Friday, September 20, 2019

2019-20 Memphis Tigers Basketball Schedule

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2019 at 10:31 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Penny Hardaway
Nov. 8 (7 pm) — UIC (Barclays Center Classic)
Nov. 12 (8 pm) — @ Oregon (Phil Knight Invitational)
Nov. 16 (1 pm) — ALCORN STATE (BCC)
Nov. 20 (7 pm) — LITTLE ROCK (BCC)
Nov. 23 (noon) — OLE MISS
Nov. 28 (3 pm) — North Carolina State (BCC in Brooklyn)
Dec. 3 (8 pm) — BRADLEY
Dec. 7 (1 pm) — @ UAB
Dec. 14 (2 pm) — @ Tennessee
Dec. 21 (noon) — JACKSON STATE
Dec. 31 (12:30 pm) — TULANE*
Jan. 4 (noon) — GEORGIA
Jan. 9 (6 pm) — @ Wichita State*
Jan. 12 (TBA) — @ USF*
Jan. 16 (6 pm) — CINCINNATI*
Jan. 22 (8 pm) — @ Tulsa*
Jan. 25 (TBA) — SMU*
Jan. 29 (6 pm) — @ UCF*
Feb. 1 (noon) — UCONN*
Feb. 5 (7 pm) — TEMPLE*
Feb. 8 (3 pm) — USF*
Feb. 13 (6 pm) — @ Cincinnati*
Feb. 16 (2 pm) — @ UConn*
Feb. 19 (6 pm) — EAST CAROLINA*
Feb. 22 (1 pm) — HOUSTON*
Feb. 25 (8 pm) — @ SMU*
Feb. 29 (7 pm) — @ Tulane*
March 5 (8 pm) — WICHITA STATE*
March 8 (11 am) — @ Houston*
March 15-20 — American Athletic Conference tournament (Fort Worth)

* AAC game

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Memphis Routs South Alabama, 42-6

Posted By on Sat, Sep 14, 2019 at 5:50 PM

The University of Memphis stepped on the gas early against South Alabama and never let up in a 42-6 victory in Mobile. The victory moved the Tigers to 3-0 on the season and marked the team's first road win of the year.

Kenneth Gainwell - MATTHEW SMITH
  • Matthew Smith
  • Kenneth Gainwell

The Tigers led 23-0 at halftime, mostly on the strength of a running game for which the Jaguars seemingly had no answer. Kenneth Gainwell, standing in for the second consecutive week for injured starter Patrick Taylor, had 141 yards — by halftime. Kylan Watkins added 87 yards to pad the halftime ground totals.

In their first possession of the second half, the Tigers drove 65 yards to a score in 70 seconds, using a tipped-pass reception to Joey Magnifico for most of that yardage.

The breaks were going the Tigers' way, to be sure, but the Tigers were clearly the superior team on both sides of the ball. Judging from the vast vacant spaces shown on television in Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the locals weren't exactly pumped about this matchup. Announced attendance was 12,373, but several thousand of those fans were obviously disguised as empty bleacher seats.

After a Riley Patterson field goal made it 33-0 early in the fourth quarter, the Tiger defense got on the scoreboard when Austin Hall scooped up a fumble and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown, making it a 40-0 game. It was Hall's second fumble recovery of the contest.

South Alabama finally found the end zone on its next possession, but promptly muffed the extra point and Memphis' Jacobi Francis picked it up and returned it to the opposite end zone for a two-point score. With the game at 42-6, Memphis starting quarterback Brady White left the contest, as Coach Mike Norvell called off the dogs, er, Tigers. White completed 12 of 20 passes for 209 yards, including three touchdowns and one interception.

Memphis finished with 302 yards rushing, for a total of 511 offensive yards, while holding the Jaguars to fewer than 230 yards total offense.

Memphis has a bye next weekend before taking on Navy on Thursday, September 26th.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Wed, Sep 11, 2019 at 10:49 AM

Kenneth Gainwell - MATTHEW SMITH
  • Matthew Smith
  • Kenneth Gainwell

The Tigers have started three of the last four seasons 3-0. So a win this week at South Alabama would be no big deal, right? (Quick side note: This is surely the first time Memphis has faced Jaguars two weeks in a row. Surely.) The smooth start to football season in these parts, while becoming regular, remains anomalous on the big scale of Tiger history. Before opening the 2015 season 8-0 — yes, that happened — the Tigers had enjoyed exactly three 3-0 starts since World War II: 1961 (6-0), 1973, and 2004. It's one more example how this is not your father's Tiger football program. It's not even your older brother's Memphis football program. South Alabama on the road will not be a gimme. These Jaguars scored 21 points agains Nebraska in their opener, then trounced Jackson State (37-14) last week. Another 3-0 start for the Tigers would be, as coach Mike Norvell likes to say, "hard-earned."

