When the Tigers took the court this past Saturday they did so with a great chance to send a message. Everyone who follows the University of Memphis and AAC basketball as a whole knew this SMU matchup had all the makings of a trap game. SMU would try to slow things down and force the Tigers to run a half court offense, which is often an absolute disaster due to the Tigers total disregard for off-ball movement.
However, through the first 20 minutes Memphis seemed to be up for the challenge. They went into the half tied but then as the second half started it didn’t take long to realize that it was all a mirage. Things got ugly as SMU went on a parade of layups and uncontested three point shots. That is not hyperbole either, SMU had 14 layups and six made three point shots in the second half.
The problem as this writer sees it is that the Tigers have no clue what their identity is as a team. What do they hang their hat on? What is one thing they do really well that you can rely on in every game? The fact is that it seems like every time we see this team we see something different.
They are like the old “It’s Pat” skits from Saturday Night Live. We don’t know what they heck they really are.
The Tigers are sitting in a decent spot at 16-5 considering they don’t really have any losses to bad teams. The problem is that outside of the two-point loss to Florida, all of their other losses were in games that they were never competitive in down the stretch. And I really think that has everything to do with their lack of an identity. Josh Pastner is primarily a man-to-man defensive guy but yet he was hell bent on that zone defense that kept getting abused in the second half against SMU. It’s not that you can’t change things up to fit the matchups in each game, it’s just that if you’re having to rely on a zone defense that isn’t even stopping SMU that’s a problem.
And the sad thing is that I don’t really even see this team’s defensive struggles as a lack of effort. They play pretty hard, pretty consistently for the most part. But if this team is going to make a run down the stretch in the AAC and into the NCAA Tournament, they are going to have to find something to hang their hats on. They are going to have to find a way to be consistently good at something. They are going to have to find a way to move around on offense when they can’t play in transition. And they are going to have to actually get some stops if they ever want to see a transition opportunity again.
It’s not all gloom and doom because they lost to SMU. Many of us saw that as a decent possibility. It’s more about the way things went, and have gone in the games they have lost.
Looking ahead the Tigers will have a middle of the road Rutgers team to rebound against on Tuesday before ESPN’s College GameDay comes to town this Saturday for the Gonzaga matchup. I still think there is time for things to start really clicking but it’s going to have to start sooner rather than later if they are going to have any rhythm going into the postseason.