There were only two teams better than the Memphis Tigers in the American Athletic Conference - or, at least, that's how the coaches saw things before the 2014-15 season started. And the Cincinnati Bearcats weren't one of those teams.
Fast forward to today, and it's funny how drastically the storylines have changed in just 2 and a half months. Once eyeing a conference title, some Tigers fans are now wondering if they have the right man at the helm of the program.
The Bearcats? Many would have been thrilled with a top 3 finish in the AAC. And after enjoying their somewhat surprising play against the likes of SDSU, NC State, and SMU, many Bearcat fans are now looking forward to a young team gelling in time to win a conference title.
- Game: Thursday, January 15 @ 7:00pm ET
- Location: Fed Ex Forum; Memphis, TN
- TV/Radio: ESPN; 700 WLW
The Tigers have already lost 6 games on the year (including 4 of their first 7), and that doesn't include their OT exhibition loss to Christian Brothers. But, of those 6 loses, only one was to a team they should have definitely beat - Tulane (currently ranked #141 in KenPom).
Memphis coach Josh Pastner has used a bevvy of starting lineups this year; 10 different kids have made an appearance on the court as the ball was tossed skyward by an official. Austin Nichols (#4 in your program), the 6'8" sophomore forward, currently leads the Tigers in scoring at 13.0 a game and is second on the team in rebounding (6.0 a contest).
Trahson Burrell (#0) is a new face for Bearcat fans this year. The junior college transfer stands 6'6" and is listed as a forward - but his tall frame is packed with only 169 pounds. Burrell is second on the team in points at 10.1 a game. And big man Shaq Goodwin (#2) is still in Memphis; his steady post presence leads the Tigers in boards with 6.3 a game.
What the 'Cats have to do to win:
- Capitalize off turnovers. The Tigers will turn it over a few times on Thursday; they average over 15 a game. The Bearcats need to take those extra possessions and turn them into points - be it on the fastbreak, free throw line, etc.
- Man up down low. The Bearcats have blocked a ton of shots this year (and, unfortunately have goaltended a few, too). Memphis might be the only team in the AAC that can match UC's shot-blocking presence. The play of Clark, Ellis, and DeBerry will be key.
- Control tempo. I don't write this often - partly because the Cats do a good job of doing this - but I think it'll be important against the Tigers. They have young, talented guards who many fans are waiting to catch fire. I think the Bearcats actually benefit from a slowed-down game at Memphis.
I'll be honest - I like playing Josh Pastner coached teams. Recruits like Tarzan, coaches like Jane. The Bearcats should be hungry and scrappy after Saturday's loss to Connecticut. They did, however, win both contests against Memphis last year, and I'm sure that hasn't gone over well in the Tigers' locker room. Gut check time; I'll say UC wins 61-58.