I'll try to sort things out. First and foremost, though, this is not the end of the world for the Tigers. They were not favored. They nearly overcame a dreadful first half in a hostile road environment in front of 22,733 fans. This is not Murray State. There were positives.
There were things made evident, though, and we'll go over them in this space.
1. The frontcourt situation has to be figured out. Quickly. Memphis, if it wants to advance deep into March, cannot afford many more 1-of-5 and four-foul nights from Tarik Black. That much is obvious. Early in the season, Black placed himself in a rut by picking up two fouls within the first few minutes of the game. While he's gotten better about not fouling and actually being in the game, his effectiveness defensively has been reduced significantly. Fearful of picking up fouls, Black is reluctant to commit defensively and therefore allows opposing bigs — like Louisville's Gorgui Dieng, for example, who had 14 and 14 Saturday night — to exploit the Tigers.
People will point to Black not getting enough touches down low. My problem with that: The Tigers will never, ever be a big man-feeding team. They will not win games that way. And even if they were, Black's back-to-the-basket game is hardly polished enough at this point to where Memphis coach Josh Pastner can just tell him to go get a basket. He scores the majority of his points by imposing his physicality and throwing his weight around down low, which he hasn't been able to do this season. His low-post offensive repertoire is just not demanding enough now for Pastner to run plays for him.
Black, though, will right his ship. Most of his issues are mental and can be worked out. The bigger problem at this point is the play of his backup, Stan Simpson.
Simpson played five minutes for the Tigers yesterday. His stat line: 0-2 from the field, zero rebounds, two turnovers, one block.
When Black picked up his fourth foul with 10:09 left in the game, the game was tied at 59. Pastner, however, was forced to play Simpson, who was in the game for literally one second before being called for a shooting foul on Russ Smith.
Not two minutes later, Simpson fumbled away a perfect entry pass and failed to get back defensively, which led to a dunk in transition by Simpson's man, Dieng. He was benched immediately after.
Translation: When Simpson replaced Black with 10:09 left, it was 59-59. When he exited with 8:35 left, it was 68-63 in favor of Louisville.
Ferrakohn Hall, who provided good energy against Louisville, figures to take most of Simpson's minutes in the coming weeks. Memphis simply cannot withstand poor efforts like Simpson's.
2. Wesley Witherspoon's role within the frame of the team has to be deciphered. In a hostile road environment against Louisville, Wesley Witherspoon, the Tigers' only senior that suited up against the Cardinals, was nowhere to be found. He had two points, three fouls, and one turnover in 12 minutes. He couldn't handle a nicely-placed low post pass from Antonio Barton and got beat off the bounce several times throughout the game. As a senior, Witherspoon has to contribute more than just three fouls. He doesn't necessarily have to score points, but he's got to set more of a tone for his younger teammates, be it on the boards or defensively. There's something to be said for him playing out of his natural position, but there's really no excuse for that stat line. He possesses the tools to be a great basketball player for Memphis, but at this point, he's just not utilizing them.
3. Free throws didn't cost Memphis the game — the act of fouling itself did. So many times yesterday, Memphis allowed too much penetration by Louisville's guards. Memphis looked like a team incapable of playing a full 35 seconds of defense without fouling. That said, Memphis shot three more free throws than Louisville and were 13 percent less successful (Louisville shot 80 percent, Memphis was 67 percent). Memphis improved drastically in the second half, but the atrocious first half for the Tigers was too much to overcome. The Tigers have to be able to guard for a shot clock without bailing out the other team in order to be successful this season.