Memphis has issues, but Tennessee’s actually good
Maybe now we know why Josh Pastner won’t schedule Tennessee.
No. 8 Memphis, who came into the Maui Invitational as one of the favorites, lost to Michigan in the first round as the Wolverines ran offense and defense that was simply too complex for them. In Tuesday’s bounce back game against Tennessee, the Tigers opened up a 14 point first half lead, but were never able to put away the Vols. Jeronne Maymon, who finished with 32 points and 20 rebounds in what can probably be deemed a breakout game, tied the game at the end of regulation on a swooping drive to the rim, but the Tigers pulled away in the second overtime and held on to win, 99-97.
Before I get into the issues with Memphis, let me get this out there -- Tennessee is not as bad as you think they are. They might even be a top six team in the SEC. Trae Golden is a talent at the point, and while he didn’t shoot well against Memphis, he still managed to dish out seven assists without turning the ball over. Jordan McRae and Cam Tatum are talented perimeter players that are both capable of providing a scoring pop. Tennessee has a big front line that can play physical.
And, of course, there is Maymon. The 6'7" combo-forward has gotten himself into shape, and when he’s playing like he did today, he’s a force. He’s strong enough and aggressive enough to work on the glass, but he’s has enough perimeter skills to knock down a jumper and put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. The basket that tied the game in regulation came as Cuonzo Martin ran Maymon off of a down screen. The kid will be a matchup nightmare as long as he is buying into the offense.
Most importantly, however, Martin has gotten this team to play hard and play tough. They embody the persona of their coach, and that’s a good thing with their new head coach.
Memphis is going to have issues all season long. From a talent perspective, I’m not sure that there are five teams that are better than them.
The issue isn’t talent, however. To be frank, I’m not sure that this team has much, if any, basketball smarts. They don’t know how to play. The loss they suffered to Michigan is evidence of that. The Tigers were clueless against the offensive sets that the Wolverines ran and couldn’t function against the junk zone that John Beilein runs.
Against Tennessee, Memphis took a big first half lead because the Vols let them thrive off of their talent. Memphis was forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. They turned it into a glorified AAU game, and that’s where they are effective. But in the second half, as Tennessee gained control of the tempo and turned the game into a half court dog fight, the Vols were able to fight back.
The biggest issue is that I’m not sure the Tigers have the coaching staff to really teach these kids how to play or convince them play within a defined system. Josh Pastner is a terrific recruiter, but in terms of x’s-and-o’s, the youthful head coach still has a ways to go. His assistants aren’t much better. He has two NBA players in Damon Stoudamire and Luke Walton and a third assistant in Jack Murphy that is also known as a recruiter.
Until Memphis learns things like what a good shot is and what a bad foul is -- or, most importantly, how to consistently give great effort for 40 minutes -- the Tigers are going to be a group of underachievers.