• When I see Joey Magnifico catch passes, I see an NFL tight end. The senior from St. Benedict is, if anything, an under-utilized asset in the Tiger offense. But his impact is clear. He was named second-team all-conference after the 2017 season despite catching only 21 passes. What's telling for Magnifico is his average gain per reception: 13.3 yards as a sophomore and 17.3 last season (another 21-catch campaign). Those are atypical for tight ends, who normally don't roam much beyond the line of scrimmage, serving as outlet receivers or Plan B options if a play breaks down. Magnifico chewed up 45 yards with one of his three catches last Saturday against Southern and had a total of 74 yards on his three grabs. (He did not catch a pass in the opener against Ole Miss.) Listed at 6'4" and 232 pounds, Magnifico has an NFL body. (Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez played at 6'5" and 247.) And with every Brady White pass he pulls down, Magnifico appears to have NFL hands. Norvell and offensive coordinator Kevin Johns would be wise to target this senior with their play-calling while they still can.

• "People are going to bring their best to us. We're the Memphis Tigers." That's actually not a thought of mine, but one senior linebacker Austin Hall shared after the Southern win. Again, this is new (for anyone who has followed the Memphis program as few as seven years). The idea that opponents have the Tigers circled on their schedules, that every game against Memphis is a big game?

I'll let Hall — the pride of Collierville High School — expand on his message: "The team changes every year, but the culture is still here. Everyone's bought into it. We want to prove that we're the best team in America, win every game we can, each week at a time. It starts with Sunday practice, looking at film, learning from mistakes. You gotta prepare the same way, no matter who you're playing."

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Tigers 55, Southern 24

Posted By on Sat, Sep 7, 2019 at 4:04 PM

"Man up."

Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell had a quick initial response when asked about filling the void left by the injured Patrick Taylor — the third-leading rusher in Tiger history — on Saturday at the Liberty Bowl. The redshirt freshman did his share of that manning up by scoring three touchdowns in what proved to be a blowout win over Southern, a victory that improves the Tigers to 2-0 on the season. With 85 yards on the ground (including a 46-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter) and 38 receiving (including a 21-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter), Gainwell personified the depth Memphis coach Mike Norvell is selling as the new strength of his program.
Kenneth Gainwell - MATTHEW SMITH
  • Matthew Smith
  • Kenneth Gainwell

"I'd like to see some more energy," said Norvell. "We had a couple of guys out, forcing guys into roles where they had to play more. This has to be something we build off of. We ask [Gainwell] to do a lot. He's in that Tony Pollard-type hybrid role, in the slot, in the backfield. Today he did an exceptional job. He's developing into a heck of a player for us."

Southern struck first, with a 75-yard drive culminating in a seven-yard touchdown run by Jamar Washington less than two minutes into the game. Antonio Gibson hauled in a 55-yard touchdown pass from Tiger quarterback Brady White that gave Memphis a 10-7 lead with 9:38 left in the first quarter. Linebacker Keith Brown picked up the ball after freshman Dreke Clark blocked a Southern punt and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown and a 17-10 Tiger lead with less than a minute to play in the first quarter. The block was one of two the Tigers had in the game, the other courtesy of junior Colton Cochran in the third quarter.

The Jaguars (0-2) enjoyed their own "scoop and score" late in the third quarter when Jordan Lewis broke through the Tiger line, sacked White from behind, and picked up the ensuing fumble before racing 74 yards untouched into the end zone. The touchdown reduced the Memphis lead again to 10 points (34-24), but Southern would not score again. (The Jaguars punted on all four of their second-half possessions.)

Gainwell scored on a one-yard run on the Tigers' first possession after the turnover and then put the game away with his touchdown catch two minutes later. Clark finished the scoring with a 10-yard run midway through the fourth quarter.

"We showed up in every phase," stressed Norvell in saluting new special teams coordinator Pete Lembo. "Our punt-pressure team was incredible. Coach Lembo and our guys put us in a great position."

In addition to Taylor's absence, nose tackle O'Bryan Goodson sat out with an injury. Nonetheless, the Tigers held Southern to 258 total yards and only 15 of them came after halftime. "We have to build that depth," emphasized Norvell. "We have to build that defensive line as a group. When that happens, good things will follow."

White completed 17 of 21 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Damonte Coxie caught six of his passes for 112 yards.

On the defensive side, Memphis tallied seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage with Tim Hart and J.J. Russell each picking up a sack.

"No matter who we play, we come with our best," said senior linebacker Austin Hall, who delivered three solo tackles. "You always have to make in-game adjustments. Offenses change. We started slow, but once we got going, we had a handle on what they were doing. A lot of guys have stepped up this year and it shows, guys making plays."

The Tigers play their first road game of the season next Saturday when they visit South Alabama. They won't return to the Liberty Bowl until Thursday, September 26th, when Navy comes to town for the American Athletic Conference opener. (The Tigers have a bye week following the South Alabama game.)

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Tue, Sep 3, 2019 at 10:04 AM

• Memphis allowed only 10 points against an SEC team.
The Tigers allowed only 10 points. To a team from the mighty SEC. You have to go back 14 years to find a game in which Memphis allowed so few points to an SEC foe . . . and the Tigers lost that game. (Ole Miss won the 2005 contest at the Liberty Bowl, 10-6.) If new defensive coordinator Adam Fuller wanted to make his presence felt in a program built recently on offensive firepower, his unit accomplished the feat in the season-opener. Only once last season did the Tigers allow a team fewer yards than they surrendered (173) against Ole Miss, and that was an FCS program (Mercer).

