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What to expect in Memphis basketball’s rematch with Wichita State, plus a game prediction

Memphis already owns one win over the Shockers. It needs another in the worst way. (Image Credit: Memphis Athletics)
By Roman Cleary - February 2, 2024, 7:03 pm - 0 comments

Memphis basketball is currently projected to miss this year’s NCAA Tournament.

That’s right. The Tigers, who were No. 10 in the AP Top 25 just two weeks ago, are on the wrong side of the bubble for most bracketologists after losing their fourth consecutive game to Rice on Wednesday. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi is one of few experts to still have Memphis in the field, though he places it as a “Last Four In” team.

Penny Hardaway’s club had huge goals not too long ago. After going 11-2 in a daunting non-conference schedule, the Tigers were 7-2 against Quads 1 and 2 with zero losses outside of Quad 1. They were largely expected to earn a top-5 seed, compete for the Sweet 16 and possibly make their way to the Final Four as a dark horse contender for the National Championship.

All Memphis (15-6, 4-4 AAC) had to do was take care of business in a lackluster AAC, and it would’ve been in position to make all those dreams a reality. Instead, however, it blew a 20-point lead to South Florida, came up short at Tulane, got blasted at UAB and lost to a Rice team that previously hadn’t won a game outside of Quad 4. Everything’s gone so wrong, so fast for these once-promising Tigers, and Hardaway is still wondering how it happened.

“I really can’t get my finger on it. It’s like something has shifted since we started conference [play],” he said Wednesday. “I don’t know if it’s watching social media, if it’s trying to get more shine…We’re being taught the right stuff, but we’re not doing it. I don’t know why now, though. There’s gotta be something in this, because losing four games like this—it’s not like it’s never happened to me here. But with this team and this way, it just seems like it’s going downhill when the game first starts. That’s very weird.”

Memphis—No. 72 in KenPom and No. 77 in the NCAA NET rankings—now gets set for a Saturday afternoon rematch with Wichita State (9-12, 1-7 AAC) at FedExForum (12 p.m., CBS). The Tigers beat the Shockers 112-86 at Charles Koch Arena on Jan. 14, which was actually the former’s last win before its strange collapse began. The U of M has changed a lot since then—mostly for the worst—but perhaps another meeting with Paul Mills’ team is coming at the perfect time. Hardaway is 9-1 against Wichita State in his tenure, and has never lost to the Shockers at home. Memphis enters Saturday as a 10.5-point favorite.

Here’s what to expect in what is a must-win game for the Tigers.

Can Memphis shore up its ‘disconnect?’

The Tigers have been completely out of sync throughout their losing streak, and Wednesday’s game was no exception. They looked selfish, discombobulated and flat-out ugly at times throughout the 40-minute contest.

Memphis turned the ball over 16 times, and allowed Rice to shoot 48% from 3-point range while having a 17% 3-point clip itself. Scott Pera’s team also had 10 offensive rebounds, and limited Memphis to just 10 assists.

“It just seems like a huge disconnect with this group right now. I can’t put my finger on it—like a humongous disconnect. And you can tell in our play,” he said. “To me when the game starts, it just feels like the energy isn’t there to go win the game. It’s like surviving until another team gives up.”

David Jones, the Tigers’ leading score, said they will sometimes stray from Hardaway’s gameplans on Jan. 25. Hardaway chose to bring back Jordan Brown in mid-January—reportedly against most players’ wishes—after the 6-foot-11 center’s month-long absence. Memphis’ head coach has even alluded to possible locker room issues throughout the past two weeks.

But despite all that and more, Hardaway says there’s no friction between him and the players. The “humongous disconnect” he refers to is strictly between the Tigers.

“I’m really close to my players. I’m more than a head coach to these guys,” he said. “I have no disconnect with my players, I promise you. It’s not that. If it was, I would honestly say it like, ‘man, I have a disconnect.’ We just have not figured out a way to get this done, especially in the last four games. Every game has been like pulling teeth from the beginning of the tipoff until the end.”

