everything? Do they sigh and sigh and sigh and sigh and Do they become a contributing factor to the problem? How do they get along with their teammates? That is more ephemeral, but I don’t believe it will have an influence on their draft stock. It would help if they were on a winner right now. Take a look at Jabari Smith. He established a terrific niche for himself, and his price should further rise as Auburn improves this season.”
After great beginnings to the season, Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates have slowed down. Karen Pulfer Focht/AP Photo
Problems with chemistry?
The Tigers’ squad is now experiencing evident chemistry issues. If it wasn’t obvious from watching games, Hardaway made it known to the public after the Ole Miss game.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise, according to one AAC coach who has seen Memphis numerous times this season. The Tigers were playing as good as any team in the nation in the last two months of last season. They went 10-2 from the beginning of February, with their only defeats coming by a combined five points against eventual Final Four club Houston, and won the NIT in emphatic way.
And how did it come to be? Hardaway reduced his rotation to seven or eight players and relied heavily on versatile big DeAndre Williams to carry the offense. This season, Memphis has gone away from the Williams-centric offense, playing 11 or 12 players on most nights.
“He got his rotation airtight towards the conclusion of last year,” the coach stated. “Boogie Ellis was well aware that he would only be playing 30 minutes every night. [Lester] Quinones was aware that he would be on the field for 30 minutes. DeAndre Williams and [Landers] Nolley both knew. Rotations are a tad wonky right now. Guys have no idea when their opportunity will present themselves. [Last season’s veterans] were ready to play as a unit.
For the and-1, Jalen Duren fights off the defender.
“Then you throw in two persons with whom [the rest of the squad] did not attend summer school. Two individuals who had the opportunity to take them to the next level — or otherwise. They spent the summer playing and preparing, but once school begins, everything goes out the window as you attempt to fit in these two new men. This will take some time. And now you have to cater to them in some way.”
Hardaway’s remarks have the potential to either energize or demoralize the group. And until the Tigers return to the court, we won’t know which way it goes. Hardaway did the right thing in going public, according to one coach who faced Memphis this season. At least on this instance.
He remarked, “I believe he would know what he needs to encourage and inspire them to play better because he’s played a lot of basketball and taught a lot of basketball.” “Every team is unique, but I believe in open and honest communication. I trust him if he feels those are the difficulties and is being honest. But what are you doing to address the issues? We’re in the business of attempting to solve problems and come up with creative solutions. As a coach, your role is to help others overcome problems.”
The solutions will not be straightforward for Penny Hardaway and his team, which now includes legendary NBA coach Larry Brown. Adam Hunger/AP Photo
Is it possible to repair it?
That gets us to the most important issue for Memphis in 2021-22: What needs to change, and can the problems be resolved on the spot?
The majority of the coaches and scouts we talked with believe that some of the issues will organically resolve as the players spend more time together, but that the most important thing will be to go back to the fundamentals offensively. Taking care of the ball and making solid shots is all that is required.
“And Penny is sort of stating this on the record. Guys aren’t in charge of the offense “According to one NBA evaluator. “That’s something that may change if they become a little more structured and stop turning it over so often. A majority of these turnovers are merely careless errors. [I watched] It seemed to be a team that had met three days before to the game. If they can find some type of structure and cohesion as a basketball team, they’ll be able to figure out how to play together and stop making so many stupid errors. It’s not simple to tidy it up, but a lot of those turnovers are just a waste of time. This is careless behavior.”
The roster isn’t the only aspect of the program that has changed dramatically this summer. In early July, Hardaway signed Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown as an assistant coach, and in late August, he added NBA veteran Rasheed Wallace to his staff. Tony Madlock, who was recently appointed as the head coach at South Carolina State, and Jermaine Johnson, who was just promoted to another post in the Memphis athletic department, were replaced by Brown and Wallace.
Staff chemistry takes time, much like player chemistry, particularly when it comes to sorting out responsibilities on the bench. Hardaway and assistant coach Cody Toppert handled much of the in-game teaching from our view point near Memphis’ bench during the Virginia Tech game, but sources informed ESPN that the whole staff is heavily active during practice and Hardaway successfully delegated roles.
By the time conference play begins in a month or two, one coach believes the debate around Memphis will have changed considerably. If the Tigers play like they did at the end of last season, with the extra dimension of Bates, Duren, and Earl Timberlake, they have a very high potential.
“They need to revert back to making simple baskets. It’s possible that this is more urgent. All of the things they’re bad at right now can be fixed “one of the coaches said. “They’re not executing at a high level, but that’s something that can be fixed. As they get more accustomed with each other, they will improve their defensive rotations and defensive identity. They also have some individual players who will be able to create plays and score baskets in one-on-one situations during crucial occasions. That’s the terrifying aspect about those men. They have players who can outscore opposing defenses. They’re simply not in the mood right now. That doesn’t rule out the possibility of their doing so in six weeks.”
Memphis defeated Tennessee Tech 89-65, with freshman Emoni Bates leading all scorers with 17 points.
It’s worth noting that Memphis had a poor start last season as well. The Tigers were only 9-6 at the end of January after losing two of their first three games in South Dakota. They turned it around at the conclusion of the season, becoming more effective on offense and stepping up their defensive game.
“They’re pretty excellent defensively towards the end of the year. They’re continuing to do what they’ve always done. This isn’t the first time they’ve done anything like this “one of the opposition coaches said. “In late November and early December, they usually have a couple of rough weeks. After Christmas Break, they work out some kinks, and by the middle of the conference, they’ve become a handful.”
The problem with that strategy is that, despite playing like a second-weekend NCAA tournament club in mid-March, the Tigers were barely a bubble team on Selection Sunday.
This season, particularly if Memphis loses to Alabama and Tennessee in the next two weeks, that may be the case. This season, the AAC isn’t good enough for the Tigers to accumulate solid, profile-boosting victories.
“What does their résumé look like by the time they’re really, very good?” one coach wondered.
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The “best college basketball games 2021-22” is a question that was asked to many different people. The article will give insight on what’s wrong with the Memphis Tigers, and if it can be fixed.
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