After a brief NIT stint, the Memphis Tigers appear to be back on the national scene in college basketball. One of the nation’s top recruiting classes landed on campus in August, and, despite some academic eligibility concerns (and now an indefinite suspension for one top-rated freshman, Jelan Kendrick), the new Tigers seem ready to resurrect themselves as C-USA champions once again.
They may not have the experience and chemistry of Memphis teams of the past 4 or 5 seasons, but they arguably have as much talent. And with that rawness, Tiger fans can reasonably expect some rough patches early in the season, but by conference season, the team should be coming into its own. Let’s take a deeper look at the team.
Will Coleman C, Wesley Witherspoon F/G, Angel Garcia F, D.J. Stephens G/F, and Drew Barham G
Joe Jackson G, Will Barton G, Antonio Barton G, Jelan Kendrick G, Charles Carmouche G, Chris Crawford G, Tarik Black C, and Hippolyte Tsafack F.
Games of Interest
Nov. 15 vs Miami (FL) – part of ESPN’s 24 hours of college basketball
Dec. 4 vs Western Kentucky
Dec. 7 vs Kansas – Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden
Dec. 23 vs Georgetown
Jan. 5 at Tennessee
Feb. 5 at Gonzaga
As stated above, a heavy freshman influence could lead to some early struggles for the Tigers. It’s natural. It takes some time for them to adjust to the high intensity, high energy level of play needed for D-1 college basketball.
Memphis does have experience to rely on during the learning process, though. Wesley Witherspoon is a lanky wing player who has shown flashes of take-over-the-game ability. He really stepped up as a one-two combo with Elliot Williams near the end of last season.
Center Will Coleman evolved into a good big man near the end of last season as well. Memphis’ guard-heavy lineup will require a guy like Coleman to do the “dirty work,” but he does have a nice touch around the rim. Plus, the guy’s a physical freak.
Perhaps the most intriguing returning player is forward Angel Garcia. The Puerto Rican native stands at 6’11″ and has range beyond many shooting guards. He returned from ACL surgery at the end of last season (notice a trend? Memphis played some of its best basketball at the end of last season) and really showed flashes of solid play. The former 5 star recruit will look to have his best season (and healthiest) since committing to Memphis out of high school.
The players that will put this team over the top are hometown hero Joe Jackson, the scoring machine Will Barton, and Jelan Kendrick. All three posses next level talent. Will the pressure get to them? That remains to be seen, but if Will Barton’s proclamation of winning a national championship is any indication, then they’re as confident as they are talented.
Memphis’ non-conference schedule is not as good as it could be, but there are “resume” games for seeding purposes in Kansas, Georgetown, Tennessee, and Gonzaga. Plus, I think, C-USA is improving ever so slightly. Teams like UTEP and Southern Miss will not back down from Memphis despite the talent gap.
Memphis should enter Selection Sunday nearing the 30 win mark. As improved as C-USA may be, the bottom of the league is still filled with 200+ RPI teams giving Memphis some padded wins. And by the NCAA tournament, the Tigers should be playing relatively well.
I predict a Sweet Sixteen finish to the season. They have the talent for a deeper run and with the right seeding, upsets, etc., a deep run is possible. But at this point, it’s just too early to predict anything more. A Sweet Sixteen run would set the team up nicely for the following season with the newly announced decision of the uber-athletic Adonis Thomas set to join the hometown Tigers for 2011.