Memphis Tigers CBB Preview

memphis tigers

Memphis Tigers Head Coach: Penny Hardaway (fourth season)

2020-21 Record: 20-8 (11-4)

Notable Wins: vs. Colorado State, at. Cincinnati, vs. Wichita State

Memphis Tigers began the 2020-21 season on a slow note. They managed to win six of their first ten games, but with no signature wins and non-conference losses to VCU and Auburn, the Tigers didn’t have the look of a contender. They’d regroup after health protocols sapped two weeks of their season by winning six of their next eight, including wins over SMU and Wichita State. They’d close the regular season out strong and nearly defeated Houston in their finale.

They’d win their first AAC Tournament game over UCF, but the Tigers would fall to Houston for the second time in less than a week and be eliminated. Memphis needed a deeper conference tournament run, as they were one of the premier teams on the bubble. Their early exit led to their second straight NIT appearance, where they’d go on an impressive gauntlet. Memphis took on Dayton in the first round, and a big second half from guard Lester Quinones would help push them into the second round with a 71-60 victory.

They’d meet Boise State in what would be a slugfest. Neither team shot well at all, but the Tigers were able to prevail, 59-56. They’d meet another strong Mountain West school in Colorado State in the semifinals, and they came out on fire. Memphis would sink 14 threes, and 20-point performances from Landers Nolley II and DeAndre Williams would lead them to a decisive 90-67 win and into the NIT Championship. Memphis would meet Mississippi State in the final, and a big performance from Boogie Ellis would lead them to a 77-64 win. Ellis scored 27 points, and the Tigers never trailed, winning their first NIT title and setting high expectations for the 2021-22 season in the process.

Memphis Tigers Roster Changes:

Key Returners: G Landers Nolley II, F DeAndre Williams, G Lester Quinones

Key Losses: G Boogie Ellis, F D.J. Jeffries, C Mousa Cisse

Key Newcomers: G Earl Timberlake, G Tyler Harris, F Chandler Lawson

After winning the NIT crown, the expectations on Penny Hardaway’s team couldn’t be higher. They will enter this season with three of their key components to last season’s title winning team, but they do have two glaring losses. Sophomore’s Boogie Ellis and D.J. Jeffries both elected to transfer after what seemed like a magical season in Memphis. Ellis originally flipped from Duke to join Hardaway at Memphis, but this time he’ll be returning home and transferring to USC. The 6’3 guard had a pair of memorable performances late last season for the Tigers, scoring a career-high 27 in the AAC tourny loss to Houston, and 23 in the NIT Championship victory over Mississippi State. D.J. Jeffries followed suit and transferred home himself. He averaged 9.9 ppg and 5.1 rpg last season, and after scoring 15 points against them in the final, the 6’7 forward will ironically suit up for Mississippi State next season. The premature departure of Mousa Cisse will hurt as well, as he was likely in for a bigger role this season.

Penny Hardaway is usually an offseason headliner, but the 2021 summer hasn’t been as explosive. He signed three four-star recruits in John Camden, Josh Minott, and Sam Onu, but neither look set to feature heavily, as Memphis returns a strong team and they did make a few splashes in the transfer portal. Earl Timberlake missed most of his freshman year with injuries, but he could slot right into the lineup if he maintains health this season. The 6’6 guard was the highest-ranked recruit coming out of Maryland in 2020, and he averaged 9.7 ppg and 5.1 rpg through seven games for Miami. Former Memphis guard Tyler Harris returned for a second stint with the team after leaving for Iowa State just one year prior. The 5’9 guard averaged 9.9 ppg in two seasons with the Tigers. Hardaway was also able to land brothers Chandler and Jonathan Lawson. After struggling to break through at Oregon, Chandler will reunite with his old high school coach, while Jonathan was a ESPN top-100 recruit.

The key to Memphis’ progression this season will be the play of Landers Nolley II, Lester Quinones, and DeAndre Williams. Nolley transferred in from VT last season and led the team in scoring (13.1), while grabbing 4.1 rpg. Quinones is just as versatile, and he averaged 9.5 ppg, with 5.8 rpg. The junior guard recorded 15 rebounds or more three times, and his ability to crash the glass allows coach Hardaway to deploy smaller, faster lineups. Williams might be the most well-rounded of the trio after leading the team in rebounding (6.1), assists (3.4), and steals (2.2), and scoring 11.7 ppg. Senior guard Alex Lomax will bring depth and experience, while Juniors Jayden Hardaway and Malcolm Dandridge look set to have bigger roles this season as well.

Memphis Tigers Outlook

Is this the year Penny Hardaway’s team takes that next step?

When he was brought in to replace Tubby Smith at his alma mater, it was an intriguing move for basketball fans, and it even created envy among coaches. He was brought in to replicate John Calipari’s success, and so far he’s rejuvenated the program. After winning the NIT title, a conference title and a tournament bid are expected this season. Tackling Houston will be hard, but it’s hard to imagine this team taking a step back. They have an experienced core and a solid supporting cast in place, it’s now on Memphis as a program to take that leap.

Projected Lineup: G Tyler Harris, G Lester Quinones, G Earl Timberlake, F Landers Nolley II, F DeAndre Williams

Is this the year Penny Hardaway’s team takes that next step?

Projected Finish: 2nd in American, NCAA Tournament Bid

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