Memphis Basketball needs to figure out their offensive struggles if they have any hope of competing in March.
Memphis Basketball hopes to reach their first NCAA tournament during the Penny Hardaway era but it seems they hit yet another roadblock against Auburn. Prior to their matchup against Auburn, the Tigers dropped two games to Western Kentucky and VCU which caused a bit of concern for the future success of the team. Questions about where their offense would come outside of Boogie Ellis and DJ Jeffries emerged and has been the swing factor in their long term success.
Even though the score may be deceiving, tonight was no exception. The Memphis Tigers hung tough with Auburn but came up a bit short when time expired. Looking into the detail of the game two major takeaways stick out from tonight’s loss.
Memphis has the stars to lead them to victory during the season and into March. Jeffries and Ellis have both shown, at times, they can carry the scoring load when the rest of the team struggles on the offensive end. However, if Memphis is not efficient on offense they have no path to victory.
The Tigers lost by three to an Auburn team that is far from an offensive juggernaut. Both teams shot poorly from the field, the arc, and the free throw line despite both scoring over 70 points by the end of the game. The reason efficiency is such an important aspect is because Memphis seemed to dominate every other aspect of the game.
As a team, Memphis had more total rebounds, offensive rebounds, assists, steals, second-chance points, and points off turnovers in the game and still found themselves on the losing end of the contest. It is because even though the team led the game in second-chance points and points off turnover, the team still shot poorly from the field (38%) behind the arc (29%), and from the line (48%).
The most glaring issues within those percentages are that if Memphis had only shot 15/23 from the line, which is 65%, the team would have won the game by one. Memphis would have also been able to win the game if they converted only two of their 11 extra chances (Auburn had 60 total FGs while Memphis had 71 FG).
These inefficient percentages need to be improved upon if the team looks to continue to win games during the season and find themselves in the tournament. The flow of the game impacts these extra chances and the number of field goal attempts by Memphis may be a bit deceiving, but the point of efficiency rings true.
Defense is key
The Auburn Tigers have not been great this year and are currently not projected to be in the 64 teams selected to participate in March. The loss to Auburn has put the Memphis Tigers on the brink of being one of the last four teams in or even falling out of tournament contention altogether.
As the offensive sputters and Jeffries and Ellis struggle to keep the team afloat on the scoreboard, the team can fall back on their defensive ability to help relieve some of that offensive pressure.
If Memphis has any chance of being able to compete in their upcoming games they will need to continue to build on their recent defensive intensity. Currently ranked in the top 25 for defensive efficiency the team has shown they have a solid backbone that can support offensive struggles, to an extent.
Tonight the team was kept in the game by their nose for the ball, tallying 12 steals which helped lead to easy points on the open floor. If this continues and Memphis is able to crack the code on their offensive struggles Penny Hardaway should find their way into the NCAA tournament with the reputation of being a hard-nosed defensive team.
In a worst-case scenario, the team falters on defense. Lacking offensive efficiency combined with a faltering defense would spell disaster for the Memphis Tigers and would surely take them out of contention for an NCAA tournament bid.
The Tigers should get back to their winnings ways in their next three games with matchups against Tulsa, USF, and Temple. Playing in the American Athletic Conference allows Memphis to work on their team dynamic while facing teams that may not have a hope of playing in any type of postseason this year, excluding Houston. If the Tigers are able to improve their offensive efficiency and stay focused on the defensive end, they will have no problem turning the season around.