Nine members of the Tiger defense contributed at least three solo tackles against the Rebels. Memphis accumulated an astonishing ten tackles behind the line of scrimmage (Bryce Huff, J.J. Russell, O'Bryan Goodson, and Joseph Dorceus had two each). The Rebels were one for 10 on third down conversions and held the ball just over 21 minutes of game time. It was a dominating, statement game for a defense recently accustomed to giving up at least 30 points, win or lose. The Rebels play in the SEC but they are not Alabama or Georgia. Some perspective should be retained. But for one game, a statement game? The Memphis defense showed up. (NOTE: The last time the Tigers allowed as few as 10 points and beat an SEC foe: a 19-3 win over Ole Miss in 1993.)
Memphis coach Mike Norvell - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Memphis coach Mike Norvell

• The Tigers have a stud in punter Adam Williams.

He won't appear on the cover of a media guide, as Tom Hornsey did in 2013 (the year he won the Ray Guy Award). But Williams was a difference-maker in Saturday's win. He narrowly missed pinning Ole Miss inside the Rebel five-yard line twice before finally doing so late in the fourth quarter on the play that preceded Huff's sack of Matt Corral for a safety. (The Memphis offense then consumed the game's final 6:27.) Williams averaged 43.8 yards on his six kicks, almost precisely his average (43.2) as a freshman last year. There will likely be games (blowout wins) in which Williams's impact is negated. But it's healthy to recognize that new special teams coordinator Pete Lembo has a legitimate weapon on fourth down. Combined with a stingy Tiger defense, Williams may decide another game or two.

• Stick to the "1 and 0" philosophy.
Under poor leadership, the Tigers would overlook this week's opponent (Southern). They might even gaze around their first road game (September 14th at South Alabama) and set their sights on Navy (at the Liberty Bowl, September 26th). I don't see this happening. To a man, players and coaches I've spoken to stress "the next game is the biggest game" on the schedule. It's a quaint notion with Southern coming to town, with the Tigers' three toughest opponents not appearing on the opposite sideline until November for crying out loud. But the notion is smart if this team wants to raise its ceiling for achievement in 2019. Wins must be accumulated. The opponents are scholarship players, too, we'll be reminded.

Few Memphis supporters anticipated the 3-1 Tigers traveling to Tulane last season and getting spanked by the Green Wave. That was the first of three losses in four games for a team coming off a Top-25 finish in 2017. Win the next game. The Tigers have two months of football ahead in which this approach must be standard, however quaint.

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Saturday, August 31, 2019

Tigers 15, Ole Miss 10

Posted By on Sat, Aug 31, 2019 at 4:33 PM

A punt and a safety. Few football games are decided by either. In their 2019 season-opener Saturday at the Liberty Bowl, the Memphis Tigers beat Ole Miss with both plays proving critical.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Patrick Taylor

Clinging to a 13-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Tiger offense stalled near midfield. Sophomore punter Adam Williams proceeded to drop the ball inside the Ole Miss 20, with a wobbly roll to the Rebel two-yard line. On the next play from scrimmage, senior defensive end Bryce Huff stormed around the right edge of the Rebel offensive line for a sack of quarterback Matt Corral. The end-zone tackle and two points it delivered proved enough for Memphis to win its sixth straight season-opening game, a program record.

"Thank you, Tiger Nation, for the energy you brought into that stadium," said Memphis coach Mike Norvell in opening his postgame press conference. "We knew there was going to be a lot of emotion. Thank you for showing up this morning for the Tiger walk. That was an exciting atmosphere. We said all week, whatever it takes to be one point better. Hats off to our defensive staff, Coach [Adam] Fuller. Kept them off balance all game long. Whoever could establish the running game would be successful. We ran for 192 yards; they ran for 80. And to end the game with a six-minute drive . . . that's something I'll remember a long, long time."

The Tigers opened the game’s scoring on their second drive, junior quarterback Brady White carrying the ball in for the final yard with 5:23 to play in the first quarter. The teams traded blows without scoring again until Tiger senior running back Patrick Taylor completed a 37-yard drive with his 35th career touchdown in the final minute before halftime. Pop Williams set up the short drive with a 21-yard punt return.(Kicker Riley Patterson hit the right upright on the point-after attempt.)

The Rebels got on the scoreboard via field goal late in the third quarter, kicker Luke Logan converting from 35 yards. A pass-interference call against Tiger cornerback T.J. Carter helped Ole Miss score its lone touchdown, a one-yard carry by Scottie Phillips with 11:49 left to play that reduced the Memphis lead to 13-10. The ensuing Tiger possession concluded with the Williams punt that set up Huff's safety.

"There were some mistakes we need to clean up," acknowledged Norvell. "Ten penalties, some mistakes on third down [offensively]. All in all, it was a great team win. This was a showcase game."

