Memphis Tigers

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Friday’s College Basketball Recap: North Carolina outlasts Duke, Ayton stars and the drama continues at Memphis

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How good is Deandre Ayton?

The 7-foot-1 freshman put up 32 points and 14 rebounds as Arizona defeated UCLA, 78-67 in overtime. He made 13 of 16 shots and 5 of 6 from the line while also posting three assists and a pair of blocks and steals each.

Simply, he was dominant. And that’s something we need to talk more about.

There will be debates in draft rooms across the NBA about who to take No. 1, but Ayton continues to make his case that it should be a short conversation. Luka Doncic could very well be awesome, Marvin Bagley III is great and Michael Porter, Jr. is intriguing, but Ayton has put up huge numbers night in and night out for a team embroiled in chaos more often than not.

He was great again. And he’s the player of the day.


  • JORDAN DAVIS, Northern Colorado: Who cares what his numbers were. He did this. If you don’t click that link, you’re depriving yourself of one of life’s greatest gifts.
  • KYRON CARTWRIGHT, Providence: Had 15 points, six assists and drew a charge that might have cost Xavier its No. 1 seed.
  • LUKE MAYE, North Carolina: The senior had 17 points, 10 rebounds , four assists and three steals as the Tar Heels survived a late run by rival Duke to win a spot in the ACC title game.
  • MAKOL MAWIEN, Kansas State: The Wildcats lost to Kansas, but not because of Mawien, who had 29 points on 13 of 19 shooting.

BUBBLE BANTER: Everything that happened on the cut-line


Remember when Alabama lost five-straight to finish the year and entered the SEC tournament on the bubble? After Collin Sexton’s heroics Thursday and domination Friday, that seems like an awfully long time ago.

The Crimson Tide got 31 points and seven boards from Sexton and defeated rival Auburn, 81-63, to not only strengthen their NCAA tournament team, but to suddenly have a look of a team that should have top seeds running scared.

It’s amazing what a difference a couple of days in March can make.


There are plenty of candidates for this one given what a wildly entertaining day Friday was, but let’s give it to a game that was decidedly uncompetitive.

San Diego State 90, No. 22 Nevada 73. Final.

The Aztecs led by as many as 30 and just ran roughshod over a really good Wolf Pack team. All five SDSU starters scored in double figures and they shot 51.9 percent as a team. Now they’ve got a shot to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015.

That’s good news for the Mountain West, which instantly just became a multi-bid league, but it’s really bad news for the teams hovering around the cut line.


Tubby Smith’s lawyer accused Penny Hardaway of sabotage.

Yeah, you read that right. the Memphis coach’s long-time attorney threw a pretty big allegation in Hardaway’s direction, positing that the potential Smith replacement and the leader of grassroots powerhouse Team Penny has been steering high-level Memphis kids away from their hometown team.

It’s quite the accusation, but it’s also kind of a self-own. Smith’s lawyer is essentially admitting that Memphis would maybe, probably, potentially be getting Memphis kids – highly-ranked Memphis kids – if Hardaway took over the program. Even if there is something underhanded going on – and there doesn’t appear to be any evidence right now there is – telling the world your guy is essentially getting out-recruited by the favored replacement isn’t exactly a winning strategy. Especially on a day that Memphis was, ya know, actually winning.


Bruce Pearl got mad.

The federal investigation into college basketball has been awfully quiet – aside from leaks detailing ASM Sports’ business plan – but the feds apparently aren’t done digging. The Raleigh News & Observer reported Friday that NC State has been served with a subpoena seeking documents.

Virginia remains a total buzzsaw.

Mississippi State’s Nick Weatherspoon suffered what looked to be a very scary injury when a Tennessee player inadvertently stepped on his head. The school later announced that the freshman, whose brother is a junior on the team, was awake and had feeling throughout his body.

Tubby Smith vs. Penny Hardaway intensifies at Memphis

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There are plenty of reasons that Memphis might fire Tubby Smith after this season. Attendance is way down, the Tigers are set to miss the NCAA tournament for a second-straight year and the general health of the program is in question after losses to the likes of East Carolina and South Florida.

Plus, recruiting hasn’t been very good. Smith’s 2017 class featured a bunch of marginal recruits and junior college players. Things don’t look much better in 2018. So while the present isn’t great for Memphis, the future, in large part because of the recruiting, isn’t exactly appearing bright.

Well, Smith’s long-time attorney has a theory why recruiting may be such a struggle for Smith, and he points the finger at his rumored potential successor, Penny Hardaway, who heads the ultra-loaded grassroots program Team Penny in Memphis.

“If you’ve got somebody that wants the job and they’re controlling most of the talent in the city, I’m not casting aspersions. I’ll let you draw conclusions,” Ricky Lefft told the Memphis Commercial Appeal on Friday “But (Smith) gets hit with by the local media that he’s not getting the Memphis kids. They’re recruiting the Memphis kids. They’re bringing them on official visits. They’re making the phone calls. They’re going to the games. They’re talking to the parents.

“It would only be speculation on my part on what’s going on there, but it’s the worst kept secret in America that (Hardaway) wanted the job and there may come a time when coach has exited that he’ll get the job.”

