What Happened to Memphis?

Ahead of the 2021-22 D1 season, the Memphis Tigers were one of the best teams on paper. With elite high school prospects Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, it looked like Memphis would have an easy time with their schedule. They also came off an NIT-winning season, so there would be a lot of hype going into their campaign.
Thirteen games later, and the Tigers are not even ranked. They comfortably won their first five games. Even though they lost to Iowa State early in the season, there was still optimism in Penny Hardaway’s camp. Yet three surprising losses (Georgia, Ole Miss, Murray State) surprised many. 
The Tigers started their season by demolishing small schools. Tennessee Tech, North Carolina Central, Saint Louis, and Western Kentucky all lost at the hands of a destructive Memphis team. But things began to get tighter getting closer to conference play. The Tigers hung on to a win against Virginia Tech to stay undefeated and lost to Iowa State. 
The Iowa State loss was okay. After all, Iowa State is emerging into a legitimate contender. But what happened after was the real danger sign.
After the match against the Cyclones, Memphis went into a whirlwind of ups and downs. Three quick losses took the Tigers from #18 in the AP Top 25 to an unranked state. 
Memphis had a tough time rebounding from those defeats. They beat then #6-Alabama 92-78 to earn a solitary point in an AP Top 25 poll. But another heartbreaking 85-84 loss against Tulane took them back where they previously were. What started all of this?
There are multiple off games that will affect the Tigers’ season. Bracketology will take upsets and poor performances into account. The AAC powerhouse cannot make many mistakes without moving down in power rankings and seeds. 
For example, then #18-Memphis’ 82-79 nailbiter loss to Georgia made Memphis less of a contender in polls. The loss sent shockwaves throughout college basketball and gave the Tigers a big task. 
It was time to show that the hype they garnered throughout the offseason was legitimate. Three days later, the Tigers looked to bounce back. Yet they did the opposite of that, worrying Memphians even more. Another close game ended as a loss at the hands of Ole Miss. “We did not do enough at the end to finish the game,” coach Penny Hardaway said.
After their two failures at FedEx, the Tigers hoped the third time would be the charm. As a matchup with Murray State loomed, Memphis looked to stifle an explosive Murray State offense. Yet ten threes in the second half kept Memphis from ending their losing streak. A spiral into mediocrity continued. Why did such a star-studded team fall so far from expectations?
Memphis’ woes stem from a below-average defense. Penny Hardaway, who usually can rely on a superb D, seems stymied that the Tigers allowed so many points. They allow 69.6 points per game, an unhealthy amount of points for a supposed contender. The Tigers need to tighten their defense.
Another issue is their offense. Although Memphis has a well-assembled side, they are not using it to score. ESPN pointed out the lack of a true point guard hurt Memphis. Emoni Bates and others will need to step up and occupy that playmaking position.
Yet the most significant issue is not on the court but in the locker room. It concerns chemistry within the Tigers organization. Hardaway also alluded to discord between veterans and prospects. It puts more pressure on the players and team than there needs to be. It is unnecessary. 
Yet all of these issues can be fixed. Looking at the talent and brains the Tigers have and you have a true AAC contender. But they will need to iron out their issues to have a chance to do so.
After a match against Cincinnati (11-4), the Tigers will travel to Florida to play UCF (9-4) Wednesday. UCF is a legitimate threat. They won against Michigan and Miami, a big feat for a mid-major side. Although UCF got off to a sputtering start, rest assured they are a dangerous team in the AAC.
SMU (11-4) is the wildcard of this lethal conference. Despite losing to Loyola-Marymount, they made up for it by beating UNLV and Vanderbilt. They are 2-1 in AAC play and could upset the Tigers. January 20 will see whether Memphis can take down an underdog with plenty of heart.
Houston (13-2), currently ranked #12 in the nation, is the team to beat in the AAC. Of course, Emoni Bates and his team will look to defeat them. Defeating Houston will bring Memphis’ name back to the limelight, but it won’t be easy. February 12’s game will pit two of the most exciting teams in college basketball against each other.