Point guard Jahvon Quinerly reiterated Hardaway’s sentiment.

“There’s no disconnect between us and coach,” Quinerly said Wednesday. “This is on us. This is on the players. We got a veteran group. We should be able to talk to each other on the floor and not have a negative reaction. We’re old enough, mature enough. That shouldn’t be a problem…I really think coach Penny had us prepared the last two weeks for these games, and we dropped the ball…It’s time we looked ourselves in the mirror and take responsibility.”

Memphis can ill afford much more of this bad mojo, since it’s likely one more bad loss away from having its hopes for an at-large tourney bid go down the drain. But the Tigers have three—possibly four—Quad 1 opportunities left on their schedule, so it’s still possible to right the ship. Quinerly expects that possibility to come to fruition, even after they’ve been embarrassed by Rice and others.

“I think this will be the turning point for us,” Quinerly said. “Feeling like this for the last two weeks, it’s a lot…I think we’ll grow from this. I really do.”

How will the Tigers fix their starting lineup fiasco?

Memphis trotted out a new starting lineup for the first time in 10 games against Rice, and it didn’t include Quinerly (13.9 points and 4.7 assists per game).

The Tigers began Wednesday’s game with Jaykwon Walton, Jones, Jonathan Pierre, Nae’Qwan Tomlin and Malcolm Dandridge. Pierre averaged 4.3 minutes per game heading into the contest. This new combination from Hardaway—an attempt to reenergize his ailing squad—completely backfired.

Memphis managed just one point—a made free throw by Jones—before Quinerly and Nick Jourdain checked into the game with 16:55 remaining in the first half. Pierre didn’t score in his seven minutes of action.

It’s probably safe to say the Tigers won’t trot out that lineup again Saturday, though it’ll be interesting to see who they go with this time around. Quinerly will almost certainly end his brief stint as a reserve, but is that the only change Memphis makes?

What happened the last time Memphis faced Wichita State?

Memphis had an offensive explosion against the Shockers on Jan. 14. It shot 65% from the field and 63% from 3-point range. The Tigers even made a school-record 19 3-pointers. They also outrebounded the Shockers 29-24, and racked up 18 forced turnovers, 10 steals, 5 blocks and 25 assists.

Walton, a former Shocker, went off against his former team. The 6-foot-7 wing put up 23 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals while shooting 8-of-12 from the field and 6-of-8 from 3-point range. Quinerly also scored 23 points on 5-of-6 perimeter shooting. Tomlin had 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, Jourdain had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, and Dandridge finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and a perfect 4-for-4 from the field.

Wichita State also brought tons of offensive firepower, though. Mills’ club hit 55% of its field goal attempts and 52% of its 3-point shots. The Shockers also compiled 10 forced turnovers, 5 steals, 7 blocks and 13 assists despite the loss. They even led the game for just over 11 minutes, most of that coming in the first half.

So how did Memphis blowout the Shockers? The answer is simple: David Jones.

He was relatively quiet in the first half. Memphis scored 49 points during the period, but the St. John’s transfer scored just two of them while shooting 1-of-5 from the field. But that completely changed after halftime.

Jones scored 15 points in the second half’s first five minutes, including three perimeter shots in that span. His run helped Memphis to a 16-point lead, which eventually went has high as a 26-point advantage in the second half. Jones finished the afternoon with 19 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds while shooting 7-of-15 from the field and 3-of-8 from 3-point range.

The Shockers have been a downward spiral since their loss to Memphis, having dropped four out of their last five games. They’re currently ranked No. 158 in the NET and No. 160 in KenPom. The latter metric also has Wichita at No. 203 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 148 in adjusted defensive efficiency.

The Prediction

Memphis finally puts their slump to an end.

The Tigers know their season is probably over if they lose this one. Given Hardaway’s tremendous late-season track record and success against Wichita State, this seems like as good time as any for them to get back on track.

Expect Memphis to prevail in another high-scoring contest.


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