The Tiger defense allowed its fewest points in more than two years, dating back to November 2016. Ole Miss converted only one third down in ten attempts. (The Rebels were one for two on fourth down.) Joseph Dorceus and La'Andre Thomas each picked up sacks in addition to Huff's. And when Thomas was ejected for a targeting penalty late in the first quarter, freshman Quindell Johnson stepped in and grabbed the first interception of his college career.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Brady White

On the offensive side, Memphis played its first game since Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard were drafted by NFL teams, but a new playmaker seems to have emerged in the form of freshman tailback Kenneth Gainwell. A native of Yazoo City, Mississippi, Gainwell lived up to his name with 77 yards rushing and 41 receiving (on six catches). He earned three critical first downs on that game-ending drive including a shovel pass taken on fourth-and-two from White near midfield with just under three minutes left on the clock.

"Those [fourth-down] decisions, you gotta be willing to make," said Norvell. "I believe in our players. We wanted to have an aggressive mindset. I felt good about going out to win the game, and not just hold on. I had confidence that if something bad happened, we would do what was necessary [to win]."

"I was confident," said White when asked about the fourth-down shovel pass to Gainwell. "There are certain situations when we'd typically run it, so I was out there, waiting for it. I went through my pre-snap read, saw we had a good look. It's a unit effort." White completed 23 of 31 passes for 172 yards and tossed an interception early in the second half.

"We're 1-0," emphasized White. "It makes us super-confident, to win a game like that. Kudos to the defense, the offensive line. It took multiple guys to step in, a grinding effort. I'm blessed to be here."

Taylor finished the contest with 128 yards rushing, enough to vault him past Tiger legend Dave Casinelli and into third place on the Memphis career chart. But for a team that allowed more than 30 points per game a year ago, Saturday's win — over a team from the mighty SEC — will be remembered for what could be a corner turned by the Tiger defense.

"Coach Fuller brought some energy to the sideline today," said Huff. "He was on the sideline, smiling. We were only up three. It was great energy. We have so much to correct. Even though we played well, there's a lot we can improve on. I know our coaches are going to push us to get better."

The Tigers return to the Liberty Bowl next Saturday to host Southern. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m.

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Monday, August 26, 2019

Three (Early) Thoughts on Tiger Football

Posted By on Mon, Aug 26, 2019 at 9:57 AM

  • Larry Kuzniewski

• How big is the Ole Miss game?
The Tigers can stack up wins in September and October, but whatever chances they have of cracking the Top 25 require beating the Rebels this Saturday at the Liberty Bowl.

Their three biggest tests in conference play will be the last three games of the season: at Houston (November 16th), at USF (November 23rd), and a home tilt against Cincinnati (November 29th). This weekend's opener will have the largest crowd of the season, an early-afternoon (actually late-morning) television audience, and the opportunity for the Tigers to earn their first win over an SEC foe since the upset of 13th-ranked Ole Miss in 2015 (part of an 8-0 start that season).

There was a time — not that long ago — when SEC competition was senseless for the Memphis program. Not anymore. Mike Norvell's vision of taking the Tigers new places includes trading blows, now and then, with the big boys. A win Saturday sets a tone for the 11 games to follow. A loss would be a scar come bowl season. (A win Saturday would mark the first time the Memphis program has won six straight season-openers.)
1995 Tiger Football Preview
  • 1995 Tiger Football Preview

I really miss Dennis Freeland this time of year. The former editor of the Flyer wrote on a variety of subjects — always with depth and a sense of connection — but he most loved his "side gig" of covering Memphis Tiger football. Dennis died much too young (at age 45, of brain cancer) in January 2002, eight months before DeAngelo Williams first carried a football at the Liberty Bowl. That's a cruel twist to Dennis's passing, but I've long felt he had a view of the NFL-bound tailback unique to the rest of us merely gawking in the stands (or press box). Dennis would be gawking, indeed, if he had lived to see the current Tigers, their offense having averaged more than 40 points a game two seasons in a row.

We first devoted a cover story to previewing the Tiger football season in 1995, the year Rip Scherer arrived to "chart a new course." Oh, well. Some courses lead to 40 points per game, and some don't. This week's issue will be the 16th year in a row Tiger football has landed on our cover. It's a partnership, of sorts, that we feel connects our readers to a special hometown team, one we — and in particular, Dennis Freeland — were covering when it wasn't very cool.

• Why is attendance at Tiger games declining? The U of M averaged 43,802 tickets sold over six games in 2015, not coincidentally the last time the Tigers hosted an SEC opponent. Over the three ensuing seasons — all of them successful, one that finished with the Tigers ranked in the Top 25 — Memphis has averaged 37,346 . . . 33,307 . . . and 30,178. As Mike Norvell has built the most potent offense in the program's history, fewer fans have chosen to see the records fall in person.

I have a theory — beyond Ole Miss visiting this season — that might contribute to the sagging attendance numbers: one too many games. Memphis hosted seven games each of the last three years. Even spread over three months, this gives fans a chance to say, "I'll catch the next game" a bit too casually. With only six home games on the schedule this season, if you want to see Patrick Taylor climb the Tiger rushing chart one last might want to make it this week's game. And it's a funky schedule, with only one home game in October and the two in November separated by 27 days. The Tiger players like to preach that the next game is the most important on the schedule. Same goes for Tiger attendance figures.

A quick fourth thought: The Tigers will go 10-4 this season. They'll win the AAC West, lose the conference championship game (to Cincinnati), and win their first bowl game in five years.

