The college basketball season begins six weeks from Wednesday, which officially marks the beginning of full-fledged practices.
It’s a significant benchmark under the circumstances the country still finds itself in due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, purely from a basketball perspective, many teams have been at it for weeks – including Memphis. The NCAA has now afforded its programs a tiered transition. Since Sept. 21, the Tigers have practiced up to eight hours a week.
Now, teams will have 42 days to practice 30 times. They can spend up to 20 hours a week (no more than four per day with one mandatory off day) on the floor.
Although Memphis isn’t scheduled to begin practice until Thursday, here are three things to monitor as the Tigers close in on the 2020-21 season.
The maturation process
Memphis was the youngest team in the country last season, and it often showed.
The Tigers’ 16.5 turnovers per game were tied for the ninth-most in the country. They were 269th in America with a 67.9 free throw percentage. Both areas – arguably the two most glaring shortcomings for a team that finished 21-10 – are direct reflections of a young, relatively immature roster.
So, what happens when the returning players (D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Boogie Ellis, Alex Lomax, etc.) are that much more seasoned and the majority of the newcomers (Landers Nolley II, DeAndre Williams, Isaiah Stokes, Ahmad Rand) each bring veteran experience with them?
We’ll start to find out when the season begins on Nov. 25.
New year, new blood
Last season, Penny Hardaway was forced to go piecemeal inside after preseason All-American James Wiseman left, freshman Malcolm Dandridge was still bothered by a knee injury and the NCAA did not grant Stokes’ waiver request.
Even Plan B took the occasional hit when quality rebounders like Jeffries and Quinones missed time with injuries.
So, Hardaway addressed the issue by signing the best high school rim protector in the country (6-foot-10 Moussa Cisse, 15.3 rebounds and 9.2 blocks a game at Lausanne last season) and the best junior college shot-blocker in the nation (Rand, 5.0 blocks per game). He signed Nolley – a Virginia Tech transfer who will spend the majority of his time in the backcourt – but the 6-7 athlete is also a proven rebounder (5.8 per game with the Hokies last season).
Then, there’s DeAndre Williams
Memphis is still waiting for the NCAA to rule on the 6-9 Evansville transfer’s immediate eligibility waiver request.
Albeit, far from a guarantee, the Tigers are optimistic Williams – who played for three head coaches last season – will eventually have his application approved. Which could be a significant shot in the arm for Memphis’ prospects this season.
Since his arrival, Williams has already made an impression on those inside Memphis practices and workouts. On top of his skill (15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds in 18 games at Evansville last season), Williams’ high-energy, infectious approach makes him an even more welcome addition and a potential X-factor.
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at email@example.com or on Twitter @munzly.