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The Layup Line: Memphis

The Bearcats and Tigers will renew a 45 year old rivalry when they face off as conference mates once again. UC leads the all-time series 36-31, but Memphis has won the last 4.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It's been five years since the Memphis Tigers (10-2) and Cincinnati Bearcats faced one another on a basketball court. Seems odd for a rivalry that was so rich during the Conference USA days, but they meet again - as companions of a different conference.

The Bearcats travel to Memphis for their first game away from Fifth Third Arena in 2 weeks; in fact, it's the first true road game since the loss at New Mexico a month ago.

  • Game: Saturday, January 4 @ 12:00pm ET
  • Location: FedEx Forum; Memphis, TN
  • TV/Radio: ESPN2; 700WLW

There's no sugar-coatin' this one: you know Memphis is good. They come into Saturday's game with two losses: at #6 Oklahoma State and on a neutral court against #12 Florida. As a team, they average 82 points a game and shoot better than 48% from the field. Oh, and did I mention they're ranked 18th in both college basketball polls?

What an opportunity to grab a HUGE win on the road, right?

In order to do that, it'd be helpful to shut down Joe Jackson (#01 in your program); the 6'1" senior guard averages 15.2 points a game and is tied for the team lead in assists. But shutting down Jackson isn't easy (duh); he leads the team in free throw attempts (82) and sinks them at a 88% clip - so even on an "off" shooting night, he'll still fill up the stat sheet.

And if, let's say, the Bearcats shut down Joe Jackson, there are still 4 other Tigers who average at least 9 points a game. Compare that to the Bearcats - who have only 2 guys averaging more than 9 a game (Kilpatrick and Jackson).

Shaq Goodwin (#02) is one of those guys. He's a 6'9" sophomore (and former McD's AA) who averages 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. Michael Dixon Jr. (#11) is another one - averaging 11.3 points a game. Does that name sound familiar? If so, it's because he used to play for another set of Tigers - Mizzou. Dixon, Jr. scored 11 points when the Bearcats beat Mizzou back in the 2011 NCAA tournament.

What I'm trying to say is shutting down Memphis' offense will be a daunting task. Cronin and his assistants are usually pretty good at devising a gameplan to lock down the opposing team's best player, but even that's not gonna do the trick against this Tigers squad.

If the 'Cats wanna escape with a win, they'll have to do all the things they normally do well, but even better. When the Tigers lost to Florida 2 weeks ago Memphis had more points in the paint, more points off turnovers, more bench points, and a +9 turnover margin. And they lost. I'm willing to bet if the Tigers win all 4 of those statistical categories on Saturday, they'll probably beat the Bearcats handily.

What the 'Cats have to do to win:

  • Get a +7 Rebounding Margin. In Memphis' 2 losses this year, that's the average in which they were outrebounded. That also happens to be the Bearcats' average rebounding margin so far this year.
  • Hold the Tigers under 67. If you follow Cincinnati closely this year, you know that no team has scored more than 67 points against them. Yes, Memphis averages 82 points a game; herein lies the rub.
  • Spread out the scoring. In the Bearcats last 2 games, they're average 69.5 points each contest with four different guys scoring at least 9 in each contest. Even if Justin Jackson maintains his awesome pace and Sean Kilpatrick regains his stroke, they'll need at least 2 other guys to score 9 or more points.

My prediction: I said it above, but it bears repeating: there's no sugar coatin' this one. The Tigers are good, and they're favored to beat the Bearcats. If I were a bettin' man, though, I think Cincinnati keeps it close and probably covers the spread (although I have no idea what the spread actually is; that's helpful, right?). Memphis plays Louisville next week, so there's a chance they're looking ahead. But I don't think the 'Cats have the firepower to pull this out on the road; Memphis wins: 69-66. Sorry Bearcat fans...