The Memphis Tiger hoops season started in encouraging fashion with a 97-81 win over Belmont. A win bolstered by the fact that the same Belmont team nearly beat Duke in Cameron Indoor. No doubt the Tigers looked impressive but as is custom many fans are prepared to define the season based on one game.
So of the storylines that emerged from game one, which are legitimate and which are less likely to continue?
What We Know For Sure
The throwback uniforms are a huge hit.
The truth is that no one can be entirely certain which on-court developments will continue. That said, this section is dedicated to some seriously impressive uniforms.
The reaction from the fan base as well as the national media was overwhelmingly positive.
While it seems unlikely Nike will make them available for purchase, there are a number of fans actively petitioning for the right to buy one. Of course, it needs to be said that if you do get a hold of one it is not acceptable for a grown man to wear a basketball jersey unless he is being paid to do so. Get it signed, frame it, buy one for your kid but just don’t wear it in public. No one wants to see that.
Likely to Continue
The emergence of Joe Jackson
Jackson played great in the Belmont game but there are other reasons for optimism. The first being that he showed a glimpse of what he can be at the end of last season. Jackson is undersized and that isn’t going to change but he has elite speed and good instincts in the open floor.
What went wrong last year? Well, the notion is overused in sports but he legitimately seemed to lose his swagger. For a small guard like Jackson, confidence is vital. Not only did he look different on the court against Belmont, he sounds completely different. The difference between this year and last year when he talks about his game is night and day. Is he going to put up twenty points a night? Highly unlikely but I expect him to be a much improved floor general and play with more poise.
Will Barton’s improved control
After the exhibitions and the Belmont game this is the prediction I feel most confident making. Barton looks like a completely different player. In terms of physical stature Barton may be the least changed of the group. He is still very lean but that is what he is going to be. His game however looks much improved.
Last year Barton showed flashes of what made him a top recruit coming out of high school but he was erratic. He was the kind of player who made you nervous when he put the ball on the floor because he was often playing out of control. With the exception of a couple plays, it seems as if not only has he gained control but has done so without sacrificing aggression.
He seems to have eliminated the herky-jerky juke moves, instead opting to drive straight at the goal. As a result he isn’t avoiding contact and throwing up a wild shot, but instead forcing the referee to call a foul. This newfound control allows him to be more versatile in his scoring. Against Belmont Barton scored in a variety of ways, which is important for an offense that often became stagnant and one-dimensional last season.
Foul issues for the bigs
This one is simple, The Tigers are incredibly deep at the wing but Tarik Black and Stan Simpson are the only two true big men in the rotation. Black had issues with fouls last season and the Belmont game continued the pattern. Unless he and Simpson can learn to stay out of foul trouble the Tigers will be forced to frequently adjust their game plan. Wesley Witherspoon and Adonis Thomas can both slide down to fill the hole but they are at their best on the wings. I expect the Tigers may struggle with teams that have quality big men.
The lethal transition offense
Speed was always there, but spacing and quality decision-making were not. Speed is useless if you don’t how to use it. Credit the staff for improving the spacing and educating the players on how to run the break. There will be nights when this team absolutely runs their opponent out of the gym.
Less likely to continue
Wesley Witherspoon’s energy and scoring
I’ve been fooled enough times. Witherspoon’s talent has never been in doubt. His desire and focus are a different story. After his sensational game one performance many want to believe he finally “gets it”. In addition to scoring 20 points he was passionate and vocal. I’m not ready to buy in for a couple reasons.
It’s easy to be motivated at the beginning of something.
I’m not surprised he was energized. If you aren’t energized for the first game of the year then when will you be?
He was raining jumpers early. He was 3 of 3 behind the arc and while he did shoot a good percentage last year that isn’t his game. Maybe he found his stroke and he will knock them down all season or maybe he will fall in love with the jumper and forget to drive the lane.
Lastly, it’s easy to be a good guy when everything is going right. Maybe he has changed his attitude but if he has this wasn’t the type of game that would reveal it. I’m waiting on the game when he struggles and loses some minutes to one of the young guys. If he keeps his head in the game, cheers on his teammates and looks more like Tony Allen and less like a toddler in timeout then I will start to believe.
Three point prowess
Against Belmont the Tigers shot 50 percent from three. Obviously, that isn’t going to continue. That isn’t a concern but how it affects the offense could be. Belmont was forced to extend the defense, opening up the driving lanes for Memphis. On a night when the three isn’t falling it will be important that the Tigers continue to move the ball and avoid the stand-around offense that plagued them last season.
To Be Determined
Adonis Thomas’ role/impact
The highly anticipated freshman looked rattled early. He looked uncertain and made a couple mistakes including a terrible pass resulting in a turnover. However, in the second half Thomas seemed to have gotten rid of the butterflies and settled in. He was impressive, scoring in a variety of ways and remaining active on defense.
What impact he will have remains to be seen. His skill set is an excellent fit for this team and he needs to be good if this team is going to make a deep tourney run. Regardless of what he becomes his road will be much easier than last year’s freshman.
What struck me was after Thomas made his early mistakes he took a seat, regrouped and then felt his way back into the game. That is luxury last year’s freshmen were not afforded. That should make a big difference for Thomas and for this team.