UofM head coach Penny Hardaway, who eventually had to guide the Tigers without the services of projected NBA lottery pick James Wiseman (second from right), has plenty to work with, when – and if – the upcoming season survives the coronavirus threat. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/TSD Archives)

The University of Memphis men’s basketball team is in a wait and see mode.

Terry Davis

They do not know when the season will officially begin. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the NCAA has put restrictions on how programs can operate.

“Expectations are the same. We want to win at a high level,” said coach Penny Hardaway. “For the freshmen to be one year older. Going from not knowing what was going on to having a full year of knowing what’s going on.”

Memphis had one of the youngest teams in nation last year.

But, the addition of one of the best defenders in high school last year, Moussa Cisse, and Ahmad Rand, the junior college standout from Lincolnton, Georgia, the Tigers’ defense may even be better.

Cisse is on campus and practicing with the team. He has been cleared to play this season by the NCAA.

And this week, the NCAA announced it had granted the waiver request of sought-after guard Landers Nolley II, a Virginia Tech transfer, who now is eligible to play this season. Still pending is a ruling on the eligibility of heralded Evansville transfer DeAndre Williams, a 6-foot-9 forward.

The Committee on Infractions for the case of James Wiseman playing last season has not set a date for releasing their findings.

Many are wondering if there will be a college basketball season. The NBA has proven it can be done by creating a bubble-like environment. Yet, to have a post season tournament, there must be a regular season. This year’s NCAA tournament was cancelled because of the virus.

Hardaway floated the idea of having regional pods, where five or six teams would play one another for a couple of weeks at a time.

Hardaway has not decided on a new assistant coach to replace Mike Miller, who left the program to coach at Houston High School. Hardaway said it has been harder than normal to hire a coach during the pandemic. He has interviewed 16 people, so far, and expects to name a new assistant in a week or two.

With the departure of Precious Achiuwa to the NBA, the Tigers are going to have to find a closer. DJ Jeffries and Nolley will be looked upon to carry the team late in games.

“DJ is going to have to carry the load. He came in with a lot of promise, but he got hurt. He is looking great now,” said Hardaway.

Memphis returns five freshmen who got significant minutes last season — Boogie Ellis, Damion Baugh, Jeffries, Lester Quinones and Malcolm Dandridge.

All started at least four games. Ellis and Baugh are the only two who played in all games last season.

“I see a chip on Boogie, Lester and Damion’s shoulders. They feel they did not produce in the hopes of coming into the season last year. Especially Boogie, you can see how hungry he is and how hard he has been working,” Hardaway said.

Normally teams would be getting ready for the season and having a big kickoff event like Memphis Madness at the FedExForum. That will not be the case this season.

If the Tigers hold any kind of event it likely will be virtual. Memphis has sold out their last two events and used those as a place to bring some prized recruits to the program.