How does Har­d­away bal­ance the Tigers’ big men?

The Commercial Appeal - - Business - Drew Hill Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

Shortly af­ter Mem­phis closed out its win over South Dakota State Tues­day night, coach Penny Har­d­away lauded the ef­fort of his front­court.

"My­self and coach Sam Mitchell have been chal­leng­ing them to do bet­ter over­all, of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively," Har­d­away said. "They an­swered that chal­lenge tonight."

So don't be com­pletely fooled by the first-year coach's em­pha­sis on the Tigers' guard play. Sure, Har­d­away still be­lieves his speedy back­court is Mem­phis' big­gest strength, but he's cer­tainly not sell­ing his for­wards short.

The coach's sat­is­fac­tion with the group Tues­day came from nearly two dou­ble-dou­ble per­for­mances by junior Isa­iah Mau­rice and se­nior Raynere Thorn­ton. How­ever, the other mem­bers of the front­court, Mike Parks Jr. and Kyvon Daven­port, fell well be­low their sea­son av­er­age in min­utes and scor­ing.

That's be­come a com­mon trend for the Tigers this sea­son. In many ways, the team's bigs are the group with the most game-to-game flux.

Who does Har­d­away play?

Parks, for ex­am­ple, has played fewer

than 10 min­utes twice this sea­son. The first time was in the blowout loss to Ok­la­homa State in Or­lando, and the sec­ond was as a starter in Tues­day's win against SDSU.

The front­court is also the only area Mem­phis has made a switch in the start­ing lineup, re­plac­ing Mau­rice and Daven­port with Parks and Thron­ton last month. But for Har­d­away, fig­ur­ing out how to dis­trib­ute the min­utes among his for­wards each game isn't com­pli­cated.

"I think that these guys are kind of hav­ing their own nights," Har­d­away said Tues­day.

With a team un­der­sized and un­der­manned up front, it's about finding whose night it is and stick­ing with them. Tues­day, it was Mau­rice.

And the way Har­d­away sees it, they can't af­ford to play any other way.

"We have to get all of the hus­tle plays," Har­d­away said of his front­court. "We have to take ad­van­tage of ev­ery op­por­tu­nity that we have."

Finding bal­ance

Coin­ci­den­tally, Har­d­away has found bal­ance by choos­ing the hot hand, too.

Over the last five games, Mem­phis' dis­tri­bu­tion of time at the cen­ter po­si­tion is sur­pris­ingly even. Mau­rice has the slight edge, with Har­d­away us­ing the junior 31 per­cent of the time at cen­ter, while Daven­port (29 per­cent) and Parks (28 per­cent) are close be­hind.

Thorn­ton is a starter and a ma­jor piece to the Mem­phis front­court as well, but takes up 49 per­cent of the team's min­utes at power for­ward, typ­i­cally ac­com­pa­ny­ing Parks or Mau­rice. Each play­ers' dis­tinct im­pact through eight games makes Har­d­away's de­ci­sions on play­ing time even tougher.

Daven­port leads all for­wards in min­utes and points by a wide mar­gin and was the team's sec­ond-lead­ing scorer last sea­son. Nearly 26 per­cent of pos­ses­sions with Daven­port on the floor end in the se­nior's hands, mak­ing him the front­court sta­ple.

Parks boasts Mem­phis' high­est of­fen­sive rat­ing and is first on the team in of­fen­sive re­bound per­cent­age.

Mau­rice, on the other hand, leads the team in blocks, and is com­ing off back-to-back strong per­for­mances against Texas Tech and South Dakota State. While Thorn­ton is Mem­phis' most ver­sa­tile front­court de­fender.

Har­d­away ap­plauded the en­tire group's re­cent ef­fort on the boards Tues­day. Af­ter re­bound­ing seemed to be one of the Tigers' weak­nesses, Mem­phis has now won the bat­tle on the glass each of its last four games.

"Mike has done ex­cep­tion­ally well in games, and then Isa­iah, tonight was his night," Har­d­away said. "When you have those guys, who­ever has it go­ing will play the most."

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.