With Every Tiger Win, Credibility of Local Critics Hangs in Balance

The Memphis Tigers won at Tulane on Saturday, pushing their record to 16-11 (7-7, AAC).

The win won’t put Memphis in the NCAA tournament picture.

The win won’t put Memphis in contention for the AAC championship.

Those goals have long since faded from view.

The win, Memphis’ second in a row, is nothing more than a step in a positive direction for a roster that consists of 11 unheralded first year players.

And yet it’s important to note that the 2017-2018 Memphis Tigers now sit just 3 games shy of matching last season’s win total (19).

After all the Twitter ink that’s been spilled over this program’s failures, with 3 wins in the next 5 games this star-deficient Memphis roster can match the win total of last year’s squad.

And nobody has forgotten that last year’s team was led by Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson and Markel Crawford – players whose transfers ignited a fire that has consumed Tubby Smith’s brief tenure in the Bluff City.

So in that respect there’s something else firmly at stake here: the credibility of those that insist the Memphis program is entirely off the rails, those that continue to beat the drum of hopelessness and divide the fanbase.

It’s obvious in watching how this cohort offers commentary on the Tigers that they realize that their reputations rest squarely on the failure of the Memphis Tiger program under Tubby Smith.

Because snark and derision have become the life blood of their act, any success of the current program, however modest, is dismissed or ignored entirely.

On Saturday, the snark started before tip, with woke-bro John Martin offering this beauty:

The snark in this tweet is evident in some of the comments – the indignation that the Memphis program has stooped to the level of being an underdog to Tulane (GASP!)

This is a lazy take, and it ignores history.

It ignores that Memphis actually lost to Tulane under Dana Kirk (4x), Larry Finch (3x), and Josh Pastner (2x).

It ignores that Penny Hardaway once hit a corner three as time expired to narrowly escape Fogleman Arena.

It ignores that Tubby Smith actually hadn’t lost to Tulane entering Saturday’s game (2-0).

History and facts don’t matter to woke bros nearly as much as the popular narrative does, and the popular narrative is that Tubby is driving the Memphis program to new lows.

The point spread was a convenient way to illustrate that narrative. Truth and history be damned.

As the game started, Martin took his wokeness to another level with this gem:

First of all, is there a more tired tweet style than the narrator thing?

Not really.

But more importantly, this tweet is also factually impaired, at least in part.

Memphis was picked 9th in the preseason AAC coaches poll.

Memphis was picked 9th by SI and projected to finish with a 6-12 conference record.

Memphis was ranked 9th by CBS Sports in their offseason power rankings. 

Local “experts” had led their followers to believe that the current Memphis team would be the worst in modern history. I’d go dig up the transcript to demonstrate this, but I’m afraid I’d barf all over the place in the process.

Memphis currently sits in 6th place in the AAC.

Memphis has one recruit signed, so Martin is technically right that they don’t have recruits (plural) coming in yet.

So even if Martin wasn’t repudiating much with his whole narrator thing; mentioning the recruit did give him the opportunity to shit on Memphis signee Connor Vanover:

Because as Memphis is in the process of winning a  2nd consecutive game as a road underdog, it’s super woke to take a cheap shot at a high school kid that hasn’t even enrolled yet.

By the way, I’d love to know who the “recruiting analyst” is that insisted on anonymity for this searing hot take.

I’m sure his scouting bona fides are impeccable.

But enough about Martin. The real fascinating tweet today came from Martin’s boss, local radio producer Brad Carson. Immediately after the Tiger victory, Carson offered this, actually quite revealing, nugget:

This tweet is a tacit admission that Carson is rooting against Memphis.

His stated reasoning: that losing would cause the administration to get rid of Tubby faster and thus hasten the program’s return to greatness, is theoretically sound.

I’m not buying it though.

Actual fans don’t generally root against their program, no matter what.

Of course, nobody said Carson had to be a fan, that’s not his job. I think he’s a Mississippi State guy.

But if he’s not a Memphis fan, then why is he actually rooting against Memphis?

I offered a theory:

At that point, Carson responded as follows:

So I’m going to choose to assume that if there wasn’t some truth to my theory – that Carson and others in his cohort now feel their credibility threatened by the potential success of Tubby Smith’s program – he wouldn’t have blocked me.

After all, I didn’t curse, and I didn’t attack him personally.

