University of Memphis head coach Tubby Smith and the Tigers are 16-11 this season. The Tigers have four games remaining before heading into the American Athletic Conference tournament next month. Many Memphians are tired of waiting for the program to be restored to its former glory, but Smith deserves more time with the Tigers.
Earlier this month, former Memphis guard Antonio Anderson said Smith was not the right person to lead the Tigers. “Well, maybe not,” Smith first said to Anderson’s remarks. He followed that statement by saying he and his team need time.
Smith’s comments made Memphians hopeful that his time at Memphis was wrapping up, but Smith could finish this season with a winning record. Memphis has not finished a season with a losing record since the 1998-99 season under Tic Price.
Memphis has a history of being a respected basketball program. People still remember when it was common for the team to go several rounds in the NCAA Tournament, and they miss seeing consistent wins. This could be the fourth consecutive year Memphis does not see postseason play, but only Smith’s second. The first two were under former coach Josh Pastner.
Smith is in a seat of immense pressure because of the history of the program. Pastner has said multiple times since leaving Memphis that it was a “relief” to leave the job.
At the end of last season, three seniors graduated, and eight players walked away from the Memphis program, including the Tigers’ three leading scorers. Smith was left with a team of four players, and only two, Jeremiah Martin and Jimario Rivers, had seen significant time on the floor.
In a radio interview this week, Athletic Director Tom Bowen said year three is when things start to fall into place.
Smith’s 11 new players have bought into his program. Most of last season’s players had bought into the previous regime. If Memphis puts another coach in place, players who bought into Smith’s gameplan may not stick around.
The team is still relatively young. These players are new to Division I basketball. Smith will lose two players to graduation — only one who plays consistently.
Next season will be the time for Smith and his team to prove themselves and earn their way into postseason play. His team will have learned how to better play together. They should know their roles and should have meshed. Smith’s time is running out, but it is not over just yet.
Head coach Tubby Smith game plans with his team during a time out. Before coming to Memphis, Smith spent three seasons at Texas Tech.