Coming into the 2019-20 season, the Cincinnati vs Memphis basketball games was going to be one of the most anticipated given the recent history of both teams and the expectations coming into this year.
Entering Thursday night, Cincinnati is 10-6 (3-1 AAC) and Memphis is 13-3 (2-1).
Significance of this game
It’s pretty simple. Right now, Cincinnati is not only not an NCAA Tournament team, they aren’t even on the bubble. Losing to Colgate, Tulane, and Bowling Green will do that to you. But the good news is Cincinnati has several chances in conference plays at big time, high profile wins, starting with Memphis.
Bearcats NEED big wins in order to get back towards the bubble.
Cincinnati has beaten one ranked team this year (Tennessee), although the Vols have completely fallen apart and no longer look like a major win. Memphis enters Thursday night ranked #22.
Cincinnati is currently 43 in KenPom rankings and 63 in NET (previously were in the low 100s). Memphis is only 40 in KenPom and 25 in NET. Given that this game is on the road, it would certainly qualify as a quad 1, signature victory to help boost the Bearcats March resume.
Cincinnati’s roller coaster season is well-documented, and on Saturday, the team finally picked up it’s first road win of the John Brannen era and it’s second straight win for the first time since December.
But Memphis has also had a roller coaster season. Not necessarily the way Cincinnati has, alternating wins and losses, but due to some off-the-court issues.
The prize of the Tigers’ #1 recruiting class was 7’0 center James Wiseman, who was ranked as the best prospect in the 2019 high school class. Wiseman played a few games, but was later suspended due to accusations against coach Penny Hardaway. Wiseman later withdrew from the school, to prepare for the NBA Draft.
Memphis is 13-3. Their three losses - Oregon, Georgia, and Wichita State.
Oregon is a top 10 team and arguably the best in the PAC-12. They lost by 8 points, with Wiseman, so it would be interesting to see how they would fare without him. The Georgia loss was fluky, losing 65-62 at home. Memphis shot 11-20 from the free throw line (sound familiar, Cincy fans?) and shot 32% from three (7-22). The poor shooting doomed them.
Wichita State looks like the best team in the AAC, with just one loss this season. They won at home 76-67 last Thursday night.
Memphis opened conference play by beating Tulane, the same Tulane that beat Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago. They won a tricky road game against USF on Sunday, beating the Bulls 68-64, coming back from a double-digit deficit late in the second half.
In non-conference play, they beat Tennessee, days before Cincinnati did. They also beat NC State and Ole Miss.
Players to Watch
With Wiseman out of the picture, the go-to guy from Memphis is Precious Achiuwa. Achiuwa, 5-star prospect was ranked 15th nationally. He now leads the team in scoring (15.6 ppg), rebounding (10.4 rpg), and blocks (2.0 bpg).
Achiuwa was named AAC Freshman of the Week for his strong performances last week. Memphis went 1-1 and Achiuwa average 22 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks against Wichita State and USF.
This sequence is one of the reasons I'm still high on Precious Achiuwa as an NBA prospect no matter what - switches multiple times, guarding big and small, ends up blocking the shot clean and immediately pushing into a transition chance. This stuff translates. pic.twitter.com/wlzXJy4XDO— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) January 10, 2020
Among the 7 players that are playing over 20 minutes per game for Memphis, 5 of them are true freshman.
Gary Parrish of CBS, who also follows Memphis closely, identifies that Achiuwa, DJ Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax are the five best Memphis has to offer. What’s interesting about that is that Sam Vecenie of the Athletic notes that those 5 have played just 17 offensive possessions together. This is partly due to the presence of Wiseman in the beginning of the season but also seems to be related to coaching stubbornness.
Alex Lomax will provide matchup problems for which guard defends him. Lomax is a sophomore, who is averaging 8.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg and leads the team in assists (4.8 apg) and steals (1.9 spg).
Bearcats have one notable advantage that they must maximize if they want to win a tricky road game - experience. Memphis has none of it. They are a much more talented team than Cincinnati. But talent is an individual trait. Jarron Cumberland and Trevon Scott have played together for 4 years, plus Keith Williams for 3 years. If these guys can just play their game and cancel out the noise and hang around long enough, I’d put my trust in those three to make the plays they need to, with the game on the line.
Cincinnati was won 6 in a row against Memphis. That dates all the way back to Scott and Cumberland’s freshman seasons, but includes just two visits to Memphis.
However, the last time Cincinnati played at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, they won three straight games, including beating Houston in the AAC Tournament Championship Game in 2019.
Shooting, defense and all the fundamentals are important, but the experience of the team’s leaders, will need to be heavily relied on as well.