I simply pointed out the obvious: that after a year of incessant negativity and criticism, after implying that the possibility of success for Tubby Smith is essentially zero; that if the man were to succeed now it would confirm this entire cohort’s lack of seriousness and credibility.

Let me be clear: I think they already lack those things, but Tubby being successful would further cement the situation.

And I’ll be honest, this is why I’m rooting as hard for Tubby Smith as I’ve ever rooted for a Memphis coach.

I’m a homer, I root for Memphis no matter what.

But in this instance the success of Memphis would have the added result of this group having to face the incredible wrongness of their takes.

So in addition to wins and losses, this is what’s at stake now every time Memphis takes the floor.

Go Tigers Go.

 

 

 

 

Who Told Markel Crawford to Transfer to Ole Miss?

On April 10, 2017, Markel Crawford announced he was leaving Tubby Smith’s Memphis basketball program.

Less than 2-weeks later, Crawford decided to to join the Ole Miss Rebels.

Rather than help re-establish the Memphis program as a Senior leader under Smith, Crawford instead chose to spend his final year of eligibility chasing an NCAA tournament bid for the neighboring SEC school.

As a college graduate who earned the opportunity to transfer, it’s hard to fault a player in this circumstance, especially considering that Crawford’s original college coach – Josh Pastner – was no longer at Memphis.

To Smith’s Memphis program, it was a painful moment.

Combined with the decision of Dedric and KJ Lawson to leave Memphis for Kansas, Crawford’s transfer was a gut punch to the fledgling program. It meant that year 2 for Smith would be played with almost a brand new roster.

The transfers also ended any semblance of a honeymoon period for Smith as the Tiger Basketball head man.

Almost a year later, Crawford’s move doesn’t appear to have worked out for anyone involved.

As could be expected, Memphis has taken a step back. Without Crawford on the perimeter – Memphis is one of the worst teams in the country at both defending and making 3-pt shots. The Tigers are currently 14-10 (5-6) and are on track to miss the postseason entirely for the 4th consecutive season.

Crawford and Ole Miss aren’t faring any better.

Saturday, Crawford picked up a technical foul as the Rebels lost their 5th consecutive game, by 16 to LSU. Crawford was held without a field goal.

The Rebels fell to 11-14 (4-8).

This represents a significant step back for Ole Miss, which finished the 2016-17 season with 22 wins and a trip to the NIT Quarterfinals.

Of course, it’s not fair to blame Crawford for Ole Miss’ struggles. It is fair, however, to note that Crawford’s production has slipped.

In his lone season under Tubby Smith, Crawford averaged career highs in points (12.8), rebounds (4.4), 3pt % (33.3) and minutes (32.4).

As a Rebel, Crawford’s production has regressed in each category.

Tiger fans, but more importantly Crawford himself has to be wondering how he might have progressed in a 2nd year under Tubby Smith.

Would his progress have mirrored that of Jeremiah Martin, who is leading the AAC in scoring?

Would Martin and Crawford playing together have resulted in more victories for the Tigers?

Surely.

Of course, the popular narrative is that it’s Tubby Smith’s fault for not doing more to convince Crawford to stay.

That’s fair – but it’s also fair to question those that advised Crawford to make the change – whomever they are. Because in retrospect this was a bad decision, one that hasn’t worked out for anyone involved.

 

Grizzlies Plan: TANK & TINKER

I watched the media availability Chris Wallace gave on Friday and came to one obvious conclusion.

I’m a huge hypocrite.

I’ve complained that everyone in town treats Wallace with kid gloves.

I’ve complained that the Tigers get held to a higher standard than the Grizzlies.

I’ve theorized that Wallace’s failures get ignored because he’s so likable.

Perhaps all those things are true.

But on Friday, while watching Wallace explain the Grizzlies rationale for not trading Tyreke Evans, I found myself fully bought in to what he was selling.

The Grizzlies thought process, according to Wallace, was actually pretty straightforward: the trade offers that came in for Tyreke Evans were simply outweighed by the possibility that he might re-sign with the Grizzlies in the off-season, a possibility that itself becomes more likely if the franchise keeps him around in the meantime.

Wallace cited Evans’ love for the city, his history with the Tigers, and how his brief stint with the Grizzlies represents the best period of his tumultuous NBA career.

He cited the human element.

