Last May, after securing the nation's No. 1-ranked recruiting class, Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway made a bold proclamation: "We want all the smoke."
He doubled down before the season, telling The Athletic, "We're going to win a national championship."
After Tuesday's loss at SMU, Memphis is now 19-9 on the season and 8-7 in the American Athletic Conference. The Tigers have slipped entirely off the NCAA tournament bubble and are headed for the NIT if they don't win the conference tournament. In other words, no national championship.
So what happened? And where does Memphis go from here? I talked to coaches around the league and to get a feel for where things stand with the Tigers.
How did Memphis get here?
When Hardaway made the bold proclamations last spring and before the season, he expected to have potential No. 1 pick James Wiseman in the fold. The top-ranked prospect in the 2019 class, Wiseman played just three games for the Tigers before being suspended by the NCAA, which found that Hardaway provided $11,500 in moving expenses to Wiseman's mother to relocate to Memphis in 2017. Wiseman was ultimately suspended for 12 games, but he announced in December he was leaving school to prepare for the NBA draft.
"He would be the best player in America," one AAC coach said of Wiseman. "And in college basketball this year, if you put the best player in America on any bubble team, any tournament-type team, they're gonna have a pretty good shot at [winning a championship]. I don't think [Hardaway] was wrong. How much more wide open would their shooters be? How much cleaner are those passes? How much easier are those reads if teams have to throw a second, third defender at Wiseman? Take any top-10 team in the country and immediately remove their best player."