Team Penny currently has four players ranked in the top 100 in the 2019 class, and Smith hasn’t signed a Memphis kid in his two years on the job.

Whether it’s the case that Hardaway, a Memphis alum and former NBA all-star, is actually keeping kids from joining his alma mater as some point of leverage to drive Smith out is obviously unclear, but it’s a pretty pointed accusation to make. For Smith’s representation to say it to a newspaper is incredibly bold and probably a pretty good indication of how much jeopardy Smith’s job is with the Tigers.

The other thing is that it also serves as an indirect recommendation of the job for Hardaway. If he could keep kids from Memphis, it stands to reason he could get them there if he were the Tigers’ coach. Which would certainly help make the program more competitive.

Aside from throwing speculation Hardaway’s way, Lefft also claimed that Memphis brass told Smith that the Tigers were headed for the Big 12 when they lured him away from Texas Tech two years ago.

The first thing they told him is we’re going to the Big 12. It’s pretty much a lock,” he said. “He gets there and all of a sudden it appears as though they were never really a contender.

“There’s some people that now sit on the board that are some pretty significant folks, along with the president and both the athletic administrators who were part of the process, and (they) represented to him that this was going to happen.”

While the claims and innuendo are hard to prove or confirm, one thing is clear after Thursday – reporters should talk to Lefft more often.

Thornton, Rivers lead Memphis past No. 23 Houston

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Jimario Rivers and Raynere Thornton each scored 21 points, helping Memphis beat No. 23 Houston 91-85 on Thursday night.

Rivers also grabbed nine rebounds and Thornton made four 3-pointers as Memphis (17-11, 8-7 American Athletic Conference) earned its third straight victory.

Rob Gray had 30 points and seven assists for Houston (21-6, 11-4), which entered the Top 25 this week for the first time this season. Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr. each scored 15 points.

The Cougars led 43-37 at halftime, but they shot 32.3 percent from the field in the second half. The Tigers made 54 percent of their shots while rallying for the victory.

Memphis went ahead to stay with a 22-8 surge that made it 76-68 on Mike Parks Jr.’s basket with 6:28 remaining. The Tigers closed it out at the line, making 29 of 36 attempts for the game.

Houston had won five in a row. It went 18 of 20 at the line.


Houston: The Cougars, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the conference, went 4 for 15 from beyond the arc in the second half. They also surrendered their most points this season.

Memphis: Leading scorer Jeremiah Martin left in the first half with a lower body injury. Thornton picked up the scoring after the break, scoring 19 points in the second half.


Houston: Entertains East Carolina on Sunday.

Memphis: Travels to UConn on Sunday

AAC plan men’s basketball tourney at new Texas arena in ’20

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The American Athletic Conference will hold its men’s basketball tournament in a new arena in North Texas in 2020.

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco announced Wednesday that Dickies Arena in Fort Worth has been selected to host the tournament for three years, starting in March 2020. That is only four months after the facility is scheduled to open.

On the same day of a groundbreaking ceremony for the 14,000-seat arena last April, the NCAA announced that first- and second-round games of the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament would be held there. The NCAA women’s gymnastics championships are scheduled there from 2020-22.

The closest AAC school to the new arena is SMU, with its campus in Dallas about 40 miles away.

Orlando will host the 2018 AAC tournament, which moves to Memphis in 2019.

Markel Crawford becomes sixth Memphis player to transfer this offseason

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Memphis lost another experienced player from its program on Monday as guard Markel Crawford said on ESPN 929 local radio that he will transfer from the Tigers.

The 6-foot-5 Crawford averaged 12.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game last season for the Tigers as head coach Tubby Smith loses another proven scorer.

Crawford is the sixth player to transfer from Memphis this offseason after the departure of the Lawson brothers, big man Chad Rykhoek, and guards Craig Randall and Keon Clergeot.

Dedric and K.J. Lawson committed to Kansas on Monday as they have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. If Crawford graduates from Memphis then he is eligible to immediately become a graduate transfer who can play anywhere next season.

Smith is going to have to completely rebuild the Memphis roster after losing so many key pieces to transfer. It will be interesting to see how the roster fills out before the season.

Florida guard pledges to Memphis

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Keon Clergeot is joining Tubby Smith, just not where he originally thought he would be.

The three-star point guard and former Texas Tech signee announced Wednesday that he will sign with Memphis.

“I am proud to announce that I will be continuing my basketball career at the collegiate level by attending …The University of Memphis, “ Clergeot wrote. “I’m taking my talents to Grind City.”

Clergeot signed with the Red Raiders last fall, but received his release after Smith moved on to Memphis this spring. He had offers from the likes of Chattanooga, Duquesne and Bowling Green.

The Florida native averaged 15 points per game last year playing on the adidas summer circuit.

“Keon is an outstanding competitor who is going to bring a lot of energy to our program,” Smith said in a statement last fall when Clergeot signed with Texas Tech.

“He has a relentless attitude toward playing the game. Keon is a very skilled offensive player and plays with a great deal of passion on the defensive end. He’s a team player that can play the point guard and shooting guard positions.”

Jeremiah Martin figures to be the Tigers’ starting point guard next season, but Clergeot could find time in a backup role.