Mon, Dec 9, 2019

Tuesday night was supposed to be about the latest doings with the most hotly debated eligibility case in college sports: James Wiseman.

Then Evansville turned the night upside down with its historic upset of No. 1 Kentucky. 

But out in Portland, Wiseman did play the third game of his nascent college career. No. 13 Memphis went up against the 14th-ranked Oregon Ducks. Memphis lost. The Ducks got out with an 82-74 win, helped in part by Wiseman’s benching less than halfway through the first half due to foul trouble. 

That obviously took some air out of the proceedings. 

But still: Wiseman finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes. To watch the game from start to finish was to see a largely ineffective Wiseman and a Memphis team with fun talent but so much to learn. Still: 14 points and 12 rebounds. OK, see, that’s a great sign. Wiseman could be one of those special freshmen, the kind of player who posts a double-double without much of a broken sweat in the process.

It’s only one of the many reasons why Memphis is doing what it’s doing. For the third straight game, the coaching staff put Wiseman on the floor while knowing full well the NCAA has advised the university against doing this. To get clearer insight into the frustration emanating from Indianapolis, know this: during Memphis’ suddenly must-see Friday night beatdown over UIC, an official NCAA Twitter account sent out a statement on Wiseman. 

During Memphis’ game!

This is the same NCAA that almost always refrains from making any kind of statement during the midst of an investigation. But here, with the organization obviously annoyed (if not embarrassed) over Memphis’ handling of the situation, it felt an urge to clap back. We almost never see schools disobey the NCAA like this in regard to an eligibility case.

Memphis is daring the devil — and you can best believe that there are those in power in the NCAA who are furious about this. If anything, expect even stronger rules to come about in the coming year or so, prohibiting something like this ever happening again.

Going forward, it looks like nothing is going to change with the Tigers. Memphis is doing something bold and dangerous: it’s daring the NCAA and damning the torpedoes. How soon will the NCAA actually be able to do something? Will we see resolution in the coming weeks? Is this destined to be debated behind closed doors over the course of the season, only to be settled long after Wiseman’s left for the NBA? That’s what Memphis is hoping for.

It’s what many who watch college basketball are hoping for as well. 

The Tigers are also hoping that Wiseman playing in games is must-see for what he can do, not must-see for the rubbernecking NCAA stand-off it’s become. 

Look at it this way: Oregon will be one of the three or four best teams — guaranteed — Memphis plays until we get to March. Had Wiseman not been on the floor Tuesday, the Tigers probably lose by 20 at least. They lost anyway, but they’re so clearly a different team with him out there. The Tigers have a long way to go and grow, but without the man in the middle, it’s hard to see this flashy-yet-flawed group being top-25 quality. There’s a reason all-freshmen lineups are so seldom throughout the history of college basketball: they’re usually not worth the trouble or headache. 

Unless you’ve got a superstar. Memphis has its and will not part with him unless it is quite literally given no other choice. 

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