High expectations and the associated pressure are twin elements that must be accounted for in pretty much every University of Memphis men’s basketball season. It comes with the territory of hooping at the Division I level in the basketball-crazed Bluff City.
So far in a now 5-3 (1-0) season, the Tigers and head coach Penny Hardaway are a work in progress relative to a baseline measurement of success – getting back into the NCAA tournament after a prolonged absence. Meanwhile, the Twitter world pulses during games with assertive posts about who should be playing, who should be running the point guard position and what should be the playing rotation.
Memphis has 10,000-plus social media “coaches” that have not seen one practice or really know the abilities of the players. Hardaway is in the best position to know and has said on multiple occasions that his players tend to execute as expected in practice only to go away from the game plan amid the bright lights of national television.
This is where you insert the Tulane Green Wave (14-1, 0-1). Tulane has been get-on-track medicine for Memphis, with the Tigers having defeated the Green Wave 11 games in a row. Memphis, which holds a 58-11 all-time advantage, held on to turn back Tulane 80-74 on Wednesday in the season opener for both teams.
“The way we started that game off, we looked like a top ten team in the country,” Hardaway said. “That middle phase we looked like one of the worst teams in the country. We have got to shore that up.”
The Tigers actually got a win before the game even tipped off. The NCAA gave a blanket waiver to all transfers in the system, which meant Evansville Transfer DeAndre Williams was eligible to play in his first game as a Tiger.
“It was a blast,” said Williams, who played 16 minutes, contributing 10 points, six rebounds, two assists, one block and a steal. He hit on four of his five shots.
“My nerves were all over the place because I wanted to play so bad. My mom and my prep school coach were on the phone. Everyone was so excited. I kept a positive mind the whole time I was out.”
Williams is the second player to be cleared by the NCAA for the Tigers this season. Virginia Tech transfer Landers Nolley II was cleared this summer.
Williams is still getting back to game shape. His first basket as a Tigers was on a put-back dunk. At 24 and mature, he could be the on-the-court leader Memphis has been needing so far in this young season.
The offense has been the biggest concern for the Tigers, despite scoring over 80 points in three of the last four games. Memphis has been missing too many three-pointers, layups and wide-open shots.
“The guys just have to take the ball to the rim,” said Hardaway. “Tulane did not have a shot blocker in the game. They are just throwing the ball up there and hoping it goes in. We have got to live in the paint and keep taking those shots.”
The Tigers will get a better test on Monday (December 21) at the FedExForum when they face Tulsa (1-3). Tulsa whipped Memphis 80-40 in Oklahoma last season, handing the Tigers their worst loss of the year. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN2.