Just as the season prepares to tip off, Memphis has gotten the go-ahead from the NCAA to suit up Moussa Cisse, so one of the nation's top freshmen big men will start the season with the Tigers against St. Mary's on Wednesday night.
It's a key step for coach Penny Hardaway and the Tigers as they hope to avoid last season's eligibility issues.
Last year, center James Wiseman played just three games before being suspended and hanging up his collegiate sneakers to prepare for the NBA Draft. Last week, the Golden State Warriors made Wiseman the No. 2 overall selection.
Cisse also has said he expects to play just one year of college basketball before jumping to the NBA, but unlike Wiseman, he is positioned to put in a full season of college ball, starting in the first round of the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Cisse essentially replaces Precious Achiuwa, who like Wiseman played just one season for the Tigers before becoming an NBA first-round pick last week. Also, the confirmation of Cisse helps make up for the loss of 6-8 forward Isaiah Stokes, a transfer from Florida, who Hardaway last week said has been suspended for the season.
The 6-foot-10 Cisse arrived on campus from nearby Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, where last season he was one of the nation's top junior post players before reclassifying himself in order to become college-eligible this year. A native of Guinea, he arrived in the United States in 2016 and played at three different high schools, yet is widely projected as a first-round NBA pick in 2021.
Hardaway returns what he considers to be a veteran team, led by sophomore forward D.J. Jeffries, junior point guard Alex Lomax, junior forward Lance Thomas and sophomore center Malcolm Dandridge.
They'll be joined by three key newcomers -- Cisse, Virginia Tech transfer forward Landers Nolley II, and Louisville transfer forward DeAndre Williams.
"We got a lot older," Hardaway observed. "We're not freshmen like we were last year. Last year, we didn't know what was going to happen. We know what to expect this year."
Memphis will be facing Saint Mary's for just the third time, having won 81-66 in New York in 2004 and 54-52 in a rematch in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Michigan nine years later.
Both teams enter the matchup unranked. The Tigers rose as high as No. 9 last season, their highest ranking since 2012, while the Gaels earned a No. 18 rating last year en route to a 26-8 finish.
Saint Mary's, which has won 20 or more games 13 consecutive seasons, will be on familiar ground in Sioux Falls, having surprised Wisconsin 65-63 at the neutral site to open last season.
The Gaels have since been hit hard by graduation, losing their two top scorers -- Jordan Ford (21.9) and Malik Fitts (16.5).
Saint Mary's is expected to be led by big men Matthias Tass and Matt Van Komen, the latter a 7-foot-4 transfer from Utah who ranked 29th among centers in ESPN's Class of 2019, a list that also included Wiseman at No. 1 and Dandridge at No. 22.
"Matt is a key addition to our program; he will help us at the center position both offensively and defensively," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett projected. "His ability to block shots and score on the post will benefit us a great deal."
--Field Level Media