The Memphis Tigers (16-8) are set to open play in the National Invitation Tournament this weekend, taking on Dayton (14-9) in the first round. While the NIT is certainly not the postseason tournament these teams were probably hoping to be featured in, it still a represents a good opportunity for these Tigers to continue building on the late season run that nearly catapulted them into the field of sixty-eight.
The Flyers are led by Jalen Crutcher, a senior guard from Memphis who attended Ridgeway High School. Currently averaging 18 points and 4 assists per game, Crutcher is exactly the type of crafty guard capable of giving Memphis problems.
“Training him when he was younger, I saw the potential in him” coach Penny Hardaway said. “Always crafty, always smooth. As he got older, he got stronger and started shooting it deeper, and has been a problem for that conference ever since he got to Dayton. I’m proud of his growth”
Missing the NCAA tournament must be a hard pill to swallow but being selected as a number one seed in the NIT proves just how close they were. With just one win over Houston, this preview story would look quite different right now. Still, Memphis is grateful for the chance to keep playing, even if it means just one more game.
“It’s kind of bittersweet obviously,” Hardaway said. “Everyone wants to make the NCAA, but it’s also much appreciated to the NIT for not only choosing us but making us a number one seed. We get a play a well-coached Dayton team. It’s going to be a good test for us.”
Down the stretch, Memphis seemed like it just may claw its way into the NCAA tournament field. That obviously did not happen. However, in a Covid year, playing in any type of postseason still is an accomplishment. The experience they gain from the NIT could prove to be valuable for a team that overall is still relatively young. Plus, who knows what could happen? Memphis just might go and win the damn thing.
“Postseason is just different,” Hardaway said. “Everybody has a clean slate. You can throw the record books out of the window and you just have to go play. You’ve got to be better than what you were in the regular season because everybody is going to have a scouting report on who you are. You can’t really tell them until they actually see how it’s going to be.”
The winner of the Memphis-Dayton matchup will then face the winner of Boise State and SMU. It’s a safe bet to assume Memphis has not forgotten the two-point road loss against the Ponies back in January and they will be eager to try to get one back on their conference foe. They just have to take care of their own business first.
Tip-off for the first-round matchup with the Flyers is set for 11 a.m. Saturday.