Talented Memphis wants to end drought in NCAA tournaments

FILE – In this Jan 25, 2020, file photo, Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway calls to players in an NCAA basketball game against SMU in Memphis, Tenn. Hardaway thinks he’s got just the right mix of young players and veterans for Memphis to chase the Tigers’ first national championship. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill, File)

Memphis has received many elite recruits, but still hasn’t received an entry to the NCAA tournament during Penny Hardway’s coaching.

Perhaps this is a year that will change.

Memphis is bringing back three of its top five scorers from the team that won NIT last season, as well as entering the nation’s No. 1 recruitment rankings on the 247Sports composite site rankings. The 12th-placed Tigers hope this combination will be their first NCAA appearance since 2014.

“No matter what they say, you only win big when you have really good players,” said Hardway, who starts his fourth season in Memphis with a 63-32 record. “And with the lineup we have now, we have really good players.”

Memphis tops our list of teams that have a great chance of making the NCAA this season after failing to get there in 2021.

The six-member Tigers freshman class includes the top two 6’9 ”rookies, striker Amoni Bates (# 4 in the 247Sports Composite) and 6-11 center Jalen Duren (# 5).

This is not the first time Hardaway has introduced the # 1 recruiting class to the country.

Memphis also had the highest-rated class in 2019 with James Wiseman playing just three games before leaving school to prepare for the start of his professional career. This team won 12 of their first 13 games, but gradually lost and probably would not have received an NCAA application even if the pandemic had not stopped the postseason.

The team looks more balanced this year.

The Tigers bring back Landers Knolly II, who earned the All-American Athletic Conference first team honorary titles and was NIT’s Most Outstanding Player. Hardway believes the postseason run helped, even if he didn’t show up for the NCAA tournament.

“The kids who came back, who came back from this experience, they know that they are champions first and foremost, and they know what they want now,” said Hardway. “They want more.”

Hardway has also added some stars to his coaching staff by hiring Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown and four-time NBA All-Star Rashid Wallace.

There is still an irregularity case hanging over the Memphis program over Wiseman’s hiring, but that may be the biggest issue complicating the Tigers’ postseason hopes.

Memphis has more than enough talent on site to end the NCAA drought.

Many regular NCAA tournament players did not go dancing during the unusual 2020-21 pandemic season. Here’s a look at some of the other schools looking to get NCAA applications this season, even though they didn’t do it in 2021.

ARIZONA

This traditional strength hasn’t been used in NCAA tournaments since exiting the first round in 2018. Arizona’s 17-9 record would probably have merit a bid last season, but school authorities have imposed a postseason ban related to a pending NCAA rule violation case. … Arizona could end the drought under the leadership of freshman and former Gonzaga aide Tommy Lloyd. The Wildcats will need big returning players Bennedict Maturin, Azoulas Tubelis and Christian Koloko to step forward. Arizona also added transfers for Umar Ballo (formerly at Gonzaga), Pelle Larsson (Utah) and Justin Keira (Georgia).

NO. 22 AUBURN

After replacing the core of the team that received the school’s first Final Four bid in 2019, Auburn dropped to 13-14 last season. Auburn has already put himself in a postseason ban for 2020-21, but the Tigers still wouldn’t have earned a bid. Since then, Auburn has expanded its roster with transfers from Walker Kessler (formerly based in North Carolina), Wendell Green, Jr. (Eastern Kentucky), C.D. Johnson (Georgia) and Zep Jasper (Charleston), as well as a freshman class featuring Jabari Smith, Nationality No. 6 avenue in its class according to the 247Sports Composite.

NO. 9 DUKE

The Duke decided to end the season in the midst of a conference tournament on the Atlantic Coast after testing positive for COVID-19. The Blue Devils were only 13-11 at the time and probably needed to win the ACC to extend their 24 straight run in the NCAA. The Blue Devils are set to start a new streak in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season before retirement. In Duke First Class, there are three Top 25 recruits – Paolo Banchero (No. 2), A.J. Griffin (No. 17) and Trevor Keels (No. 22). Duke brings back 7ft Mark Williams and adds Marquette to transfer Theo John.

INDIANA

Indiana is out of the 12-15 season and hasn’t made it to the NCAA tournament since reaching the regional semi-finals in 2016. But this team is surrounded by new energy with the arrival of freshman coach Mike Woodson, a former NBA player and coach. who played at Hoosiers from 1976 to 1980. Indiana also features the Associated Press’s Preseason Game of All America preseason Trace Jackson-Davis, who averaged 19.1 points and 9 rebounds last season.

NO. 10 KENTUKI

Kentucky walked 9-16 last year and finished below 0.500 for the first time since 1988-89. The NCAA tournament was held without Kentucky for the first time since 2013. But there is reason to believe that this was a deviation, and not the beginning of a trend. Kentucky has attracted two of the top 15 recruits – TaiTe Washington and Daimion Collins – but the Wild Cats won’t rely on freshmen as much as they usually do. The Kentucky lineup includes several returning players, including sixth year Davion Mintz, as well as transfers Oscar Chibwe (West Virginia), CJ Fredrick (Iowa), Kellan Grady (Davidson) and Sakhwir Wheeler (Georgia).

XAVIER

Xavier played 12 NCAA tournaments in 13 years from 2006 to 18, but has not returned since. Xavier went 13-8 last season and brought back the team’s seven top scorers. The list of Musketeers returning include Paul Scruggs and Zach Fremantle, who were the second-best teams in the Greater East last season.

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Follow Steve Megargee at https://twitter.com/stevemegargee

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