The Memphis Tigers finished in fifth place in the American Athletic Conference and missed the NCAA men's basketball tournament in Penny Hardaway's first season, but the head coach is not shy about where he thinks his team will end up in 2019-20.
He told Dana O'Neil of The Athletic:
"What do I know? I know when I have something special. When I see this group in action, see their abilities, I know what's at stake and I know what's out there. The teams like Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, all the usual suspects. I've studied the film. I know who they are, but when I look at this group, I just say to myself, 'We're going to win a national championship.' That's what I know."
Even though it missed out on the Big Dance, Memphis made strides at the end of last season and won six of its final eight games before the NIT. The two losses were by a combined five points to nationally ranked foes Cincinnati and Houston.
But the momentum from the end of Hardaway's first campaign is not why the head coach is so confident.
He landed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the 2019 cycle, per 247Sports' composite rankings. It features 5-star players in big man James Wiseman and forward Precious Achiuwa and 4-star players in guards Boogie Ellis, Damion Baugh and Lester Quinones, forward DJ Jeffries, and center Malcolm Dandridge.
"If five freshmen earn those spots, I would have no problem with it," Hardaway said when discussing his potential starting lineup with reporters last week. "It's just [going to come down to] who is going to be the best at that position for us to win. ... They're going to battle it out in practice. And if it's five freshmen [who end up starting], I don't have a problem with that."
The NBA could be in the immediate future of some of the youngsters, especially Wiseman. The window for a championship is now, so there's a sense of urgency even though this is just Hardaway's second season at the helm.
The Tigers will be tested by nonconference games against Oregon, Ole Miss, North Carolina State, Tennessee and Georgia, and they will hope to round into form by March.
Only then can they deliver on Hardaway’s expectations.