The Memphis basketball traveling party was one member short for this week's Crossover Classic.
The Tigers, who arrived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Monday, are without Ahmad Rand. The 6-foot-8 junior college transfer did not make the trip due to contact tracing associated with COVID-19, according to coach Penny Hardaway.
Rand will miss all three games Memphis is scheduled to play at the tournament, which is being held without fans at the Sanford Pentagon. Rand led all junior college players last season with five blocks per game and also averaged 9.8 points and 8.2 rebounds as a sophomore at USC Salkehatchie. Without him, sophomore Malcolm Dandridge and junior Lance Thomas figure to see more minutes for the Tigers.
Hardaway also said Tuesday that the Tigers are healthy overall. He added sophomore guard Lester Quinones is battling minor tendinitis but is expected to be ready to play against Saint Mary's.
Another member of Hardaway's team not yet cleared to play is forward DeAndre Williams. The NCAA has not made a decision regarding forward Williams' transfer waiver request. Williams traveled with the team to South Dakota and will be available to play if a ruling is made during the tournament. The NCAA has largely granted Division I transfers immediate eligibility this offseason due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But, according to reports, the holdup with Williams has been his former school, Evansville.
"There is frustration," Hardaway said. "I'm very, you know, I just know the system is going to work in favor of the kids this year, because of the COVID situation. But it is frustrating that it hasn't happened thus far. We put the waiver in later, so the NCAA is going through their due diligence. But, like a lot of kids around the country who got help from the school they were previously at, we did the same thing for Tyler Harris (Iowa State) and Ryan Boyce (Georgia State). Because we're not trying to hold kids back. We know this is a situation where we're in a pandemic and that to let the kids play is something they really need."
While Memphis was forced to make the trip without Rand due to health and safety protocols, Hardaway said things have run smoothly for his team since it arrived in South Dakota Monday.
“Now that you see the system and how they have everyone kind of sectioned off in their own little space, their own little area, and everyone is wearing masks – the tournament has done a great job with how they’ve set it up,” he said.
The Tigers are set to take on Saint Mary's at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
If they win, they will face the Western Kentucky-Northern Iowa winner at 11 a.m. Thursday. Should Memphis lose to the Gaels, it will meet the WKU-UNI loser at 4 p.m. Thursday. Friday's opponent will be either West Virginia, South Dakota State, Utah State or VCU at a time to be determined.
Despite the shakeup of the tournament's field – which originally included Duke, Ohio State, Utah, Texas A&M, Creighton and Wichita State – Hardaway said he's still anxious to mix it up.
“It helps you because you’re playing good teams,” he said. “Saint Mary’s is a veteran, well-coached team. When you get to the NCAA Tournament, these type of teams are upsetting the top teams. You can’t take them lightly. There are no favorites right now. To have three good games early in the season, it’s going to be good for us."
Memphis was among the best teams in the country last season from a defensive standpoint, as it ranked first in effective field goal percentage defense. Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said Tuesday the Gaels aren't expecting that to change this season.
"The thing that jumps out at us the most is how well coached they are defensively," he said. "Obviously, they don't have Precious (Achiuwa) back or the little guard (Tyler) Harris. But they're really quick defensively. They cover up stuff. They're hard to score on. They don't give up threes. And they force turnovers. So we're going to have to be able to deal with that."
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at email@example.com or on Twitter @munzly.