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Friday, August 9, 2019

Laird Veatch Named U of M AD

Posted By on Fri, Aug 9, 2019 at 11:21 AM

University of Memphis president David Rudd announced Friday that Laird Veatch has been hired as the school's new athletic director. Veatch is currently serving as executive associate athletics director for internal affairs at the University of Florida, a position he's held since July 2017. He has been Florida's sports administrator for football and the university's liaison with Gator Boosters, a fund-raising group for the program.

“Laird’s a perfect fit for the university and our city,” said Rudd in a press release. “As a former student-athlete, he brings a unique perspective and a wealth of experience at some of the nation’s leading athletic departments, along with a strong vision for the future, a keen understanding of a rapidly changing landscape, unparalleled integrity and energy, and a commitment to competing at the highest level."

Veatch played linebacker at Kansas State from 1990 to 1994. He spent seven years (2010-17) as an administrator at his alma mater, serving as deputy athletic director and interim director of athletics. His resume also includes stints with Texas, Missouri, and Iowa State. Veatch is expected to take over his new duties on October 1st. Allie Prescott has served as interim athletic director at Memphis since Tom Bowen resigned in May.

“I am so excited to come alongside the team in place to serve our student-athletes, university, fans and community," said Veatch in the release. "My family and I are truly grateful. We can’t wait to develop new friendships and earn the right to be called Memphians.”

Tuesday, June 11, 2019


Posted By on Tue, Jun 11, 2019 at 9:07 AM

I'm growing rather fluent in Pennyspeak. If you've been listening to Memphis Tiger basketball coach Penny Hardaway since he took over the program 15 months ago, you're likely speaking the language, too. It's a refreshing alternative to "coachspeak," the more typical say-one-thing-but-mean-another form of phrasing we hear every winter from coaches too timid to intimidate or too skittish to scare.

Having secured the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation after his first season as a college coach, Hardaway met with a group of media types last month to discuss the extraordinary group of talent on its way to Memphis. You may have heard what he said, but let's go a little further: What did Hardaway want us to hear?

"What we've been able to do this summer is amazing. It's a blessing. I wanted this so badly. To do this in such a short period of time . . . I thank God for the opportunity."

Hardaway is grateful, indeed, to be making a difference, you might say, in his hometown, and at his alma mater. He also knows he's very good at this recruiting game. God didn't convince the country's top recruit (James Wiseman) to stay home and play for the Tigers, and He didn't persuade another five-star recruit (Precious Achiuwa) to play a supporting role to Wiseman. That was the man in the fancy suit and custom sneakers.

"They're saying they're gonna sacrifice — for one another — so they can all achieve the bigger goal."

This is going to be micro-analyzed until Opening Night in November, and rightfully so: With only one basketball and 200 player-minutes per game, can seven freshmen stars co-exist? Don't discount the role social media plays in the gathering of a modern college basketball team, the connectedness that can be achieved — at least in the minds of young men — before a team first assembles on a court. Wiseman, Achiuwa, Lester Quinones, and Boogie Ellis were sharing thoughts and views in a group chat long before the commitment letters were signed. Before they agreed to become teammates and play for Hardaway, they had to agree on the idea of being teammates, sharing a uniform, and yes, sacrificing some minutes on the floor for the greater good, the bigger goal. And do you wonder if these players recognized the fan support, the desire in Memphis to see this super-class become reality? Well, they did.

"This is Memphis. We don't bluff. We want all the smoke. We want everything to be about Memphis. That's what this city wants. We want to win a national championship."

Forget incremental program-building under Hardaway. The Tigers haven't won so much as a conference championship since the 2012-13 season. It's now been five years without an NCAA tournament appearance for the Tiger program. But Hardaway is about now. He'd be a great spokesman for the mindfulness movement, the notion that scars of the past or possibilities of the future only interfere with being the best you can be right now. Make the next breath you take your most important. Make your next decision one of impact. And shy away from nothing. Those who lower the bar of expectations tend to stumble over that lowered bar.

"I'm different. We're different. We're an NBA staff . . . in college."

There's an arrogance to this, no question. The fact is, Hardaway is not coaching an NBA team. His assistants aren't sharpening the skills of NBA players. But to win in the world of college basketball on the scale Hardaway wants to win, you better sell your program as a connector to The League. We may soon see the end of the "one-and-done" absurdity, a new era in which high school superstars can leap straight to the NBA if they choose (and are chosen). But there are only 60 selections made each year in the NBA draft. Do the math on that, with 347 Division I college teams and thousands of high school programs. It's still hard to reach the NBA. Elite college coaches must establish themselves as conduits.

"It's been like daydreaming, just thinking about the matchups you can put on the floor."

Get used to the words positionless basketball. They may as well have been copyrighted by the Golden State Warriors. Ellis will be the Tigers' point guard next season, unless the ball is in the hands of Quinones, or Tyler Harris, or Alex Lomax. Malcolm Dandridge may look like a power forward in warm-ups, but what do we call him when he's the largest Tiger on the floor, when "small ball" becomes the mode of attack? And call James Wiseman a "center" if you want to sound like it's 1995. Hardaway has so many options in distributing those 200 player-minutes on game night. Expect his rotation — to say nothing of his starting five — to be as fluid as the body of water rolling south just a few blocks west of his team's arena. Rivers were made for daydreaming, right?

