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Penny Hardaway can see the light.
Following four straight losses and more than two weeks of internal strife playing out publicly, the Memphis basketball team is gearing up for one of its toughest weeks of the season. The Tigers will host Alabama, ranked 8th in this week’s USA TODAY Coaches Poll, Tuesday (8 p.m., ESPN) before facing No. 18 Tennessee in Nashville (11 a.m. Saturday).
Not many are giving Memphis much of a chance to turn things around against two of the top teams in the SEC. But Hardaway, who has been outspoken regarding the turmoil the Tigers have gone through, was downright optimistic Monday. During his weekly coach’s show interview, Hardaway’s tone was dramatically different than it’s been in recent weeks when asked about the current state of the team. He said he’s noticed improvements in the team’s overall attitude since last week’s loss to Murray State.
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“I feel like this is gonna be a beautiful week for Tiger basketball because of the energy I’ve seen in the building,” Hardaway said. “All of us are sick and tired of what’s going on. Just the energy and focus and togetherness and chemistry of what I’ve seen this week, I have confidence we’re going to play harder.”
Memphis (5-4) has plummeted in the NCAA’s NET rankings during its four-game skid, slipping all the way down to 76th. The Tigers’ KenPom rating isn’t quite as bleak, as they currently sit at No. 39, although neither spot is at all desirable.
Hardaway knows, though, how all of that can change drastically with a big week versus Alabama and Tennessee – ranked 11th and 10th respectively in the NET.
“Through everything that’s gone on, we still have an opportunity to right the ship,” he said. “As long as we’re right, it doesn’t matter who we’re facing. It’s just that we haven’t been right lately. For us, seeing two ranked teams this week, that might be the fuel for the fire we haven’t had thus far.
“We know we can win. We know we can turn the season around. We have talent. (But) chemistry is so important. A lot of (players on our team) overlook that and just try to play. The beauty of it is (anything can happen) on any given day. We stunk up the building and lost those games. (But) this week has been really special in practice.”
Memphis assistant coach and Hall of Famer Larry Brown, also appearing on Monday's radio show, agreed with Hardaway that the Tigers can reverse course.
“It’s not about making shots. It’s about guarding, rebounding, playing hard and playing unselfishly," he said. "If we do that, we can turn things around pretty quickly. But it takes everybody accepting that responsibility."
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @munzly.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Tigers basketball: Penny Hardaway has a good feeling about week ahead