March Madness

Memphis basketball mailbag: Are the Tigers an NCAA tournament team right now?

Memphis basketball mailbag: Are the Tigers an NCAA tournament team right now?

The Memphis basketball team — such as it is presently — is into its fourth out of eight weeks of summer workouts.

The Tigers have nine scholarship players (although Baraka Okojie is hurt) and one walk-on on campus. While there are at least three open scholarships and Tigers coach Penny Hardaway remains steadfast in his pursuit of reinforcements, being relatively this far ahead of the game has him in a good place.

“It’s going to equate to some beautiful things,” Hardaway said during an appearance last week on The Voice of MSCS’ “TaylorMade Sports” with Marcus Taylor. “(In the past), everybody else already has that June jump on us. (But) we’ve now put our playing style, who we are, the non-negotiables — we put that in in June and July. Now, when we get to the fall, we can start working on something else.”

With that in mind, let’s get into this week’s Memphis basketball mailbag.

Who has impressed so far during summer workouts? — G Breen, via Tiger Basketball Insider text group

Hardaway wanted to rebuild his roster with defense as the top priority.

“When you have an offensive-minded team, you can’t win championships,” he said last week. “This year, I’m back to that defensive-minded team.”

So it shouldn’t be surprising that those standing out so far are the ones bringing that mentality to the table. Former Texas guard Tyrese Hunter, former Ole Miss center Moussa Cisse and former SMU forward Tyreek Smith have generated positive buzz with their ability as well as their mindsets.

Former Tulsa guard PJ Haggerty (with his multi-level scoring prowess) and former Illinois big man Dain Dainja (with his ability to score on the block) have shown Memphis won’t be a one-dimensional offense.

If you had to set the odds today, how likely is it that Memphis will make the Big Dance? — anonymous, via Tiger Basketball Insider text group

I think it’s an extremely safe bet.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest projection has the Tigers in as a 9-seed. I have Memphis closer to a 7, but that’s essentially just splitting hairs. The point is, I feel like this is a top-30 team right now (even though it won’t even be close to that in the preseason rankings). With a couple more pieces, I think they could be top-20.

What are the chances of Caleb Mills returning? — Donell Bowdery, via Tiger Basketball Insider text group

As close to zero as can be without actually being zero.

Mills suffered his season-ending knee injury in the 14th game of last season. In an effort to get him an extra season of eligibility, Memphis is taking the “it never hurts to try” approach and has applied for a medical hardship waiver.

But NCAA rules are clear: In order to qualify for one, a player can only have appeared in less than 20% of their team’s scheduled games. Mills was in 43.75% of the Tigers’ games last season.

What’s the psychological makeup of this team in your opinion? — Verlinda Henning, via Tiger Basketball Insider text group

There’s one word I’ve heard over and over this offseason: Tough. And I think that applies both to the team’s physical approach as well as its mental makeup.

Hardaway addressed the topic last week when he was asked about his current team.

“At the end of the day, the tenacity and toughness now is a skill,” he said. “That’s all we had (when we were players). We were going to outwork you. Now, you might get one kid on a team that’s really tough, maybe two. The rest of them, you have to teach them, ‘This is who we are.’ It’s very uncomfortable for them, but you’ve got to keep pushing that.”

What’s the deal with Arthur Kaluma? — Albert Ruiz, via Tiger Basketball Insider text group

The Kansas State transfer forward still has not settled on a landing spot as of Tuesday evening.

Memphis was never (and still is not) seriously engaged with Kaluma. That could change (although it probably won’t). But reports indicate Kaluma is down to Texas and SMU.

What are our chances with Johnathan Lawson? — Stuart Ketelsen, via Tiger Basketball Insider text group

The former Tigers guard told The Commercial Appeal last week there was a “50-50” chance he would return to Memphis.

I do not believe that will happen.

MEMPHIS BASKETBALL MAILBAG: Transfer candidates, coaching staff specifics and more

Will this season be affected by another investigation? — Julius Morris, via Tiger Basketball Insider text group

There is no definitive answer here.

Obviously, the book has not been closed on the academic misconduct matter that led to the university holding Malcolm Dandridge out of the last five games of the 2023-24 season. So it wouldn’t be surprising if it lingered into the 2024-25 season.

But again, no one knows.

It is early, but has Penny been targeting any 2025 recruits so far? — Michael Wofford, via Tiger Basketball Insider text group

The Tigers have actually been most active lately with 2026 prospects, including the following: Five-star Buckhorn (Ala.) small forward Caleb Holt; five-star Little Rock Christian shooting guard JJ Andrews; five-star Germantown (Miss.) center Sam Funches; Christ School (N.C.) combo guard Tyler Jones (formerly of ECS in Memphis); St. Pius X (Atlanta) shooting guard Tobias Brinkley; four-star Trinity (Louisville) shooting guard Jayden Johnson; and Hilliard Bradley (Ohio) forward Gavin Lightning.

Reach sports writer Jason Munz at or follow him @munzly on X, the social media app formerly known as Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis basketball mailbag: Are Tigers an NCAA tournament team now?


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