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Game Preview: No. 9 Cincinnati Bearcats at Memphis Tigers

Last time we saw the Tigers they were being sent home with a 34-point loss.

NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Apparently Memphis still has a basketball team (two if you include the Grizzlies) even after the Cincinnati Bearcats threw the Tigers into outer space when the two teams met up on New Years Eve. So that means the game scheduled for Saturday is still going to be played, as the Bearcats will visit the Tigers at FedExForum for some American Athletic Conference hooping.

Who are the Memphis Tigers?

They are not a team that loses by 34 points usually, but that’s what happened during UC’s 82-48 rout in its league opener. Since then, Memphis (13-7, 4-3 AAC) has done its best to bounce back, and for a little while there, it was succeeding. Four-straight wins from Jan. 6 to Jan. 16 pushed the Tigers to 13 wins, but they lost to Tulsa 64-51 last Saturday and have been off ever since. At 4-3 in league play, they are right in the thick of the mediocre mud that has spilled all over the AAC standings.

In the loss to Tulsa, Memphis forgot how to play offense again. During their four-game winning streak, the Tigers averaged an even 80 points per game, but by shooting 35.3 percent from the floor while turning the ball over 20 times against the Golden Hurricane, they managed just a bit beyond half of that. Kyvon Davenport at least came to play, putting up 21 points and 10 rebounds while making 7-of-16 shots from the floor. Davenport did not get all the support he was used to, though, as Jeremiah Martin left the game early with a hip injury. The 6’2” guard leads the team in scoring (18.4 PG) and assists (3.9 APG) and will reportedly be back for this game, but we’ll have to see if he’s at full strength.

Its a scary thought to think of where Memphis would be without Martin, especially as it has only scored 67.9 points per game in conference play while attempting the fewest field goals (380) of any team in the league in such contests. Ranked 153rd in the country in adjusted offense, the Tigers need Martin to be entirely himself (and maybe even a little more) if they hope to upset the Bearcats.

A Win of Epic Proportions

UC’s win over Memphis earlier this season was a statement victory, just not in the normal sense. Instead of the Bearcats inching by a highly regarded foe, the Bearcats absolutely thrashed a team, albeit one they were expected to beat. Every single player on the UC roster posted a defensive rating below 100 and the team shot 52.5 percent from the field, including a 9-of-18 line from beyond the arc. Jarron Cumberland paved the way with 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks, while Gary Clark hoisted up a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds. This was a big game for Trevor Moore as well. The freshman splashed in three triples and finished with 12 points, which remains a career-high and the only instance he has been in double figures during his young career.

As for Memphis, it didn’t matter that Martin was entirely healthy, as the Tigers shot 32.1 percent while their star netted eight points on 4-of-14 shooting. Kareem Brewton Jr. did score 17 points in as many minutes, but its tough to be impressed by that when the whole team had an offensive rating of 71.6 and an effective field goal percentage of .357.

Starting Slow

Just because the Bearcats have the talent to rip opposing teams to shreds, doesn’t mean they have always done so for 40 minutes. That’s not to say that their 11-game winning streak has been filled with many competitive final scores, but there have been more than a few times where the beginning of the first half was not pretty. They trailed 21-11 to USF more than 12 minutes into their Jan. 13 meeting, but won 78-55. They were down 19-15 at halftime against UCF before eventually pulling out a 49-38 victory. East Carolina kept it to a one-possession game through the first 10 minutes before losing 86-60. Even Temple held a lead against the Bearcats after more than eight minutes of play before being crushed (75-42). Obviously, against teams near the bottom portion of the conference, this won’t be a problem, but it would be encouraging to see a wire-to-wire decimation.

Prediction Time!

UC is not going to beat Memphis by 34 points again. Let’s just get that out of the way. But that doesn’t mean they are going to lose either. The Tigers are an uninspiring offensive team that will struggle again when matched up against the nation’s second-best adjusted defense. Meanwhile, I’m not sure they have a very good answer for Clark and his incredible hot streak. Expect the Tigers to keep it closer but for another win to come UC’s way.

Cincinnati 74 Memphis 62

How do you think this game plays out? Drop predictions in the comments or let me know on Twitter at @downthedrive or @philneuffer