I’m not sure how closely you guys have been following Memphis’ season — but things haven’t been going well the past six weeks. First, the nation’s top-ranked recruit, James Wiseman, quit the team a few days before Christmas, just walked out on his teammates, some of whom he actively recruited to the school, and immediately became the first healthy college player in history to quit a top-10 team midseason strictly to focus on the NBA Draft.
Needless to say, that didn’t go over well in the locker room.
The Tigers subsequently lost back-to-back games to Georgia and Wichita State — but then backed that with wins over USF and Cincinnati, at which point they seemed to settle things a bit. But the season took another turn in the wrong direction last week when Memphis lost consecutive games to unranked Tulsa and unranked SMU. The loss to Tulsa was on the road and by a score of 80-40. It was the most lopsided loss by a ranked team to an unranked team in 27 years. The loss to SMU was at home and by a score of 74-70. The Mustangs closed on a 15-0 to win. The Tigerss didn’t score in the final six minutes.
Memphis coach Penny Hardaway called the loss at Tulsa “embarrassing.” After the loss to SMU, he added, “These last two games have been the worst. … Right now, it’s bad.”
Zach Klein apparently disagrees, though.
He’s the sports director at WSB-TV in Atlanta and one of only two AP Top 25 poll voters still ranking the Tigers. Why is he still ranking the Tigers? I have no idea. Because it makes no sense on any level.
To be clear, I was as high on Memphis as anybody in the preseason — and I remained mostly optimistic even after Wiseman quit because the Tigers did start this season 12-1 with the lone loss coming to Oregon in Portland. But, at some point, you have to reset your expectations for a team when that team’s best player quits midseason, and you can’t just ignore the Tigers’ 2-4 record in the previous six games (with three of the losses coming to unranked opponents), and you can’t just ignore the fact that the Tigers are now outside of the top 50 in the NET, KenPom, Sagarin and Torvik.
But don’t tell Zach Klein!
He seems to see things differently.
He had Memphis ranked 18th on last week’s AP ballot. (That was reasonable at the time, by the way.) Then the Tigers went out and lost two games to unranked opponents — one by 40 points on the road to a team with a loss to the school ranked 191st at KenPom (Arkansas State), the other at home to a team with a loss to the school ranked 232nd at KenPom (East Carolina). And, incredibly, Klein responded by ranking Memphis … wait for it … 18TH AGAIN THIS WEEK!
What in the world?
This has to be the first time in history a school hasn’t dropped on an AP ballot after losing back-to-back games to unranked opponents, one of which came by 40 points. And what’s wild is how Klein handled Texas Tech completely differently. He had the Red Raiders ranked 19th last week, one spot below Memphis. Then, yes, Texas Tech also went 0-2 — but it was a much more reasonable 0-2. First, the Red Raiders lost 65-54 at TCU, which is obviously better than losing 80-40 at Tulsa. Then the Red Raiders lost 76-74 in overtime to No. 13 Kentucky, which is obviously better than losing 74-70 to unranked SMU.
But did Texas Tech maintain its ranking on Klein’s ballot?
Texas Tech was completely removed from his ballot — which, to be clear, is totally fine. The Red Raiders have been removed from my Top 25 And 1 as well; they don’t deserve to be ranked right now. But keeping Memphis ranked 18th after its week while dropping Texas Tech from 19th to completely off of an AP ballot after Texas Tech’s bad, but undeniably better, week is impossible to rationalize, especially when Texas Tech stayed ahead of Memphis in every reputable computer.
Bottom line, I won’t be surprised if Memphis turns this around.
The Tigers are still talented. They can still be good.
But, right now, there’s literally nothing to support them being 18th on an AP ballot. And having them 18th both last week and this week — after they went 0-2 in the past week with a pair or losses to unranked opponents, one of which came by 40 freaking points — is a move nobody could sensibly defend.