For a NCAA Division I basketball program with the history and aspirations of the Memphis Tigers, the National Invitational Tournament often is associated with the word “bittersweet.”
“It is bittersweet,” said Memphis head coach Hardaway, ahead of the Tigers first-round NIT matchup against the Dayton Flyers in UNT Coliseum in Denton, Texas on Saturday (May 20).
“Everyone wants to make the NCAA tournament, but much appreciation to the NIT for not only choosing us and making us a number one seed. We are playing against a well-coached Dayton team coached by (Anthony) Grant. He is the previous national coach of the year.”
The Memphis regular season ended with a loss at the University of Houston March 13. The end of Memphis’ hopes and dreams of making the NCAA tournament came at the hands of the Cougars in the semi-finals round for the second consecutive tournament.
This is the second time in three years that the Tigers are going to the NIT under Hardaway. Memphis won it first-round game against the University of San Diego and lost in the second round at Creighton.
This year, the NIT will consist of only 16 teams instead of the normal 32. All of the games will be played in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The Flyers feature senior guard Jalen Crutcher from Memphis’ Ridgeway High School. Dayton leads the series with Memphis (12-7). The teams last played in 1995.
Hardaway had the opportunity to train Crutcher while he was in Memphis.
“He is very crafty and very smooth. As he has gotten older, he has gotten stronger,” Hardaway said. “He has been a problem for that conference since he has gotten to Dayton. He and I share the same birthday. He never lets me forget it. He’ll either DM (direct message) me or text to say happy birthday.”
The two teams were scheduled to play in the season-opening tournament in South Dakota. However, regulations about quarantining forced the Flyers to cancel a trip to the tournament.
Hardaway was asked to assess where the Memphis program is at the end of year three of his tenure.
“It has been really unlucky to what has happened. We really haven’t had any footing, but as far as where we are going as an identity, we understand who we are, and we are defending.
“I give us an A. Last year number one in the country and this year number one in the country.”
The Memphis-Dayton game can be seen on ESPN. If the Tigers advance, they will play the winner of the Boise State-Southern Methodist University on March 25.