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Memory Maker

Posted By on Mon, Mar 25, 2019 at 10:20 AM

What makes a memorable basketball season? A championship, sure. A lengthy postseason run helps. The 2018-19 Memphis Tigers did not win a championship, and two games in the NIT don't qualify as lengthy or the kind of postseason run this region desires. The 2018-19 Memphis Tigers, though, will be a team this region of college basketball fans never forgets.
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The hiring of a Bluff City icon to coach the team proved to be an adrenaline shot to the heart of a not-quite-dead program, one that counted more empty seats than full on game nights under the watch of previous coach, Tubby Smith. A goose-bump-inducing pregame video (thank you, Running Pony) and a p.a. introduction straight from pro wrestling — "and coaching your Memphis Tigers, PENNNNNNNNY HARDAWAY!" — made game nights this winter major events before the basketball had been tossed for the opening tip. After averaging 6,225 in ticket sales for 19 regular-season home games in 2017-18, Penny's first team sold an average of 15,516 for 17 games. Hardaway is a master sneaker salesman. No penny loafers with his suits. But he proved to be a human cash register for a program swimming in red ink.

And Penny had fun in his new, self-generated spotlight. At times, he punched beyond his weight class (for now). "Rick Barnes? Get the f**k outta here." Established coaches with highly ranked programs did not intimidate a man willing to hire a former NBA Coach of the Year (Sam Mitchell) as an assistant. Having kept a relatively quiet profile since retiring from the NBA a decade ago, Hardaway couldn't have been more receptive and open to the media, going so far as to pose for a selfie with an out-of-town fan who snuck his way into a postgame press conference. He appeared on ESPN segments and a feature in Sports Illustrated. Hardaway made Memphis Tigers basketball matter again.
Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

What the Tiger legend didn't realize on opening night last November was that he was suiting up another Tiger legend in the making. In his last game for the U of M, Jeremiah Martin — like Hardaway, born and bred in Memphis — became the fifth Tiger to score 700 points in a season. Martin's coach was the second to do so, and Hardaway's coach (Larry Finch) the first. How's that for a cross-generational season for the ages? The same Mitchell High graduate who averaged 2.7 points as a freshman scored 41 in a single half and became the first Tiger to score 40 in a game twice. Martin finished his career as only the third player to reach the program's top ten in both points and assists. Can a player who never reached the NCAA tournament have his number retired? A few years down the road, Martin's case will be discussed.

The Tigers lost all seven games they played against ranked teams. (Four of those teams have reached the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.) They didn't belong in the Big Dance, and that's the standard by which Hardaway — and his myriad fans — will measure this program's growth. With the Gatorade National Player of the Year (East High center James Wiseman) on his way, Hardaway has signed one of the top recruiting classes in the country, and he'll need it. You have to go back to the 1993-94 season to find a Tiger team that had to replace all five starters. (One of those departed starters was Hardaway.) And the path to an American Athletic Conference championship won't get easier, not with Penny's program now a target for 11 other teams.

Transition years are rarely comfortable, even when they double as a homecoming for a living, breathing civic treasure. Hardaway is now a veteran college basketball coach. He has a season to study his own growth as a leader, as the face of a movement. And find ways to get better. The guess here is that the 2019-20 Memphis Tigers will make an impact beyond the Mid-South. A fan base has been counting the days 'til Wiseman's debut since the big man signed. But the first order of business for next season's Tigers will be to match the community-wide delight brought by their predecessors. It'll be a tough act to follow.

Friday, March 22, 2019

NIT: Creighton 79, Tigers 67

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2019 at 9:46 PM

The first season of the Coach Penny Hardaway Era at Memphis is in the books. The Tigers' season came to a close Friday night in Omaha, Nebraska, at the hands of the Creighton Bluejays in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. All five Creighton starters scored at least 11 points in a game that saw the Tigers all but erase a 17-point second-half deficit before surrendering a late 10-0 run that proved decisive for the Bluejays.

The five Memphis starters — Jeremiah Martin, Kareem Brewton Jr., Kyvon Davenport, Raynere Thornton, and Mike Parks Jr. — played their final games in Tiger blue and gray. (All but Martin were brought to Memphis as transfers by former coach Tubby Smith.) Martin scored a game-high 20 points and became only the fifth Memphis player to score 700 points in a season. (Hardaway was the second in 1992-93.)

Martin's scoring and a pressing defense allowed the U of M to close within two points (54-52) with just over ten minutes to play in the game. Thornton and freshman Tyler Harris each drew offensive fouls to help fuel the surge. But the comeback stalled shortly after Davenport fouled out with more than eight minutes still on the clock. Harris finished with 11 points and fellow freshman Alex Lomax added 10.

