Monday, January 7, 2019

Numbers Game

Posted By on Mon, Jan 7, 2019 at 9:01 AM

Herewith, six numeric takes on an already memorable Tiger basketball season.

90 — From his opening press conference as Tiger coach, Penny Hardaway has stressed a desire to run opponents out of FedExForum, to leave players in dark jerseys gasping for breath at the first media timeout. There are various ways to measure the pace of a basketball team: number of possessions, number of shots, frequency of turnovers (for either team). But the best measure of a fast team is in the scoring column. The Tigers recently sprinted through five consecutive games in which they scored at least 90 points, a streak unmatched in these parts since the 1975-76 season (when Bill Cook and Marion Hilliard were leading the Tigers to the NCAA tournament). Memphis has struggled at times (including shooting accuracy from the field), but it hasn't been muddy basketball at FedExForum. As the current team continues to grow — yes, college teams can grow after New Year's Day — Penny's pace may indeed end a game or two before halftime.
click to enlarge Kyvon Davenport - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Kyvon Davenport

0 — Kyvon Davenport's uniform number has become a paradoxical reflection of his value to this team. After a rocky first five minutes in last week's AAC opener against Wichita State, Hardaway was pleading (loudly) for his team to get Davenport the basketball. They did. And the senior, freshly shorn of his signature dreadlocks, scored a game-high 25 points in a relatively comfortable win over the Shockers. Don't confuse Davenport coming off Hardaway's bench with his place in this roster's pecking order. He's pulled down 30 more rebounds than any teammate. Jeremiah Martin may be the anointed leader of the 2018-19 Tigers, but you get the impression that, come March, this team will go as far as Davenport takes it.

77.9 — The Tigers rank 12th — dead last — in the American Athletic Conference in points allowed per game. Hardaway has insisted his team will play fast with the ball and apply the clamps defensively. Memphis has done one of these well to date.

9 — Hardaway has gone nine-deep with his rotation, and it might be ten had freshman sharpshooter David Wingett not been sidelined by injury. Five seniors, a junior, and three freshmen have played at least 13 minutes per game, with only three — Martin, Tyler Harris, and Alex Lomax — averaging 25 per game. There is no true "A unit" (the team's best player currently comes off the bench). Hardaway can go small and, as he says, "speed [an opponent] up." He can lean on veterans like Martin, Davenport, and Brewton, or go with the hot freshman hands of Harris, Lomax, or Antwann Jones (a trio that disappeared in last Sunday's loss at Houston). These Tigers aren't just deep, they're versatile.

1 — There appears to be but one killer team in the American Athletic Conference, and the Tigers 13-point loss to Houston last Sunday will be the only time Memphis faces that team until (possibly) the league tournament in March. According to the NCAA's new NET rankings, only the Cougars (4) belong among the country's top 30 teams (through last Saturday's games). Perusing the list, you find UCF (32), Cincinnati (33), and Temple (61) before locating Memphis (75). Houston may dominate this league, but there's room for another team (or two) to accumulate wins and enter the conversation for an at-large NCAA tournament berth.

119,828 — The Tigers sold more tickets for their first eight home games (all nonconference) than they did for the entire 19-game home schedule in 2017-18 (118,277). Hardaway has a delightfully ironic nickname. A math wizard needs to calculate the pennies generated not just for the U of M, but for sponsors, bars, hotels, and vendors that support Tiger basketball since Hardaway took over coaching duties. And you get the sense this is much more than a honeymoon. A crowd of 13,000 for South Dakota State on a Tuesday in December? That's money, Penny.

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