BROOKLYN, NY --- Friday night, The Iowa State Cyclones defeated the Memphis Tigers in The Preseason NIT Championship Game by a final score of 78-59 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
For a program that did not win a single Big 12 Conference game last year, first year Cyclones Head Coach TJ Otzelberger has been coaching his tail off since he arrived in Aimes. The results are showing. Iowa State has started the season 5-0 for the first time since 2015-2016 and picked up two victories this week in Brooklyn over two projected NCAA Tournament teams in Xavier and Memphis.
Coach Otz, has done a phenomenal job bringing in new talent such as transfers Gabe Kalscheur from Minnesota, Isaiah Brockington from Penn State, Tristan Enaruna from Kansas and four-star freshman point guard Tyrese Hunter. Kalscheur was key in the Cyclones victory Friday over Memphis with 30 points on 10/18 shooting from the field and 3/5 from three. Brockington carried the load for the Cyclones in their first victory Wednesday night when he had 30 points in the victory against Xavier. Both of these Cyclones were selected to the event’s All-Tournament Team. The Cyclones play a nice team brand of basketball and will be a tough out in the Big 12 this year. Props to Coach Otz.
Really though, that isn’t the story from the two games at Barclay’s Center though, nor the reason that you came to read this article.
Instead, what Friday night was about was the Memphis Tigers.
By now, we all know their story. They came into the 2021-2022 season as one of the most interesting and polarizing teams in the country. No one will deny the natural talent of guys like Emoni Bates, Jalen Duran, Landers Nolley, DeAndre Williams, Lester Quinones and others.
But it’s time to state the truth about Memphis. For as much talent as they have, they still have a lot to prove in order to live up to the hype they’re getting and the start of this season hasn’t been a great sign that some of the problems this team is facing can be fixed.
Since Penny Hardaway arrived in Memphis, he has always been really good at bringing in elite talent. However, it is what you do with that talent which makes you a success or failure as a head coach and over the past three seasons Penny Hardaway hasn’t won nearly enough considering the guys he has brought in. The fact that he once famously said "we want all the smoke" only put a target on his back, one that he has never really been able to shake off with any type of truly meaningful win.
The bottom line is that Penny Hardaway came into this season officially out of excuses. This team is too talented not to make the NCAA Tournament and really many have been saying that for the past two seasons. Expectations have not been met, period.
So what went wrong on Friday night?
Emoni Bates running the point for the Tigers did not work against the Cyclones, as he finished with 12 Points, one rebound and zero assists. From the start of this game it was clear that the Tigers were lacking that true playmaker to not only lead the team and find good looks for others but also to avoid turning the ball over. Iowa State did a really good job taking advantage of the 22 Memphis Turnovers by scoring 23 points off of those turnovers. It certainly didn't help the player who could've played that role, Boogie Ellis transferred out this off-season and is currently averaging 17 points per game for the USC Trojans.
The lack of a true playmaker at point guard led to the Tigers overall struggles on that end of the floor. Put simply, Memphis was basically running an AAU style iso based offense and it showed in the final stats Friday. The Tigers shot just 36 percent from the field, and had just eight assists compared to those 22 turnovers.
Beyond that, watching courtside on Friday night, something else was evident. One consistent struggle I have noticed with Memphis since Penny Hardaway has arrived has been that sometimes it feels like he brings in a little too much talent, which has led to the Tigers having no chemistry or consistent roles for anyone. Many people thought going into this season, with two guys as naturally gifted of Bates and Duran plus 6 returners from last year's team that actually ended the season pretty nicely, roles would be clearer and the chemistry would be better but that hasn’t been the case.
Memphis was able to sneak out a win over Virginia Tech on the opening night of this tournament on Wednesday using their defense - which to the credit of Hardaway has been his team's strength since he's arrived. The Tigers held the Hokies to just 34 percent shooting, which masked some of the Tigers' own offensive problems. Credit to Memphis for getting it done in a game which their offense wasn’t clicking but that is the ultimate concern with this team.
Still, no matter how good your defense is, when you play the better teams in the country, if you are not able to score you will not be able to win. Memphis will travel to Athens, Georgia on Wednesday for their first true road game of the season against the Bulldogs followed by a trip to Ole Miss and another Neutral Court game against Alabama shortly after.
If the Tigers continue to play anywhere near the way they played during the first two games of the Preseason NIT they’re in serious trouble.
Follow Zac Krull on Twitter @ZacKrull