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American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview: Memphis Tigers vs. Cincinnati Bearcats

The winner plays in the championship game on Sunday.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bearcats will face the Memphis Tigers for the third time this season thanks to a dramatic buzzer-beater by Kareem Brewton gave the fifth-seed Tigers their second win in as many days during a 67-64 thriller over fourth-seeded Tulsa.

Meanwhile, the Bearcats overcame a slow start and an off day from Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland to defeat short-handed SMU.

Back to the Tigers, who have played well lately, winning three straight and seven of their last eight. Memphis beat South Florida by two points on Thursday, before Brewton’s heroics against Tulsa on Friday.

The Tigers have found late-season success, despite losing their leading scorer, and All American Conference second team selection Jeremiah Martin to a season-ending injury in late February.

Regular Season

Cincinnati easily defeated Memphis in each of their previous games with a 34-point victory back on New Year’s Eve and a 14-point victory on Jan. 27.

The Bearcats have dominated the Tigers on the glass, outrebounding them 84-62; a massive advantage that goes a long way in explaining how the games have been so lopsided.

Memphis has especially struggled in the first half against the Bearcats, getting outscored 69-37 between the two games.

Experience vs. Youth

Memphis returned just two letter winners from a season ago, and the loss of Martin drops them down to one. The Tigers had 11 newcomers to begin the season, far and away the most in the American Athletic Conference.

Brewton and Kyvon Davenport have had the biggest impact, while returner Jimario Rivers consistently contributes offensively and defensively. Rivers was key in the Tigers 91-85 upset victory of Houston earlier in the year, when he scored 21 points and added nine rebounds.

The transfers of brothers K.J. and Dedric Lawson to Kansas after last season left the Tigers without reliable veterans to lead this young team. Head coach Tubby Smith and his staff should be commended for their ability to find quality JUCO transfers to keep them competitive.

That said, according to KenPom’s Luck metric, Memphis has been the second luckiest team in the nation so far this season.

Matchups

On paper, the Bearcats are the far superior team. Memphis has more size than SMU, but still not enough to compete defensively with Gary Clark and Kyle Washington. The Bearcats ability to rebound, and knock down second-chance shots has buried the Tigers in both of their previous games.

Cincinnati knocked down 17-of-36 three-pointers attempted against Memphis, and held the Tigers to just 14-of-45 (31.1%) from the field. The Bearcats’ guards have been too big, and too consistent for Memphis to compete.

Prediction

Can Cincinnati lay two eggs in a row? Yes, they definitely can. (Editor’s note: Blasphemy!) That said, yet again, they get a very favorable draw and should dispense of the Tigers relatively easily.

Memphis will be playing its third game in three days, and while it may have more bodies than SMU, it sorely lacks in quality.

The Bearcats win over Wichita State to secure the No. 1 seed is looking bigger and bigger as the tournament progresses. The only thing standing between them and another trip to the American Athletic Conference championship game is a tired, inexperienced Memphis team.

Look for Evans to bounce back with a big game, and the Cincinnati bigs to dominate the glass.

Final Score: Cincinnati 72, Memphis 55