The Commercial Appeal
Memphis takes aim at AAC tourney title
What will it take for Memphis basketball to bring home an AAC Tournament championship?
“Mental and physical toughness. It’s not gonna be about Xs and Os,” coach Penny Hardaway said Tuesday.
The Tigers (23-8) are headed to Fort Worth this week for the conference tournament. They are the No. 2 seed and will face the UCF-SMU winner Friday (6 p.m., ESPNU) in the quarterfinals. It is the start of what Hardaway hopes will be a special March Madness run.
Before that, though, let’s dive into the mailbag and address some of the more pressing items on fans’ minds.
If we run the American, do we get a 7 seed? If not, do we rest our players and play for a 10 seed? − Todd Cohen, via Tiger Basketball Insiders text group
It’s not out of the question. The Tigers, as of Tuesday, are listed on all 113 of the bracket projections tracked by Bracketmatrix.com. Their average position is 9.38, which leaves them as the fourth 9 seed as we enter conference tournament week.
The general consensus is Memphis is teetering right along the 9-10 seed line. ESPN’S Joe Lunardi has the Tigers as a 9 seed. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm has them as a 10. Bracketville’s Dave Ommen has Memphis as the second No. 9 on his most recent seed list.
So, I’m not convinced a 3-0 week with a win over Houston on Sunday won’t get the Tigers to a 7 seed. But it might be a longshot, even with an AAC title. And, to answer the second question: No way, no how.
Thoughts on Chandler Lawson’s emergence rebounding lately? − Brigman Bell, via Tiger Basketball Insiders text group
The Tigers’ senior Lawson has put together back-to-back games with really solid performances. He tied a careerhigh with 12 rebounds in last week’s win at SMU, then scored 10 points and grabbed five boards against Houston at home.
I’m not sure it’s any coincidence that his play has picked up as big man Malcolm Dandridge has gotten healthy and seen his minutes increase. Not that Lawson is only just now coming on. He has had several games this season where he has provided some vitally important minutes.
But Lawson’s 12 rebounds against SMU was the first time he has hit double-digits this season, and his 10 points versus Houston was only the third time he has reached double-digits there.
Having Dandridge back and playing well gives Lawson a bit more freedom to focus on fewer responsibilities, which is paying off for him.
Do you know if Penny has scheduled SEC out-of-conference games again for next season? − John Abram, via Tiger Basketball Insiders text group
The Tigers already have a number of SEC games on the books for the 2023-24 season.
Memphis will host Vanderbilt and meet Texas A&M (Dec. 17) and Ole Miss
on the road. There’s also a chance the Tigers will square off against Arkansas since both teams are part of the field at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas (Nov. 22-24).
The schedule for that multi-team event has not yet been set.
There have been rumblings that Memphis might also be in talks with Missouri on a home-and-home series beginning next season. Mississippi State is another one to potentially keep an eye on, too.
What is the latest on Keonte Kennedy’s return? − Tom Jennings, via Tiger Basketball Insiders text group
Chances are the senior wing, who broke his right hand last month, will not be healthy enough to return this season − no matter how far Memphis goes in the NCAA Tournament.
Hardaway said last week that Kennedy was due to see a doctor on Tuesday to possibly have the pins in his right hand removed.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, Hardaway did not have an update on how the doctor’s visit went. But he formally ruled Kennedy out for this week’s AAC Tournament.
“Hopeful for postseason, for sure, because we need him back,” he said. “But I don’t know how long that process is gonna take. But, if it’s possible, we’ll take it.”
Why didn’t Alex Lomax participate in senior day?
His eligibility is up right? − Marlon Hawkins, via Tiger Basketball Insiders text group
Yes, Lomax will not have any more collegiate eligibility left after this season.
He told reporters last week since he was recognized during last season’s senior ceremony, he was not going to participate this season.
Will Penny be targeting the NCAA portal in order to find another elite point guard/lead guard to replace Kendric? − Tigerdiehard, via Tiger Basketball Insiders text group
Memphis will explore the transfer portal for options at a variety of spots, including point guard.
You might say, “But, wait, I thought the Tigers signed 4-star Ty-laur Johnson to play point guard next season.”
The fact of the matter is Johnson has not yet signed his National Letter of Intent.
Now, that doesn’t mean he won’t. He might do so on the very first day he can (which is April 12).
But, if a player like Kendric Davis pops up in the portal and Memphis has a shot at him, the Tigers are going to entertain the prospect.
Hardaway will also be on the lookout within the portal for a big man, a wing and possibly more.
Does Memphis have any 2024 commits? − Patrick Jordan, via Tiger Basketball Insiders text group
Not presently, no. But I’ve got a feeling that’ll be changing within the next month or so.
Five-star Naas Cunningham (6-7), 4star Billy Richmond III (6-5), 4-star Curtis Givens III (6-2) and 4-star Tyler Betsey (6-8) are among the Tigers’ top priorities in the 2024 class.
Cunningham took an unofficial visit to Memphis in February and was on hand for the team’s thrilling win over UCF.
Richmond (a Memphis native) and Betsey were both at Fedexforum for Sunday’s game against No. 1 Houston, alongside a few other recruits. Givens, who plays for Montverde, is also a native of Memphis.