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Non-Conference Preview: Memphis Tigers

We may not yet known the full slate, but PREVIEWS WAIT FOR NO MAN!

Syndication: The Commercial Appeal Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

While most of you have been impatiently waiting for College Football, I’m staring off into the deep dark horizon hoping to catch first light of the basketball season.

We don’t yet have the full picture of Mizzou’s non-conference slate, but we have a fair picture with a host of games already announced by either Mizzou or their opponent posting their schedule. Or either Rocco Miller or Jon Rothstein tweeting about it... it’s basically one of those four ways that we learn about the schedule.

So here’s what we know so far:

  • November 10th — vs. Memphis
  • November 16th — at Minnesota
  • November 19th — vs. Jackson State
  • November ?? — vs. South Carolina State
  • November 28th — at Pittsburgh (ACC-SEC Challenge)
  • December 3rd — vs. Wichita State
  • December 9th — vs. Kansas
  • December 17th — vs Seton Hall (Kansas City)
  • December 22nd — vs. Illinois (Braggin’ Rights)
  • December 30th — vs. Central Arkansas

In one of the longest known matchups (other than Illinois and Kansas), this preview is over the Memphis Tigers. The 29th best program in the KenPom program ratings since 1997.

If you’re a close follower of College Basketball for teams other than Missouri, you’re probably aware of the great history of Memphis basketball. Some may remember Larry Finch; most will remember the John Calipari resurgence. After all, it was our own Missouri Tigers who throttled one of Cal’s better teams in the Sweet 16 in 2009. It’s been a bit of a rocky journey for the program since Cal left. Josh Pastner didn’t push the program off a cliff, but he did lead a gradual decline where fan impatience in the Tigers being merely good instead of great wasn’t enough.

Pastner was pushed out for Tubby Smith, who did worse. And then Memphis turned to Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. One of the best players in program history, and a former NBA All Star turned grassroots basketball mogul.

Head Coach | Penny Hardaway | 6th Season 111-52

Orlando Magic guard Anfernee Hardaway pumps his fi Photo credit should read BRIAN BAHR/AFP via Getty Images

One of my all-time favorite players to watch, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was an exciting and bouncy combo guard with elite size and athleticism. At 6’8 Hardaway had the size of a small forward but had the ball skills of a point guard and was quick and fast enough to defend the smaller positions. He was creative with the ball and early in his career he teamed with Shaquille O’Neal to form one of the most exciting duos in the NBA during the mid to late 90s.

Most fans of that era will remember the Magic taking down a fresh out of the dugout Michael Jordan in the 1995 playoffs, where Penny averaged over 18 points and led a good Magic team to the NBA Finals in just his second year. But the next season Jordan was back to being Jordan and the Bulls swept the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. Then two things changed the trajectory of Hardaway’s pro career; the first was Shaq bolting for Los Angeles, the next was a serious knee injury. The All-NBA talent was left without his explosiveness and he signed with Phoenix where he played a pretty forgettable five seasons. He was traded to New York and played an even more forgettable two-ish plus seasons. He retired in 2006, came back for a few games in early 2007 and then called it a career for good.

Regardless of how disappointing Hardaway’s professional career ended up, he’s still very much a Memphis legend. His two seasons at Memphis were dazzling, and he has his number retired there.

He got into coaching by accident, eventually investing into the Memphis-based grassroots basketball program which became Team Penny (now Bluffs City, because it’s an NCAA violation for Hardaway to sponsor an AAU team as an NCAA basketball coach). After Calipari left Memphis for Kentucky, the program stalled and there were plenty of fans and donors who called for Penny to take over. The feeling was that he would lead the rebirth of Memphis Basketball. The reality is it’s been ok. He’s done well, but not what they were under Calipari. But there are back-to-back NCAA Tournament bids after missing the previous seven seasons.

Series History | Memphis leads 7-5

NCAA Sweet 16: Missouri Tigers v Memphis Tigers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Unlike a lot of Non-Con opponents, this series actually has a decent history with 12 games being played between them. Although there hasn’t been a face off since a 3rd seeded Mizzou team absolutely pantsed Calipari’s 2nd seeded Memphis team in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. J.T. Tiller led the way with 23 points and Mizzou scored 102 points overall after racing out to an early lead and they just held off Memphis and future NBA Lottery Pick Tyreke Evans the rest of the way.

The two Tigers met in a home and home series in 2002 and 2003 early in Calipari’s tenure while Quin Snyder was at the helm in Columbia. The home teams took each game with Mizzou winning by 15 in 2002, and losing by 2 in 2003.

Prior to that there was a game in 1965, but then the two played consecutively from the 1986 season through the 1993 season. Mizzou lost the first three years, followed that up with three straight wins from 1988 to 1991, and then dropped the last two. The 1992 and 1993 games just happened to coincide with a young Anfernee Hardaway’s time at Memphis.

What about the team now?

San Diego State v Alabama Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After initially going the Calipari route of signing just elite freshman classes, Penny has pivoted to being a killer in the transfer portal. Last season’s team featured one of the oldest teams in the NCAA led by standout guard Kendric Davis. The Tigers played 9 different seniors during the season last year, and they were narrowly edged out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by eventual Final Four participant Florida Atlantic.

And while there’s a significant amount of roster turnover, Hardaway has again leaned hard into the transfer portal to assemble an experienced and deep roster. There are seven players either in their fourth year of college or greater, and that’s not counting DeAndre Williams who is awaiting an appeal on a possible 47th year of college basketball.

I’m only halfway kidding as Williams is 26 years old and graduated high school in 2016 (he would be 27 by the time the season started). He played a prep year after high school, then sat out as a freshman at Evansville. His first season playing was his sophomore season in 2019-20 and was a breakout season which led to him transferring to Memphis for his junior season. So yes, he’s technically played four seasons with one of those years being during the COVID year which didn’t count.

While Williams is a question mark, Jahvon Quinerly isn’t. Quinerly can be streaky, but Mizzou fans are more than familiar with his skill after watching him play at Alabama the last few years. Quinerly is joined by former Florida State and Houston guard Caleb Mills. Additionally, former 5-star center Jordan Brown should star in the front court after dominating the Sun Belt the last few years at Louisiana.

Hardaway also added Jaykwon Walton, a rangy combo wing who can stretch the floor, and one of the hottest commodities in the portal this offseason was NOVA Southeastern (D2) wing Jonathan Pierre. Pierre is long at 6’9 and can shoot the ball with significant range.

Penny has the looks of what should be another tournament team, especially if Williams gets cleared for another season.