Did I mention that Wallace is a likable guy?

Tank & Tinker

So the Grizzlies objective, rather than a complete rebuild, is to tank and tinker their way back to the playoffs.

That’s right – the Grizzlies want to lose enough to get a lottery pick – but also keep their best assets in hopes of a quick rebuild.

The plan is to keep Mike Conley on the shelf, and use Marc Gasol and Evans sparingly from here on out.

Then, after the season, the franchise will try to re-sign Evans, draft a lottery pick that can contribute immediately and surround that group with various other young players and spare parts.

Oh – and also hope that Chandler Parsons becomes a miracle of modern science.

It’s clear that Wallace hopes that all of this will result in a resurgent team capable of playoff contention.

Will it all work?

I put the odds at around 25%, maybe less.

But even at 25%, what are the other options?

Nobody seems to think a prolonged rebuild can work in Memphis at this time.

So why not try the tank and tinker approach?

As much as I really do think the Grizzlies too often get a pass from Memphians – I’m again inclined to give them one in this instance.

Yep – I’m a giant hypocrite.

 

 

Sad Times in Round Town: Thoughts on Josh Pastner & Grizz Drama

One of two things is true.

Either:

  1. Josh Pastner is guilty of an ongoing heinous sexual assault.
  2. Josh Pastner is guilty of letting absolute maniacs deep inside his Memphis program over the course of his final few years in the Bluff City.

But remember folks, Pastner left the program in great shape!

My money is on #2 above, by the way.

The statement from Pastner’s lawyer (courtesy of our good friend Gary Parrish) is pretty unequivocal:

Again, even if the accuser in this instance is completely lying, it only serves to confirm what we already knew about Pastner at Memphis: his ability to assemble a roster of highly ranked recruits was entirely undermined by his amazing ineptitude at running a successful program.

Let’s not forget the details:

But again, folks, remember – this was a GREAT situation Tubby Smith inherited.

No cultural problems at all.

Nothing to see here.

The fact that it isn’t fixed by year two is a travesty.

No Tyreke Trade

Speaking of nothing to see here, the NBA trade deadline came and went and Tyreke Evans is still a Memphis Grizzly.

Fans are understandably upset.

One of two things is true in this situation as well:

  1. The Grizzlies front office has no idea what they are doing.
  2. The Grizzlies front office has completely failed at communicating to their fan base what they are doing.

I suspect it’s the former, because #2 really shouldn’t be hard.

The Grizzlies are flailing – and the local fan base is getting restless.

Tough times in Round Town. 

 

 

The Tubby Smith Debate is Over

Mercifully, the Tubby Smith debate is over.

As Smith approaches the end of his 2nd year at Memphis- another disappointing season – we can finally end the debate surrounding his tenure as coach at The University of Memphis.

Everyone should be able to agree on the following 3 points:

  1. Tubby Smith needs to upgrade the talent on his roster.
  2. Tubby Smith likely has to change his staff immediately after the season to make that happen.
  3. Tubby Smith has one more season to prove he can get Memphis back to the NCAA tournament.

It’s really that simple.

To argue that he should be fired now, as the end of his 2nd season approaches, is wrong.

And yes, I get that it’s hard to have hope after watching Memphis get pumped by East Carolina and Wichita State in back to back games, but it’s still wrong to suggest firing the coach now.

Even if Tubby Smith refuses to shake up his staff, even if Jeremiah Martin transfers, even if David Nickleberry transfers – the coach pretty much has to get one more year.

Tubby Smith has 3 years left on a contract that pays him $9.75m total over that time.

Memphis would have to pay Tubby Smith almost $10m over the next 3-years to not coach their basketball team.

I don’t think that’s happening.

So no, I don’t think Penny Hardaway will be coaching Memphis next year.

I think at a minimum, Kareem Brewton, Kyvon Davenport, Mike Parks, and Raynere Thornton will return to form the core of the 2018-2019 Memphis Tigers.

Jeremiah Martin, David Nickleberry, Victor Enoh and Jamal Johnson will have other options – but some or all of them could be back as well.

The best hope at this point is that this group finishes respectably, that Smith finally shakes up his staff this off-season and can somehow secure a few more talented pieces for 2018-2019.

For those of us who have been patient and have defended Smith, this optimistic scenario seems more distant than ever.

But either way, mercifully, the debate around Tubby Smith is fading away.

