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What to expect when Memphis basketball visits Temple, plus a game prediction

The Tigers hope to begin a new winning streak Thursday night. (Image Credit: Memphis Athletics)
By Roman Cleary - February 7, 2024, 12:21 pm - 1 comments

Penny Hardaway’s Tigers find themselves in a late-season dilemma once again.

They were once ranked No. 10 in the AP Top 25 poll and were a projected top-5 seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament. But after suffering four consecutive losses to finish January—including Quad 3 and 4 tilts—Memphis (16-6, 5-4 AAC) is now on the wrong side of the bubble. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently lists it as a “Next Four Out” team, and CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm also has Memphis out of the field.

Last Saturday’s win over Wichita State, which broke the losing streak, isn’t going to fix that. After all, the Tigers still needed a David Jones game-winner to squeak out a two-point win over a sub-100 KenPom team. Hardaway’s club also trailed the Shockers by as many as 14 points with less than eight minutes to play. None of this discourages the sixth-year coach, however.

“All we were looking for was one win. Just one win to get us over the hump,” he said Saturday. “I think that what [the players] are saying in [the locker room] is like, ‘It’s time.’ They really bonded together in the huddle. Usually huddles are all kinda crazy on our team. There’s all kinda stuff going on in our huddles. But this huddle was [them] looking at each other in the eyes saying, ‘Don’t quit. Keep fighting.’”

Hardaway is at least right about one thing. It is time for Memphis to make a season-defining push if it wants to play in March Madness this year. It’s time for the Tigers to play their best basketball if they want to save this once promising campaign.

The former NBA All-Star has led Memphis to this kind of turnaround before—two years ago to be exact. The Tigers had a 9-8 start in 2021-22, and were completely off the bubble on Jan. 20, 2022. But they finished the regular season 10-1, earned a No. 9 seed in the 2022 tourney and even beat Boise State in the Round of 64.

Memphis has the talent to pull off a similar feat, though it’ll take more than just natural ability. The Tigers can’t afford to have subpar chemistry, lackluster defense or lackadaisical effort anymore. They need to fire on all cylinders, and give everything they have in each game—no matter the opponent.

“We only activate when we get down…Everything we’ve been asking for in this four-game losing streak, they did it the last eight minutes of the game today,” Hardaway said Saturday. “We’re very capable. It just can’t be optional. It has to be mandatory every single time.”

The Tigers will look to continue their rally attempt when they visit Temple (8-14, 1-8 AAC) on Thursday (6 p.m., ESPN2). Hardaway is 5-1 overall against the Owls during his tenure, and 1-1 inside Liacouras Center. Memphis enters the contest as a 6.5-point favorite.

Here’s what to expect in the U of M’s 25th all-time meeting with Temple.

Has Hardaway found the right group?

Memphis’ substitutions—to put it lightly—were erratic throughout most of Saturday’s game.

The Tigers started the contest with Jahvon Quinerly, Jones, Jaykwon Walton, Nae’Qwan Tomlin and Malcolm Dandridge, but that group didn’t even make it to the first media timeout. Nick Jourdain subbed in for Dandridge after two minutes, and the bench only got smaller from there.

Memphis executed eight substitutions in the first 10 minutes, and used 11 players in the first 13 minutes. Jordan Brown, Ashton Hardaway and Jayden Hardaway combined for 15 minutes and zero points in the first half. Jayhlon Young also recorded no points, a rebound and an assist in six minutes during the opening period.

Of the 11 players that got minutes throughout the half, just four of them scored a point in that span. But Hardaway’s gameplan took a complete U-turn in the second half, in which he used just eight players and didn’t make a single substitution after the 7:26 mark.

Quinerly, Jones, Walton, Jourdain and Tomlin finished the game and led Memphis on a 22-7 run to pull off the comeback win. And perhaps those five are the combination Hardaway’s been looking for.

“They locked in with that one group. We finally found five guys that said, ‘Hey, we’re not letting anybody drive around us. We’re not gonna let anything happen easily and on the other end, we’re gonna share the ball.’ On the offensive end, the ball started moving much faster and it made us harder to guard,” Hardaway said during his weekly radio show Monday. “It looked like a really good team, like a top-10 team in the country in that last eight minutes.”

What Temple brings to the table

Adam Fisher’s Owls have been putrid this season. They have lost their last seven games, and are 1-8 against Quads 1 and 2. They also own four Quad 4 losses. Temple is ranked No. 240 in KenPom and No. 248 in the NCAA NET rankings.

Hysier Miller has emerged as Temple’s leading scorer this year. The 6-foot-1 guard averages 15.9 points, 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds while shooting 34% from the field. He also nabs 1.6 steals per game on defense. Miller has scored at least 12 points in each of his last four games.

Jordan Riley is also enjoying a nice season after transferring in from Georgetown. The 6-foot-4 guard puts up 12.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game on 43.4% shooting. He’s also averaging 21.5 points and shooting 36% from 3-point range in his last two outings.

Other players to watch for are 6-foot-7 guard Jahlil White (11.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game), 6-foot-5 forward Sam Hofman (6.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game on 35.6% 3-point shooting), 6-foot-10 forward Steve Settle III (9.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game) and 6-foot-2 guard Matteo Picarelli (8.5 points per game while shooting 36.2% from 3-point range).

Temple scores 70.6 points per game while shooting 37.8% from the field and 29.2% from 3-point range. It also averages 37.1 rebounds and 11.1 assists, but gives the ball away 10.6 times per contest. Defensively, the Owls rack up 13.1 forced turnovers, 7.7 steals and 2.5 blocks. Fisher’s club ranks No. 272 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 101 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.

The Prediction

Memphis demolishes Temple for its second straight win.

Predicting a blowout win for the Tigers may seem preposterous right now, but there isn’t a better time for it. Hardaway’s team played incredible basketball down the stretch against Wichita State, and has seemingly found a sustainable lineup it can use moving forward. The Tigers—ranked No. 79 in the NET—desperately need to improve their computer numbers, and disfiguring inferior teams is one way to do that.

Expect Memphis to take care of business in Philadelphia.


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