Coming into the 2021-22 season there were roughly five to seven teams that most prognosticators agreed could win the national championship. Everyone agreed that Gonzaga, Purdue, Kansas, Texas, UCLA, Villanova, Illinois, and possibly Duke were the main contenders.
Memphis Tigers to Win the Final Four
One team that is supremely talented this season that doesn’t seem to be getting much love is the Memphis Tigers. Of course, Anfernee Hardaway’s team is the center of the Memphis sports world but on a national level, they haven’t received much attention. The question of course is, why?
Some people will point to Coach Hardaway’s coaching chops. Riddle me this, if your program was 63-32 in your head coaches first three seasons ever, are you upset? What if he was one of the best defensive coaches in the country? The Tigers ranked 54th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency in Penny’s first season, fifth in his second, and first in 2020-21. So far this season, they also rank first in the nation.
The problem/question has been the offense since Hardaway’s arrival. The best the offense has ever ranked in adjusted offensive efficiency is 81st and that was in the first season of the regime. Things are looking up early this season as the Tigers currently rank 47th in the nation in offense. Their current 55.9% effective field goal percentage would be their best mark since prior to the 1996-97 season.
The addition of Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren along with the consistency of DeAndre Williams and the growth of Lester Quinones have made this team a force on offense. Bates is considered a generational talent while Williams has maintained his high level of play since transferring into the program from Evansville. There was a question of whether or not Duren could be the rim protector that former center Moussa Cisse was last season or Precious Achiuwa the season prior. So far the results have been positive as Duren has compiled 21 blocks in Memphis’ first five games of the season.
These statistics are of course skewed due to the level of competition that Memphis has faced for this season. To put it in Dickie V terms, it was cupcake city through the first four games. The Tigers’ first opponents of the season were Tennessee Tech (282), North Carolina Central (342), Saint Louis (89), and Western Kentucky (109). It is not difficult to argue that a quality start to the season was due to this schedule.
One thing you can’t discount however is a victory over Virginia Tech on Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving. The Hokies are a quality opponent and a fringe top 25 team heading into the game and hung with Memphis throughout the entire game. Memphis eventually put the game away and came away with a 69-61 victory on a night when Emoni Bates shot only 2-10 from the field.
I am of the opinion that this team has the talent, coaching, size, depth, and certainly defense that can win the national championship. In fact, you would probably have to place the Tigers ahead of Illinois in the national championship conversation until the Illini get themselves correct.
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