Will Memphis live up to the hype in 2021-22? College basketball coaches weigh in

Penny Hardaway has yet to reach an NCAA tournament in his three seasons with Memphis. Could 2021-22 be different? Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

It's rare to see a team miss the NCAA tournament, lose four of its top seven players and then be considered a preseason top-10 team the following year.

But the 2021-22 Memphis Tigers are anything but common. While they did miss the NCAA tournament, they won the NIT and would have likely heard their name on Selection Sunday, had one of their one-possession losses to Houston in early March gone the other way. They did lose several key rotation pieces, but they reloaded in the spring with three Power-5 transfers -- including potential first-round pick Earl Timberlake -- and had a solid recruiting class featuring two ESPN 100 prospects.

And then came August, when Penny Hardaway went out and convinced Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren to reclassify from 2022 into 2021 and suit up for Memphis this season. Bates and Duren will be two of the most talented players in college basketball and are projected top-10 picks whenever they decide to enter the NBA draft.

Those additions have brought considerable expectations. The Tigers now have one of the most talented rosters in the country, and a likely preseason top-10 ranking to go along with it. You might say Memphis has been in this position before in 2019, when Hardaway brought in the No. 1-ranked recruiting class, led by top prospect James Wiseman, but was on track to miss the NCAA tournament prior to its cancellation because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were extenuating circumstances that season -- Wiseman's suspension, myriad injuries -- but the fact remains Hardaway has yet to reach the NCAA tournament in his three seasons at the helm. He now has a roster too talented to fail, with two marquee stars headlining the group.

In order to get a feel for how the pieces might fit and the potential issues Hardaway could face this season, we spoke with multiple American Athletic Conference coaches who faced Memphis the past few seasons and also watched Bates and Duren several times.