Creighton improves to 20-14 and will face the winner of Sunday's TCU-Nebraska game in the NIT quarterfinals. The Tigers finish the season 22-14, the program's most wins since the 2013-14 campaign, the last time Memphis reached the NCAA tournament.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

NIT: Tigers 74, San Diego 60

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 10:20 PM

Don't tell a team with no postseason experience that the NIT is a disappointment. Five Tiger seniors took the floor for the opening tip Tuesday night at FedExForum having never appeared in a game beyond a conference tournament. In hosting the first NIT game at FedExForum since 2010, the Tigers ended a four-year playoff drought, extended the transcendent career of senior Jeremiah Martin, and allowed first-year coach Penny Hardaway to continue the dialogue of competing for a championship.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tyler Harris

"I'm a little upset that I couldn't get the seniors to the NCAA tournament," said Hardaway after the game. "But the NIT is a blessing, so they can extend their careers. They're still going to be on TV. The season's still going. I'm excited to be here right now, instead of being home."

"I'm blessed for the opportunity to keep playing with my brothers," added Martin. "Just trying to get a championship back to Memphis." In scoring a game-high 21 points, Martin became the 10th Tiger to score 1,600 for his career and he's now 12 points shy of becoming only the fifth Memphis player to score 700 points in a single season. Senior forward Kyvon Davenport added 16 points to match freshman Tyler Harris's total for the contest. Memphis improves to 22-13 for the season and will face Creighton (19-14) in the second round ("sweet 16") of the NIT.

"It was almost like [the crowd] was expecting us to win, because we've been winning at home so much," noted Hardaway. "They were appreciating the players — the seniors — in case this was our last game at home." Announced attendance was 8,138, just more than half the team's average (15,516) for 17 regular-season games. Counting games in the American Athletic Conference tournament and Thursday night's win, Memphis is 18-3 at home this season.

The Tigers fell behind early (8-6), but enjoyed an 18-2 run keyed by three Harris three-pointers to take the lead for good. The Toreros responded with an 18-5 run of their own to close the margin to a single point (29-28), but they never regained the lead. A 10-2 Memphis spurt early in the second half essentially put the game out of reach (47-32) for the visitors from the West Coast Conference. San Diego's top scorer, Isaiah Pineiro, was held to eight points (four for 15 from the field) and the Toreros committed 22 turnovers.

"It's great when Tyler comes in hot, and takes pressure off [Martin and Davenport]," said Hardaway. "We need those guys to play well. They're our three weapons."

"If it's my last game [at FedExForum], I'm gonna be happy," said Martin, "because we got a win. If Houston had been our last game, how would we feel? But we came back and got a win, so I feel great."

With 12 points in the Tigers' next game, Jeremiah Martin would join the following four Tigers in the single-season 700-point club:

Larry Finch — 721 (1972-73)
Penny Hardaway — 729 (1992-93)
Dajuan Wagner — 762 (2001-02)
Chris Douglas-Roberts — 724 (2007-08)

Monday, March 18, 2019

Memphis Tigers' NIT History

Posted By on Mon, Mar 18, 2019 at 10:17 AM

1957 — Beat Utah, Manhattan, and St. Bonaventure to advance to the championship game at Madison Square Garden, where the 16th-ranked Tigers fell against 19th-ranked Bradley, 84-83.

1960 — Lost to Providence

1961 — Lost to Holy Cross

1963 — Beat Fordham and lost to Canisius

1967 — Lost to Providence

1972 — Lost to Oral Roberts

1974 — Beat Seton Hall and lost to Utah

1975 — Lost to Oral Roberts

1977 — Lost to Alabama

1990 — Lost to Tennessee (in Memphis)

1991 — Beat UAB and lost to Arkansas State

1997 — Lost to UNLV (Larry Finch's final game as head coach)

1998 — Beat Ball State and lost to Fresno State

2001 — Beat Utah, UTEP, and New Mexico to advance to semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Lost to Tulsa (and beat Detroit in 3rd-place game).

2002 — Beat UNC-Greensboro, BYU, and Tennessee Tech to advance to semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Beat Temple and South Carolina to win championship.

2005 — Beat Northeastern, Virginia Tech, and Vanderbilt to advance to semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Lost to St. Joseph's.

2010 — Beat St. John's and lost to Ole Miss (in Oxford).

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

AAC Semifinals: #11 Houston 61, Tigers 58

Posted By on Sat, Mar 16, 2019 at 6:21 PM

An already uncomfortable drought for University of Memphis basketball fans grew by a year Saturday afternoon at FedExForum. In falling to the 11th-ranked Houston Cougars in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament, the Tigers fell short of an NCAA tournament berth for a fifth straight season. Having climbed into the program's top 10 for both career points and assists, senior Jeremiah Martin must now wait for the possibility of an NIT appearance, his name now in the discussion of the greatest Tiger to never appear in the Big Dance.
Jeremiah Martin - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeremiah Martin

"We understood what they were gonna do," said Memphis coach Penny Hardaway after the loss. "They come out hard, and play for 40 minutes. We just didn't meet the challenge. We fought hard, and I'm proud of the guys for staying in the game. We just made too many mistakes in the game plan."

Houston had a nine-point lead midway through the first half and led by 10 (36-26) at halftime. After a Tiger spurt to open the second half closed the margin to five points (36-31), the Cougars quickly regained command with five points in 40 seconds. Houston led by double digits for most of the second half until Memphis began a 10-1 run at the five-minute mark. Both Martin and freshman guard Tyler Harris had open looks at three-pointers to tie the game in the final thirty seconds but were unable to connect. Despite not scoring a point over the game's final 3:47, Houston secured the win to advance to Sunday's championship game. The Cougars are now 31-2 while the Tigers fell to 21-13.

