Questions looming as SMU hands Tigers stunning 41-point loss

Jason Smith
March 04, 2017 - 11:11 am
By Jason Smith
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John Martin and I laid this University of Memphis basketball season to rest a couple of weeks back. We actually held a funeral for it.

But if there was any hope left that maybe, just maybe, the Tigers could rise from the dead and finish this season in some sort of positive fashion, well, that hope was probably snuffed out for good Saturday.

No. 14 SMU clobbered Memphis 103-62 in Dallas in the teams' regular-season finale. I can barely type the score without shaking my head.

SMU (27-4, 17-1 American Athletic Conference) clinched the outright AAC regular-season title and Memphis (19-12, 9-9) looked like a team ready to call it a year in losing for the sixth time in eight games to close out the regular season.

We could go into who scored what and how many shots Memphis missed and how poorly it played defensively, but for what? The season's just about over and the autopsy can wait until then.

Here's what matters most now as Memphis prepares for what's likely going to be a spot in the 6-11 seed game Thursday in the first round of the AAC tournament in Hartford, Conn., having to win to extend its season:

1. Is Dedric Lawson coming back next year?
2. How hard is Tubby Smith willing to work to rebuild this program?
3. Could it get worse before it gets better?

As for No. 1, I reported a couple of weeks ago that multiple sources have told me Lawson plans to forgo his final two years of eligibility and turn pro. With the way this season is ending, I doubt those plans have changed. 

On No. 2, I'm on record as saying I didn't think Smith showed enough hustle this past offseason after he got the job. He didn't get out and pump up the program. He let Nick Marshall, a former top-60 prospect who would've looked good playing beside Lawson this season at center, walk out the door. And he was slow in his recruitment of 2017 Christian Brothers High guard William Douglas, who signed with SMU after being offered late by Memphis. Smith has Hall of Fame credentials, yes, but that doesn't mean it's off limits to question whether he's still got enough juice to return the Tigers to relevance.

As for No. 3, much depends on the answers to 1 and 2. If Lawson leaves, Memphis will in all likelihood be working with a less talented roster next season no matter how hard Smith works this offseason. So, yes, this could get uglier before it gets better.
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