What has to happen from here is becoming more clear.

No Going Back

Though the debate regarding Smith is over, it doesn’t mean his critics are vindicated.

They will never be vindicated.

The folks that buried Smith after merely one year were wrong then and they’ll always be wrong for having mischaracterized the situation Smith inherited.

Smith’s eventual failure, if it comes to that, doesn’t justify their dishonesty at ignoring the structural issues surrounding the program Josh Pastner left behind.

A culture of transfers, quid pro quo recruiting arrangements, a team that had missed the tournament 2-years running.

Describing that as a promising inheritance was wrong then and it’s still wrong.

Reaching Out

Smith’s failure, should it come to that, also shouldn’t be placed entirely on not “reaching out” to the local AAU and High School Basketball Coaches. “Reaching out” seems like a euphemism for “taking care” of people.

A euphemism for getting “deals” done.

We know what’s going on here, I think.

Larry Finch got some local guys -but the “community” turned on him in the end.  He was unceremoniously dumped.

Josh Pastner’s story was much the same. Major local recruiting success didn’t lead to anything special on the court.

Local players and coaches turned on Pastner and he was forced out.

So I don’t blame Tubby Smith for not playing this game, BUT if the trajectory of his tenure doesn’t change he will ultimately be blamed for not having a viable alternative.

In other words, I don’t care if Smith passes on Memphis kids, but he better have good enough players from elsewhere and be able to stitch a team together that can reach the NCAA tournament.

At the moment, that clearly isn’t happening.

He has one more year to get that done.

But for now, at least the debate is over.

 

 

Crazed Coverage of Tiger Hoops Continues

My new year’s resolution was to stop writing columns criticizing local journalists. I realize it’s repetitive and, to some, annoying.

But this morning I decided to check out the most recent Tiger Basketball podcast at the Commercial Appeal.

There’s always next year.

One might have assumed that columnist Geoff Calkins would go easy on Tubby Smith’s squad after they reeled off wins in 4 of their past 5 games and appear to be making some headway on the recruiting trail.

We all know the perils of making assumptions.

Less than 3 minutes into the recording, Calkins made it obvious that when it comes to the topic of Tiger hoops, he remains slightly unhinged.

Here are some of his hot, dare I say fevered, takes:

On the team itself, which currently sits at 13-7 (4-3) and in 4th place in the AAC: “The team sucks.”

Wow.

This comment was offered in a broader context about why attendance is down, but it’s still jarringly negative.

On Tubby Smith’s attitude regarding attendance: “You’d think the frigging head coach would be interested in promoting the program. He doesn’t give a flip.”

Right.

For the record, Tubby Smith appeared on AM 560 this week to promote the upcoming game. He appears on that station fairly regularly from what I can tell (most of the time I’m busy at my day job and co-hosting @The1pmShow on AM 730).

Calkins on Jamal Johnson, the true freshman guard who has been in recent 3-pt slump (2-13), but had been shooting .324 from distance going into last week, including 6 in one game and 4 in another: “The worst shooter.”

Wrong, and mean to boot.

On what he seemingly hopes will happen after the upcoming game against highly ranked Cincinnati:  “If this goes badly, it could be a psychological turning point for the fan base.”

For a long time I argued that I think Geoff wanted Tiger basketball to succeed. I no longer believe that. I now think he’s got too much invested in Tubby Smith’s failure.

On the University distributing 2,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield of TN tickets at no charge to the recipient:  “They’re stuffing the ballot box.”

Funny, I don’t remember Geoff ever accusing the Grizzlies of “stuffing the ballot box” for distributing free tickets, something the professional franchise does regularly.

In fact, the Grizzlies hang banners (Marc’s entourage, Chandler’s  Charms) to celebrate giving away free tickets!

Blue Cross Blue Shield of TN happens to be a sponsor (probably not for free) of the Tiger program and was the presenting sponsor of the UConn game, which was played during the night of an ice storm. Smith thanked the company for helping provide the tickets for the Cincinnati game during his appearance on AM 560 this week.

The horror.

And hey, the University has to do something to combat the hysterical, biased, fevered coverage they’re getting from the guys at the Grizzlies flagship radio station.

Calkins did offer some optimism at the end of the podcast: “The year has not been a disaster.”

You could almost hear the disappointment in his voice.