Head Coach: Anfernee Hardaway
2018-19 Record: 22-14, 11-7 Conference
Odds to win Title: +1000
Odds c/o Bovada
The Memphis Tigers are headlined not by any particular player this season, but by the debut of NBA legend Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway’s collegiate coaching debut. Hardaway had not coached above the high school ranks, but Memphis ignored that, counting on some powerful recruiting from Hardaway, and he has done exactly that. Hardaway is poised to start five high-powered freshmen this season, all products of his legendary status and that even in 2019, kids still idolize the former NBA 90s darling.
Hardaway did not just recruit. He pulled in the top recruit class in the nation.
James Wiseman and Precious Achiwa both headline five freshmen that may do what has not been done since Michigan’s fabled Fab-5 team of the early 1990s. The Tigers are the favorites in the AAC, but the team has its sights set much higher given the sheer level of talent it possesses on its roster.
Last season, Memphis got by defensively without any sort of a rim protector anchoring the paint. Teams shot almost 50 percent due to it. That will change drastically with Wiseman entering the picture. The 7’1” freshman is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, and his versatility is why. Wiseman has speed and athleticism, combined with great coordination that will enable him to score all over the court while swatting away plenty of shots on the defensive end. He is a game-changer, and the result is that Memphis is now a top team. But he is not alone, not hardly.
Wiseman’s running mate in the frontcourt will be Achiwua, a 6’9” forward who is also projected to be a 2020 lottery pick. Memphis could even have the best 4-5 combo in the NCAA, but it is, of course, all to be proven this season. Behind this dynamic duo, there is sufficient depth in the form of Lance Thomas, and former JUCO talent Isaiah Maurice. Maurice may take a medical redshirt due to a lingering high school injury, but rounding out the 2nd unit will be freshman Malcolm Dandridge.
Memphis is not as stacked in the backcourt, necessarily, but it is far from weak. Hardaway is excited about the lineup options his backcourt depth will provide him, especially. Boogie Ellis originally signed with Duke but got a release to join Hardaway, and he is the likely starter at the 1-spot. Sophomore Alex Lomax is his backup. Lester Quinones, Damion Baugh, and Tyler Harris round out the rotation at guard, and all will vie for precious minutes in this loaded rotation. Also expect Hardaway to tinker with some three-guard sets, depending on which of these five step-up and prove to be the most worthy of playing time. Putting a lot of shooting around Wiseman makes plenty of sense in its own right.
Hardaway certainly cannot count “experience” as a strength of this team given it will start five freshmen. However, what the Tigers lack in experience it more than makes up for with top-end talent in its crazy recruiting class. Expect Memphis to roll through its Conference, potentially going undefeated, which should set it up with plenty of momentum as March rolls around. Ultimately, can this team win on talent alone, or will it suffer the fate of inexperience—perhaps encapsulated by what happened to the last five freshmen when the infamous timeout that wasn’t was called by one Chris Webber.
Regardless of the outcome of the 2019-20 season, Hardaway has made it clear with his strong recruiting efforts that the Tigers are going to be a program at the top of college basketball, potentially for a very long time.