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College Basketball Betting: The Rise of the Memphis Tigers


Memphis has been by far one of the most frustrating teams to bet on this season. Once again Penny Hardaway has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal but has thus far failed to produce anything meaningful with it. There may not be a more athletic team, on paper, than the Memphis Tigers and yet we’re still seeing them struggle to stay on the cusp on the NCAA Tournament bubble. 

Athleticism has its advantages in college hoops – the more athletic a team, the more likely they are to be good defensively. Even if a coach is unable to teach X’s and O’s *cough Penny cough*, it’s almost impossible to be poor defensively when every player on the roster possesses the length of Mr. Fantastic, speed of Quicksilver, and hops of the Hulk – yes, I am a nerd. 

The past two seasons Memphis has ranked in the top five of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, a direct result of that overwhelming athleticism. However, the offensive end is where the Tigers have been struggling to keep pace. In 2019-20 Memphis ranked 210th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and dead last in the AAC. Apparently, having a bevy of 4 and 5-star recruits does not automatically beget scoring – you got to coach them, Penny! This season Memphis has looked somewhat competent offensively, particularly over the past six games, leading to not only its climb back up the AAC standings but also its status as an ATS wagon. 

Memphis is 6-0 against the spread over the past six games, improving a lowly #71 overall KenPom ranking following a January 17 loss to Tulsa to a solid #47. The Tigers have scored 1.06, 1.14, 0.98, 1.12, 1.08, and 1.03 points per possession in those six matchups, far above their prior performances. In Memphis’s first 11 games of the season it scored over 1.00 points per possession just three times – and two of those games were against Mississippi Valley State and Arkansas State.  

So, with Memphis finally able to put the ball in the basket (the Tigers are currently 4th in the AAC in Adj. OE) it’s time for bettors to take note. This team has the potential to be top 25 or even top 20 good – in fact it might already be there. If Memphis continues to hit shots, running the table in its remaining American contests is a real possibility (though Houston might have something to say about that). Given the Tigers rank just 47th currently in KenPom, it’s entirely possible they are still undervalued at this point by oddsmakers. Bart Torvik agrees – per his customizable T-Rank filter, Memphis has been the 12th best team in the country since losing to Tulsa back in mid-January. There’s still room on the Memphis train before it reaches its destination – it’s time to buy a ticket and climb aboard. 

Follow BettorIQ contributor Ky McKeon @Ky_3MW