The Memphis basketball team has started the year solid despite all the outside noise that surrounds them. They have a 7-1 record after defeating Bradley last time out 71-56, and they are playing more cohesively. Head coach Penny Hardaway still has a lot of work to do before he can get his squad back to full strength. But he is thrilled of the way his team has fought so far this season.
"I couldn't be more proud of my team," Hardaway said after the NC State game played in Brooklyn last Thursday. "We were well-prepared. After the Oregon game, we grew up. After the Ole Miss game, we grew up. And today we grew up even more."
Hardaway has expressed the phrase “growing up” a lot into this young season ,and his team has definitely shown that since their loss to Oregon. Alex Lomax, Tyler Harris, Boogie Ellis and Precious Achiuwa have all grown within each other over the past few games.
Against Ole Miss it was Lomax and Achiuwa who led the Tigers to victory. Lomax scored 14 points and dropped seven dimes and grabbed seven rebounds. The sophomore guard has displayed his tenacious defense and passing ability all season, but it has really shown up in the last three games. In the Bradley game, Lomax brought his tough defense and recorded three steals.
On the other hand, Achiuwa has been what Memphis fans and most critics believe what he could be, an absolute stud. To start the season, he was taken a back seat to all the games Wiseman has played, but in his absence Achiuwa has been “the guy” for Memphis.
The freshman has shown his high motor on defense and his slashing capabilities on offense. He is currently averaging 15 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game. The former 5-star recruit has taken over as a guy who can get instant buckets if needed be, and that is a huge step in his game and for this team.
Boogie Ellis had been in a slump until the game last Thursday in Brooklyn against NC State. He jumped out in this game in a hurry and ended the contest with 21 points. He is a guy who is a huge x-factor, and he was awarded so after being named the American Athletic Conference Freshman of the week on Monday.
If the Tigers can get a consistent production from their starting guard this team can really take off. He has the ability to shoot the ball and drive into the paint when needed. He has grown up nicely as of late against two great teams in NC State and Bradley.
Lastly, the 3pt-marksman Tyler Harris. The sophomore guard has been hot from the perimeter as of late. Harris is shooting 50 percent since the Ole Miss game from deep, and his scoring has gone up as well. His points per game margin has gone up from six to nine over the last three games. Harris is the long-range sniper on this team and a huge late game bucket guy just like Achuiwa.
“I really believe in Tyler Harris,” Hardaway said after the NC State game. “"He was built for moments like this. He made a big basket down the stretch."
Star Freshman (So-far)
Besides Ellis and Achuiwa, one Memphis freshman has started the season rapid fire is a guy by the name of D.J. Jeffries. The Olive Branch native has been instant offense off the bench for Hardaway. Jeffries is averaging 12.6 points, 4 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1 block per game. He is shooting 56 percent from the field as well.
Jeffries is a highlight-guy waiting to put his stamp on every game he plays in. Although he did not play well versus NC State, he bounced back against Bradley ,and he will try to ride that momentum heading into these next two games on the road.
Road Tests Ahead
The Tigers have an interesting next two games on the schedule. A road game at UAB and Tennessee. Now UAB may not be a big game in some people’s eyes, but they have a home record of 3-1 this season, and it will be just the third road game on the season for Memphis splitting both of those games.
The rivalry game against the Volunteers will be the most interesting match in December. They will be without Wiseman and most likely Quinones (could change), so the four guys mentioned above will have a tall task ahead of them as that game comes closer. Tennessee got the best of Memphis last year, winning by a score of 102-92 at the FedExForum.
Memphis basketball is about to get really interesting to watch. This team can make it places if they keep playing team basketball and letting the game come to them instead of making the careless mistakes.
Malcolm Dandridge, Alex Lomax and James Wiseman (in order) enjoying their time on the bench.