The most obvious pillar of Penny Hardaway’s success at Memphis has been tough defense, but this year has been different. The team is 73rd in adjusted defensive efficiency this year, according to KenPom. That would be the lowest Memphis has finished in the Penny Hardaway Era and by a good margin.
As head coach, Penny Hardaway has presided over a dominant defensive style. Likewise, It has twice finished in the top five nationally (2020, 2021) and once had the best defense in the country in 2021. Memphis is known for its ability to force turnovers and create havoc. All of which has contributed to Memphis becoming one of the most feared defensive teams in the country over Penny’s tenure.
The Current Issues:
This season, however, tells a different tale. Memphis finds itself at the lowest defensive ranking since Coach Hardaway took the helm. While the absence of truly elite defenders such as Jalen Duren, Lester Quinones, or Alex Lomax is something to note. The team is not devoid of defensive talent. While not boasting the same caliber of defenders as in previous years, there are players on the roster capable of stepping up.
Let’s just throw some names out there, David Jones and Nicholas Jourdain are two players who have the potential to anchor the Tigers’ defense. With his athleticism and agility, Jones possesses the tools necessary to become a formidable perimeter defender. Jourdain, on the other hand, showcases the attributes needed for elite defense, including size, agility, and basketball IQ.
These guys need to recognize the defensive capabilities they have, and start using them. The path to regaining defensive dominance lies in fostering a collective commitment to defense for the entire duration of each game.
Coach Hardaway’s Influence:
Coach Hardaway’s role in rekindling the defensive fire cannot be overstated. His coaching philosophy has always emphasized the importance of defensive intensity and accountability. Recently, he has stated he hasn’t been coaching this team as hard as past teams, and that will need to change. He must instill this mindset in the current roster, reminding players of the legacy they represent and the standards set by previous Memphis teams.