Key Departures: Boogie Ellis (–>USC); DJ Jeffries (–>Miss St); Moussa Cisse (–>Ok St); Damion Baugh (–>TCU)
New In Town: Emoni Bates (#4); Jalen Duren (#5); Josh Minott (#44); Johnathan Lawson (#99); Sam Ayomide (#122); John Camden (#143); Tyler Harris (<–Iowa St); Chandler Lawson (<–Oregon); Earl Timberlake (<–Miami)
State of the Program:
Penny Hardaway has Memphis on the precipice of returning to a legitimate National contender, and with this insanely talented recruiting class he has the attention of all of the beat writers. Allow me to pump the brakes just a smidge on the hype train here, as we are talking about a roster that lost 4 major pieces from a team that failed to get to the NCAA tournament, and while the recruits are highly touted we’ve seen teams with big time talent be unsuccessful many times in the past. What they do have going is they have been a top-5 defense the last 2 seasons under Hardaway and welcome back a few nice pieces, including Landers Nolley II (JR), Lester Quinones (JR), DeAndre Williams (SR), Alex Lomax (SR) and Malcolm Dandridge (JR). That’s a nice core to go with the talented FR incoming, but there will be a lot for this team to prove early in the season if they want to live up to the hype.
The story of the off-season was the re-classification and commitment of HS star Emoni Bates (#4) late this summer. Bates is one of the most highly anticipated HS players since LeBron, and gets a ton of comparisons to KD due to his frame and shooting ability. He is 6’9”, long and athletic and can create his own scoring opportunities at all 3 levels. He will be a dynamic scorer, and while he may not reach KD level, a Brandon Ingram level trajectory seems like a floor for Bates. There has been talks for him playing as a point forward, but regardless of how he’s used he will still be a big time scorer for Memphis. The other big time recruit coming in is big man Jalen Duren (#5), who is a physical specimen that is an explosive athlete. Duren uses that athleticism to be a beast in the paint, with a high motor that makes him a menace on the glass and in transition. His jumper needs work but that won’t stop him from dominating on this level and being drafted after this season, and he should start right away at center for the Tigers. The other FR that has a solid chance at playing time is 6’8” wing Josh Minott (#44) who truly is a Emoni Bates light. His frame and game look a lot like Bates, he just isn’t as developed as Bates at this stage, but his athleticism and shooting ability should make him a contributor off the bench for the Tigers and next season he should fill the shoes of Bates. There are 3 other FR incoming who will all likely redshirt as there are 15 scholarship players on this roster, so we’ll break them down next season. A couple transfers are also coming to the program, the most notable of which is former Memphis G Tyler Harris (SR). Harris left the program for Iowa St, but seems to have had a change of heart and is back to contribute in the backcourt for this team. He will likely be needed as there is no real PG depth on this team and while Bates has been rumored for the role Harris at the very least will be used in relief duties at the position. Oregon transfer 6’8” F Chandler Lawson (JR) joins a busy frontcourt group and given his lack of real production I would foresee him falling behind Williams and Dandridge who will join Duren in the frontcourt. He may get some minutes this season but I wouldn’t expect to see a lot of him. He’s a good athlete though and could have a much bigger role a season from now. The last newcomer with a shot at minutes is 6’6” wing Earl Timberlake (SO) via Miami. Timberlake was a top-50 recruit who is a physical beast that succumbed to injuries in his first season but has a ton of promise as a scorer and defender. He should get healthy by season start or shortly thereafter and once he’s back will certainly get minutes off the bench, and with his upside he will likely be a name we know very well in a couple of years.
This Memphis roster is loaded and frankly has a shocking number of players which will be a difficult task for Hardaway to manage. That’s a good problem to have though, and when you have 2 surefire lottery picks with Bates and Duren it’s hard to not have incredibly high expectations. Those two joining some veteran pieces coming back from a season ago should help keep the defensive culture in place, and if that’s the case the hype is deserved. We should see the offensive numbers increase, as they were 117th a season ago. With leading scorer Nolley back alongside Bates they should become a much more dangerous offensive team. I expect the defense to fall off a little bit, but if it doesn’t then Memphis’ chances of going on a big run in March increase exponentially in my mind. A top-5 defense with this much talent incoming deserves some hype, and while I don’t think it’s a sure thing like many do I will be watching closely early on to see if that potential is going to come through. Look for Memphis to still be the class of an average American Conference and be getting a ton of hype all season long.