Editor’s note: The original text of this preview was written before Memphis played LSU on Thursday night. All stats are from before play of that game, but some changes were made in the preview to reflect the results of the 71-61 loss for Memphis.
For most people in the world, Sunday is New Year’s Eve. For Cincinnati Bearcats fans, it is a very different holiday — it’s the first American Athletic Conference game of the season. The last thing the Bearcats will do in 2017 is play the Memphis Tigers at BB&T Arena and kick off their quest to win the AAC.
Who are the Memphis Tigers?
If you’re like me, you still think of Memphis as one of the best teams in the AAC. That has a lot more to do with the Tigers’ incredible run from 2000 to 2014 than their recent work. While they have won at least 18 games in each of the last three years, they have not had 20 wins since 2014. This is the second year of the Tubby Smith era and the Tigers still appear to be on that second tier of teams. They may be 9-4 overall, but they are ranked No. 175 by KenPom, which is behind nine other teams in the AAC, including UC.
Memphis had won its last two games (it lost to LSU on Thursday night), barely scraping past Siena on Dec. 20 and Loyola-Maryland this past Saturday. The game against the Saints was scary. The Tigers trailed 34-26 at the half and won despite shooting 37.9 percent from the floor in the second half. Loyola also frightened them, as the game was tied 35-35 at the break. The Tigers then hit 62.1 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes to win the game.
Jeremiah Martin netted 26 points in the win over Loyola, continuing a pretty strong junior season for the 6’2” guard. Martin is netting 18.6 points per game, trailing only Robert Gray Jr. from Houston among AAC players. He has scored at least 20 points four times this season and has yet to be held out of double figures.
Kyvon Davenport (13.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG) and Jimario Rivers (10.4 PPG) are the other key contributors and the best rebounders on the roster.
Despite the efforts of Martin in particular, the Tigers don’t shoot all that well, especially from long range. Before the LSU game, they had only attempted 227 triples this season, which was 307th in the country. You can point to that as part of the season they were 240th in scoring and 166th in adjusted offense.
Finishing December Strong
To completely fulfill this subhead, the Bearcats need to beat Memphis, but so far, the second half of December has been kind. After losing to Xavier and Florida to kick off the month, the Bearcats have won four-straight games. Granted, topping Cleveland State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff doesn’t mean much, but the win over UCLA is looking better and better everyday, especially after the Bruins upset Kentucky.
In their most recent win, the Bearcats did not play their best, struggling a bit more than you’d expect against Cleveland State. However, they still won that game by 19 points. That should tell you how good this team can be. Gary Clark netted 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting to lead the way, while Jarron Cumberland (16 points) and Kyle Washington (14 points, nine rebounds) each got in on the action as well. Of course, Jacob Evans is still the lead scoring threat, netting 13.6 points per game.
Reviewing UC’s Recent AAC Work
During their 30-6 masterpiece last season, the Bearcats were pretty dominant in AAC play. They went 16-2 against the rest of the conference, with the lone losses against eventual league champ SMU and an upstart UCF team. Of those 16 wins, one came against the Tigers, whom the Bearcats beat 87-74 in their lone matchup of the season. Martin had 23 points and 11 rebounds and Dedric Lawson added 21 and 10 in the game, but that didn’t stop Washington (16 points) and the Bearcats. UC is 41-33 all-time against Memphis and has won three of the last four meetings.
If Siena and Loyola were able to give Memphis such a fight, then the Bearcats should be just fine. Going a bit deeper, obviously stopping Martin is going to be a real challenge, especially since the Bearcats’ best defenders aren’t necessarily in the backcourt. However, as has already been pointed out, the Tigers do not shoot particularly well from three. In fact, that isn’t a big part of their game at all. That’s a shame since UC is second in the country in opponent two-point field goal percentage (.394). That does not imply good things for Memphis, especially on the road against a UC team that has won 33-straight games at home.
Cincinnati 75 Memphis 63