While they don’t hand out trophies for the preseason, it is undeniable that if they did, the Memphis Tigers would have won one for the amount of buzz that they created for this offseason. Returning most everyone from a team that was solid last season was a good start to the offseason while adding in players like Earl Timberlake, plus the Lawson brothers were nice additions. To cap off that by adding Jalen Duren, a five-star freshman that projects as a Top-3 pick in next year’s NBA Draft, and Emoni Bates, who might be the most hyped recruit since Lebron James, was a major score for Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers. Now the question turns away from the preseason hype and towards this season, where the Tigers’ expectations aren’t just to win the American (which they should), it is all about making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament with a roster that has as much talent as any team in the sport.
Let’s start this out with the five-star freshmen. Emoni Bates’ decision to reclass made him a potential two-year player at Memphis, largely due to age restrictions in the NBA Draft process. Bates is a high-level scorer, who makes contested shots with ease, and is really good at scoring from all three levels of the court. What makes Bates one of the most fascinating players to watch is the fact that Penny Hardaway promised that he would run some point, which given their other point guard options might not be a bad thing, he has the skill set to be a quality larger point guard but we’ll see how he pans out playing that role. While Bates will likely start at the 1, Jalen Duren will start at the 5. Duren is a physically imposing big that will take games over on the low block, his combination of size, strength, and athleticism will oftentimes be too much for defenses to contain. Defensively, he projects to be a major contributor as he’s an elite shot-blocker who should be a major two-way player for this team.
Next to Duren, DeAndre Williams will play the 4 for this team and that should be an area he excels at. Williams missed time early in the season but once he got integrated into the rotation, he became one of the best and most efficient players in College Basketball. Williams is a good offensive piece, who can knock down shots from the perimeter, while he also has guard-like skills, plays as a tough and mobile defender, and is a high-level rebounder. Moving from the 5 to the 4 could be a bit tricky, but if any player is ready to do that and have success, it is Williams.
On the wing, Landers Nolley led the Tigers in scoring a season ago, Nolley is a tough defender but excels at getting to his shot and knocking it down. Nolley is a good three-level scorer, although the thing to watch is him improving upon turnovers, as he had a high turnover rate. Lester Quinones provides the team with a high-level shooter, solid defender, and capable ball-handler. Should Memphis go somewhat with a point guard by committee, Quinones should be one of the main ball-handlers this season. Earl Timberlake provides the team with a high-upside player, while he played sparingly at Miami a season ago, a change of scenery and change of health should make him a productive piece for this Tigers team.
The Tigers also have one of the most loaded benches in the sport. Alex Lomax is the purest point guard on this roster, while he probably won’t start, he will come in and be a productive piece for this roster in a bench role. Josh Minott is a Top-100 freshman that looks to play reserve minutes at the 4 for this team. Oregon transfer Chandler Lawson looks to also get reserve minutes at the forward spot, while his younger brother Johnathan Lawson provides defensive versatility and could be a solid contributor for this team. Son of Penny, Jayden Hardaway will provide some defense off the bench and will get some spot minutes in a reserve role.
This roster has extraordinary talent, especially up front and on the wing, but the main question marks with this roster remain the same. Turnovers were the major issue when it comes to this team, and I’m not even sure they improved when it comes to this season. Bates will run the point at the start, but he’s more of a scoring guard and is not a pure point guard, Quinones and Willaims will run some possessions at the point but neither are true point guards, while Alex Lomax is a high-assist, high-turnover guard, as well. While not valuing possessions will hurt the team, forcing opponents not to score will be a major advantage, with the starting-5 all 6’5 and taller, while most everyone is a switchable defender, scoring on this team will be a challenge.
The area where this team can make major strides from a season ago is that they now have two high-level scorers coming into this team, Emoni Bates will probably take too many bad shots, but he’s also an elite three-point shooter as well. Jalen Duren provides the team with a dynamic scorer on the post. Adding those two players gives the offense consistent scoring that the team just hasn’t had in the past few seasons. Going into this season, the Tigers have National Championship aspirations, whenever a team adds in two Top-5 recruits and returns a lot of their core, the team is going to be very good. Should they fix their turnover issues, this team should be a consistent Top-10 team and have a chance to be the last team standing in April. If not, an AAC League Championship and a second-weekend run still should be in the equation, as any team with this high of defensive potential and talent, should still be solid. We shall wait and see what this Memphis team looks like, and at the very least, this might be the team that is going to be the most fascinating to watch this year.
PG: Emoni Bates
SG: Lester Quinones
SF: Landers Nolley
PF: DeAndre Williams
C: Jalen Duren
B1: Earl Timberlake
B2: Alex Lomax
B3: Josh Minott
B4: Chandler Lawson
B5: Johnathan Lawson