The schedule may be their biggest ally as the Tigers reach the
by Dennis Freeland
ith a perfunctory 74-62 victory over South Florida last Saturday,
the University of Memphis basketball team reached the midpoint
in its inaugural season under head coach Tic Price. Thirteen games,
seven wins, six losses.
Certainly there are some games we felt we should have won, but
thats part of the growing pains, part of the process, Price
said after the South Florida game. Losing is always disappointing.
I always tell our kids, When you lose, make sure you dont lose
again, because then losing becomes a habit and its hard to stop
Most disappointing were home losses to Arkansas and Tennessee.
Memphis could possibly be 9-4, if they had executed better down
the stretch against the Vols and Hogs. If the Tigers repeat their
first-half performance during the next six weeks, they would enter
the C-USA tournament with a record of 14-12, needing to win the
conference tournament to advance to the NCAA tournament. At 14-12,
Memphis would also probably need to win a pair of games to get
an NIT bid.
But theres good news. The toughest part of the schedule is behind
them. Memphis benefits from 12 of the final 13 games being against
C-USA opponents, mostly from the weak National Division, where
only UAB and Southern Miss have the talent to compete with the
Tigers. For a realistic shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament,
Memphis probably needs to win 10 or 11 in the second half, giving
them 17 or 18 victories entering the conference tournament in
Cincinnati. Tough, but not impossible considering the schedule.
The one word that best sums up Tic Price is tough. The term
applies to how he handles his players the coach isnt afraid
to demonstrate his displeasure by benching star players and
to how his players, in turn, respond to pressure. The final record
may not bear this out, but with impressive wins at Oklahoma and
Saint Louis and close losses at Cincinnati and Vanderbilt, this
appears to be the best road team Memphis has had in a number of
years. Last year Memphis was 5-11 away from The Pyramid.
|PHOTO BY TIM REGENOLD
Jermaine Ousley: a power forward forced to play center.
Price has said several times that he likes this team, a hodge-podge
of eight transfers and two true freshmen. With a 6-8 power forward
(Jermaine Ousley) starting at center and a 6-4 power forward (Omar
Sneed) leading the team in scoring, rebounding, steals, and minutes-played,
Price is probably squeezing about as much as can be expected from
his team. For most of the first half, the coach only saw four
players when he looked down his bench for help, and two of them
freshman James Harris and senior Cody Hopson are role players
with limited offensive skills. Lack of depth has forced Price
to abandon the pressing, attacking style of play he prefers.
The biggest challenge facing Price at this point may be reconstructing
the damaged psyche of his gifted freshman, Marcus Moody. After
scoring 41 points on December 13th, leading Memphis to an exhilarating
last-second win at Oklahoma, Moody has completely lost his game.
His scoring average has plummeted from 20 points per game to 10.7.
His shooting stroke has vanished. In the nine games following
Oklahoma, Moody hit only 8 of 41 three-point shots. Against the
Sooners, he hit 7 of 14. After that big night in Norman, opposing
teams got physical with the young freshman. Moody didnt turn
18 until the school year started and his body is not as mature
as many college players. The book on Moody is to play him tight
and muscle him away from the spots where he likes to shoot along
the left wing. A more experienced player might turn to other parts
of his game defense, rebounding, and passing, all areas in which
Moody can excel. But Moody has lost his confidence. Its up to
Price and his assistants to lead the young guard out of the wilderness.
A quick look at Conference USA statistics tells the Memphis story.
In a 12-team league, Memphis ranks 9th in scoring defense, 11th
in free-throw percentage, 9th in field-goal percentage defense,
8th in rebounding margin, and 11th in both assists and assists-to-turnover
margin. The Tigers shoot pretty well (4th), block shots (5th),
and are a scrappy, athletic team (2nd in steals). But this is
a team with obvious weaknesses that good teams will exploit.
Tic Price won at least 20 games in his three previous seasons
as a head coach, all at New Orleans. That streak will likely end
in 1998. For him to even salvage a trip to the NIT may require
a Herculean effort from both his coaches and players. n
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