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For Memphis to make a run in the NCAA tournament, here’s what to improve on

The Memphis Tigers are off to a shaky start against the competition in the American Athletic Conference. Since starting the year with a 10-3 record, which includes going 4-1 against the Southeastern Conference, Memphis has gone 3-2. Their conference record places them sixth in the conference right now. More alarming is that the team is not utilizing the same strategy that made them successful against non-conference opponents.

Maybe it’s because they are playing teams familiar with them, or it’s just players needing to execute the game plan designed by the coaching staff. But one thing we know has changed from previous seasons is that the Tigers can produce points. In 19 games this season, Memphis has scored at least 80 points or more ten times. They also have a player to call upon to make big shots in point guard Kendric Davis.

Memphis has never had those elements with previous teams under coach Penny Hardaway. However, there’s a trade-off for the high-end scoring. The Tigers are allowing opposing teams to produce a significant number of points in several games this season. Despite having a better overall roster, they had to dig down to pull out those victories in the three wins during conference play. So what is driving those issues? Let’s look at two areas where Memphis can improve as it pushes towards qualifying for another NCAA tournament berth.

The Ability to Rebound

Rebounding is one of the more critical statistics in the sport of basketball. The number of rebounds a team can grab could determine the outcome of a game. As for Memphis, they have struggled in that category.

Opposing teams have dominated the Tigers in seven out of the last eight games regarding rebounding. The inability to dominate the boards has allowed teams to have second chances to make shots against Memphis. The Tigers are currently ranked outside the top 200 regarding rebound margin, which stands at -0.7.

It may be that it boils down to not having former East High School star Malcolm Dandridge in the lineup. Before Malco went down with the injury against Alabama, he averaged 4.0 rebounds per game. Over the past couple of weeks, fans on message boards and social media have been clamoring for Hardaway to insert UTSA transfer Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehiogu into the lineup. Well, they got what they wanted.

The 6’11 center started for the first time when the Tigers faced the Temple Owls last Sunday. In 18 minutes, Akobundu-Ehiogu only recorded two blocks, two points, and zero rebounds. Overall, it was a rough outing Akobundu-Ehiogu, but Hardaway stated that the plan is to keep him in the lineup.

“Kao was a little nervous today, which we understood,” said Hardaway. “(But) you can’t go (18 minutes) and not have a rebound with that athleticism. That’s something we’ve got to shore up in practice because he will stay in the starting lineup. We need him to rebound the ball way better.” Until Dandridge gets back on the court, the inability to rebound will be an ongoing problem. According to Hardaway, it could be another week or two until Dandridge returns.

Defending the 3-Point Shot

In several games this year, Memphis has allowed teams to have unlimited amounts of success behind the three-point line. The most notable occurrence came against the UCF Knights last Wednesday. The Knights made 16 threes en route to their 107-104 double-overtime victory. Before the UCF matchup, Tulane dropped 11 three’s on the Memphis defense.

While Temple did not have the scoring output that UCF and Tulane had against Memphis, it was a 3-point shot that tied the game at 59-59. Davis’s 18-foot jumper would quickly erase the tie to seal it for the Tigers.

Memphis survived on the road against Temple by a score of 61-59; the close victory showed how inept they had been from a defensive standpoint. The losses against teams such as Tulane and UCF are brutal, but Memphis still has opportunities to gain momentum and be on the right side of the bubble.

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Meet Derrick Branch, the founder and chief wordsmith at Strike 7 Sports. With a sharp focus on the NFL and the NBA, Derrick's expertise in sports is matched only by his passion for sharing it with others. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communications from the prestigious University of Arizona Global. Let his insightful and engaging writing take you to the heart of the action.

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