Hardaway hopes for that NIT bid, primarily for the chance to extend Martin's career. "[Jeremiah] has been our savior, honestly," he said. "He put us on his back. We played him a ton of minutes, this last month and a half. He's been here four years and will go down as one of the better guards we've had. I hope his season isn't over."

Martin managed to score 23 points despite shooting 5-for-24 from the field. (He hit 12 of 14 free throws.) "He's a veteran," acknowledged Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. "Lot of moxie." Overall, the Tigers hit only 16 of 68 shots (24 percent) from the field. They stayed in the contest at the foul line, where they connected on 22 of 26 attempts and Houston missed 13 of 27. After contributing mightily to the Tigers' quarterfinal upset of UCF Friday, the Tiger bench contributed only 13 points Saturday, with both Isaiah Maurice and Harris held scoreless.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Penny Hardaway

Senior forward Kyvon Davenport was limited by soreness in one of his legs, an injury Hardaway only learned about prior to tip-off. Davenport scored eight points in 26 minutes, but was not on the floor for the decisive final minute of play.

All-conference guard Corey Davis led the Cougars with 17 points, the only other player besides Martin in double figures.

"I haven't shot well this whole tournament," acknowledged Martin. "Houston is gonna come with physicality. I thought I had the [tying] shot; it just didn't go in."

"I didn't expect to have Rome built in a day," said Hardaway. "I wanted to gradually get better. To be as good as we could be around this time, to be gelling. That's what's happened. The guys have grown a lot. We're more defensive-minded."

"Everything happens for a reason," said Martin when asked about the disappointment of again coming up short of an NCAA tournament big. "I don't question God; He knows my path. If we get into the NIT, I'm gonna go out and play hard, try to win it."

"We had an opportunity," said Hardaway. "We didn't seize the moment, but we put ourselves in position, beating a good UCF team. I want to take the energy I felt going into this game to next season."

The 32-team NIT field will be announced Sunday evening, shortly after the 68-team NCAA tournament field is complete.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

AAC Quarterfinals: Tigers 79, UCF 55

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2019 at 4:47 PM

As the lower seed in Friday's American Athletic Conference quarterfinal at FedExForum, the Tigers wore their road blues. Beyond that, the contest was reminiscent of the teams' last meeting in Memphis, a 20-point victory by the home team (wearing white that day in late January). Junior forward Isaiah Maurice came off the bench and scored a season-high 21 points to lead a dominant Tiger performance, a win that improves the U of M to 21-12 for the season and sets up a clash with 11th-ranked Houston in one of Saturday's semifinals. UCF drops to 23-8 and will now likely be relegated to the NIT field.
Kyvon Davenport - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Kyvon Davenport

"Both teams knew each other well," said Memphis coach Penny Hardaway after the game. "It came down to will. Making shots and making plays. Our team did that the entire game, and I'm proud of them. It's win or go home. Our guys have continued to get better, and their hard work is paying off now."

The Knights jumped out to an 11-4 lead before Hardaway began entering his supporting players. Freshman guard Tyler Harris followed a Maurice three-pointer with one of his own to give the Tigers a 14-11 lead just over eight minutes into the game. Both Maurice (10) and senior forward Kyvon Davenport (12) were in double figures in the scoring column by halftime, when the Tigers led 37-27.

Senior forward Raynere Thornton dropped a three-pointer from the left corner to extend the Tigers' lead to 14 (41-27) not quite three minutes into the second half and another trey from Maurice made it a 20-point margin with just under eight minutes left on the clock.

On the defensive end, the Tigers held UCF guard B.J. Taylor (a first-team all-conference selection) to nine points and Aubrey Dawkins (a second-teamer) to seven (and one-for-ten shooting). Towering Knights center Tacko Fall (7'6") scored 12 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, but was limited to 24 minutes by foul trouble.

Davenport finished with 16 points and Jeremiah Martin scored 13 in the romp. Memphis is now 16-1 against UCF in the Bluff City.

"We're playing desperate," said Hardaway. "We know the road we have to take, and we understand every possession. Counts. We're playing like it."
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Penny Hardaway

Hardaway was effusive in praising Davenport, a difference-maker when at the top of his game. "There's no small forward in the country that can stop him," said the coach. "He's almost impossible to guard. I've put a lot of pressure on him. He's shown up at the right time."

"I knew we had to focus, and not let them get out early," added Davenport. "I thought we did a pretty good job. They only had one guy in double figures."

Top-seeded Houston will be a tall order Saturday. The Cougars beat Memphis, 90-77, in Texas on January 6th. The Cougars' only home loss this season came against UCF.

Hardaway welcomes the chance to face Houston in Memphis, even if, officially speaking, FedExForum is "neutral" this week. "It's been a maturation process for all the guys," said Hardaway. "They wanted to be individuals early, do it all on their own. But as the season's gone on, we put our foot down and started playing tougher. They started to buy in. We've made some mental mistakes, but for the most part we're all in."

Tip-off for Saturday's semifinal is scheduled for 2 p.m.

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