Going into the year, the Memphis and Indiana basketball programs were two of the most heavily-discussed and exciting teams to follow in the nation.
With the Tigers, they brought in former NBA star Penny Hardaway as the team’s head coach, hoping the fan-favorite personality would inject some swagger back into the fanbase. For the Hoosiers, they hired up-and-coming former Dayton head coach Archie Miller and managed to haul in a top-five recruit in shooting guard Romeo Langford.
We knew neither team would be major contenders off the bat, but there was some genuine momentum (both in recruiting and present on-court success) surrounding both programs going into the year. There would be a learning curve, but after making two generally well-respected coaching changes, both fanbases were ready to talk about their respective programs taking the college basketball world by storm sooner rather than later.
Now in the heat of conference play, both programs have certainly turned heads nationally… just not in a good way.
After a strong 12-2 start and a jump into the national rankings, Indiana has since dropped seven consecutive games, including a 66-58 loss to 11-9 Rutgers last night. In fact, it has been a whopping 28 days since the Hoosiers won a basketball game.
Their entire list of losses? Arkansas, Duke, Michigan (twice), Maryland, Nebraska, Purdue, Northwestern, and Rutgers. Five of them were by double-digits.
Deemed a hometown hero when he signed with Indiana out of high school, Romeo Langford hasn’t necessarily been the savior they all expected him to be, either. In short, his basic numbers (17.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game) don’t look too shabby, but they don’t back up the team’s overall on-court success. He’s shooting just 46 percent on the year and 23 percent from three to go with a team-high 2.2 turnovers per game. In six of his last seven games, Langford has shot worse than 45 percent from the field and has hit just seven of 27 attempts from three (including a stretch of 0-12 in that period).
Langford is hardly the team’s main problem, but even the team’s lone anticipated bright spot going into the year hasn’t been the brightest.
As for Memphis, they never even got off to the hot start Indiana did. Their season has been the epitome of average from the start through today.
The Tigers are currently sitting at 13-8 on the year with losses coming against LSU, Oklahoma State, Charleston, Texas Tech, Tennessee, Houston, Temple, and Tulsa. They have lost to every ranked team in their path (four of them) by no fewer than nine points and they have lost three of four games on the road, with their one victory being a four-point win over 4-12 Tulane (a team that is now 4-16).
To make matters worse, Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway has quickly become the LaVar Ball of the college basketball coaching ranks.
Following two solid recruiting gets in James Wiseman and DJ Jeffries (he’s welcome for the latter), Hardaway is convinced he has already built a contender and they are capable of “playing with anyone in the country.”
Penny Hardaway: “This win shows we can play with anybody in the country.”
— John Martin (@JohnMartin929) January 27, 2019
(This quote came after their 20-point victory over Central Florida. In basketball.)
Earlier this week, Hardaway said other coaches are “jealous” of him and “throwing jabs” at the Memphis program because he and assistant coach Mike Miller didn’t pay their dues in the coaching ranks before getting Division-1 jobs.
“I’m getting used to it as a coach because there’s a little jealousy from a lot of these coaches around the country,” Hardaway said. “I do understand that because we are NBA players and didn’t have any experience as college coaches. So we didn’t quote, unquote, ‘Pay our dues.’ So these college coaches and their so-called boys in the media are going to always throw jabs at us.”
In fact, the Memphis head coach said he has a “target on (his) back” because he’s a former NBA player with zero real coaching experience.
“For sure, I definitely feel like there’s a target on my back,” Hardaway said. “There’s a lot of people that don’t want me to succeed because it’s going to look like an NBA guy came back with no experience and won so of course I relish in that.”
They’ll be “jealous” of all those wins… eventually.
“I’m not here to ruffle any feathers; I’m just here to win,” Hardaway said.
Let me know when you start doing that, Penny.
Indiana has been a rival to Kentucky longer than Memphis has been and the hostility has absolutely been there in the past, but their mediocrity as of late has been more sad and embarrassing than funny. With Tom Crean gone and Archie Miller struggling to find his footing, the beautiful Indiana jokes just don’t hit that sweet spot like they used to. Not yet, at least.
Their fanbase doesn’t even believe they’re anywhere close to contending, nor do they expect them to for several years.
Hardaway and the Memphis fanbase, on the other hand, are starting to genuinely feel they’re capable of competing for a national title soon, and the irritating trash talk is coming just as fast. They’ve embraced the “little brother” mindset, and the Big Blue Nation sure knows how to tease that.
As a Kentucky fan, how do you feel about both programs right now and going forward?
Does the Indiana hatred still flow through your blood? Or has Penny Hardaway and his arrogance become easier to root against?