Tyreke Evans took a ton of flack for Memphis’ shaky 6-3 start to the season. Granted, the 6-5 guard looked like a homeless man’s Jack McClinton in his first nine games, taking ill-advised shots without having any proven record of success early on. But in the 25 subsequent contests, ‘Reke has reigned in his shot selection since John Calipari moved him from shooting guard to the point. And since that point, the Tigers haven’t lost. Thus ‘Reke has gone from the scapegoat to the reason for Memphis’ run.
However, there remains a lingering question about whether Evans deserves the credit for the Tigers’ success. During their 25-0 run to cap the season, Memphis’ competition wasn’t as tough as it was during their first nine contests. They faced Cincinnati, Tennessee, Gonzaga, UAB and Tulsa during a three-month span, as opposed to squaring off against Xavier, Georgetown (pre-collapse) and Syracuse within a matter of weeks. Thus, some people attribute Evans’ personal improvement to the drop-off in talent in the C-USA.
Now comes the litmus test for Evans and the Tigers. Can Tyreke prove that his early-season struggles were just a matter of transitioning to this level? Will he prove that he’s capable of being a point guard against the best competition, or was that just a band-aid fix when playing against an easier schedule?
Memphis’ system is built around having a multi-faceted attack. They need multiple guys who can put the ball on the deck, shoot off the dribble, and find the open man. Last year they had two of the best players in college ball captaining their system with Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, and
Optimus Prime, er, Joey Dorsey in the middle. They were explosive across the board, beating defenders in one-on-one situations routinely. But now, the team isn’t as explosive or as talented. Evans is paired with Antonio Anderson – a smart, but not physically outstanding vet, in the backcourt. Robert Dozier will help along the frontlines, but ultimately, more responsibility will fall to ‘Reke this year than it did to either Rose or CDR last year.
But out of all of this comes good news for those who picked the Tigers to go to the Final Four in their brackets. Now Coach Cal has a legit rallying cry that they don’t get the respect they deserve. Last year, Chris Douglas-Roberts talked about how Cal preached this same message to his squad, even though they were the most feared team in the country. That worked pretty well. If Coach gives the same speeches this year, they might carry even more weight.