Time is beginning to run out for Cincinnati and, unfortunately, the Bearcats have not been particularly good with time ticking away. They are less than a week removed from yet another loss that could have been avoided if they could just figure out how to close. Two overtime periods and some 3-point heroics from one Devin Coleman thwarted Cincinnati's attempt at revenge against Temple and once again put UC in reverse.
There are only so many more losses the Bearcats can take like that, if any. On Thursday, they will face off with Memphis with mounted pressure tearing through their minds. After all, every slip up from this point on could be the one that takes them out of not only American Athletic Conference title contention, but the NCAA Tournament discussion as well.
Meet the Opponent
Desperation won't be felt by the Bearcats alone. Memphis is in a very similar situation at this point in the campaign. At 12-5 overall, the Tigers will need some resume-boosting wins down the stretch to put themselves inside the NCAA Tournament bubble. Luckily for them, they have won three of their last four games and have a much better standing in the AAC as compared to Cincy (3-1).
Here's the good news: Memphis isn't a team battle tested on the road. It is winless in two whole away games (!) through 19 overall contests and that will hopefully play into the favor of the Bearcats, who generally play well on their home floor, albeit less dominantly this year (8-3).
As far as the players to keep an eye on, a usual suspect will loom large. Shaq Goodwin would have made a great Bearcat, what with his incredible athletic ability, strong work on the glass and defensive acumen. The 6-foot-9 forward is doing everything he can to keep Memphis above water, putting up career-bests in scoring (13.8 PPG) and rebounds (8.3 RPG). He also makes any driver feel foolish for thinking of getting to the rim, blocking 2.2 shots per game. He's been even better in conference games (18.8 PPG, 2.3 BPG) and his defensive (85.1) and offensive ratings (115.9) are the envy of every man in the greater Midwest.
OK, OK, You didn't come here just to read a heaping of praise for Goodwin. (Ricky Tarrant and Dedric Lawson are two folks that can't be ignored as well). Let's turn to the other side of the court.
Battle in the Trenches
With Goodwin and Lawson (who is a double-double threat and a gifted passer in the paint by the way), Memphis has the size up front to hang with the Bearcats, who often have the edge in that department. That means the recent surge of Octavius Ellis and the season-long consistency of Gary Clark has to continue. Ellis showed he has not lost his aggression or ability to be a go-to option on both ends during the last two games, putting up 13 points and 13 boards against Houston and 14 and 9 against Temple. Gary Clark is the best offensive rebounder the AAC has to offer and there's no questioning how good he has been.
For Cincinnati to win the battle inside, they need a bit more, however. Coreontae DeBerry, Shaq Thomas and, heck, even Quadri Moore have to play at their best. In addition, since Memphis knows it strength is inside, the Bearcats have to play disciplined defense and not just try to block anything near the hoop. The Tigers get the free-throw line all the time. They are seventh in the country in foul shots attempted (516) and fourth (376) in foul shots made.
Offense? What Offense?
This won't just be a battle inside. It will be a tooth and nail fight for 40 minutes, and possibly more if the Bearcats opt for overtime like they did against Temple. Neither of these teams gives an inch defensively. The Bearcats are 17th in the country in opponent field goal percentage (38.6 percent) and Memphis is even better, ranking second (36.3 percent).
On top of that, Cincinnati has been exhibiting so many of the frustrating offensive shortcomings of year's past recently. It looked like the team had turned a new leaf early on, but the Bearcats have scored less than 70 points in three of the last four games and the team's pace has slowed to a disgusting crawl. Getting some better play in the backcourt is a necessity as Troy Caupain appears to be the only guard capable of securing the ball and doing anything other than chucking the ball up from 3-point range.