Top 5 Toughest Matchups for Memphis Tigers in 2013-14
Memphis Tigers: Top 5 Toughest Games This Season
The start of fall practice on Oct. 3 is rapidly approaching for the Memphis Tigers, as is the start of the upcoming season. In their first year in the American Athletic Conference, head coach Josh Pastner has a plethora of talent, and expectations are the highest they've been since he took over the program over four years ago.
Memphis is likely to enter the year as a top-20 to top-15 ranked team. Not only did they return three seniors from last year's squad in the backcourt, they added senior Missouri transfer Michael Dixon, as well as senior George Washington transfer David Pellom.
If you'd like to delve even further, Pastner adds a top-three ranked recruiting class and the always-smiling Shaq Goodwin is back.
There's a simple point to all this, and that is the Tigers are primed for big things in 2013-14. All the pieces are there, and though many of those pieces are young, they possess very good skills. However, we all know that talent guarantees nothing. If Memphis is going to achieve their goals, they have to get through the toughest schedule the team has had since 2008-09.
The AAC has brought a much stiffer slate night in and night out. The Tigers can no longer sleepwalk through a half and expect to wake up in the next to win.
So, which dates will be the toughest for Memphis this season? Here I rank the top five toughest games for the Tigers this year in ascending order from the fifth toughest game to the matchup of the year.
5. at Oklahoma State Cowboys
This was really a toss up between games at the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Connecticut Huskies, but the fact that the Tigers travel to Stillwater early on makes this game even more important. Memphis has been plagued by slow starts to the season in the last few years, and playing at the Cowboys will be a very tough, early test.
Oklahoma State has an NBA lottery pick in Marcus Smart (15.4 points per game), as well as Markel Brown, who was second on the team in scoring (15.3) behind Smart. The Cowboys return a lot of talent from last year's squad that finished 24-9. With the tough schedule, it's imperative that the Tigers get off to a faster start, and a win at Oklahoma State would be great for momentum and confidence.
4. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Any time the Tigers and Gonzaga Bulldogs have met, it has been a physical affair. Mark Few is one of the best coaches in the college game and took the program to new heights last year, attaining the top overall ranking in the AP poll and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs lose a number of key players, but Few always seems to reload with gritty guys that do anything to win.
The game comes on Feb. 8, right in the middle of the conference slate. ESPN's Gameday will be in Memphis for the game, so the atmosphere will be electric.
3. Louisville Cardinals
The atmosphere at FedExForum will be no greater than on March 1 when the Louisville Cardinals come to town. The defending National Champions return the bulk of their core and and will be favorites to win it all again. The game should be a determining factor in the AAC standings and is sure to be another thriller in the long-storied rivalry.
Any time these two programs meet, it is a game to watch. Expect the the arena to be completely packed.
2. Florida Gators
The Florida Gators are a top-10 team entering this season and will meet the Tigers in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17 as part of the Jimmy V Classic. Billy Donovan reeled in another stellar class and returns a ton of talent that is a favorite to win the SEC.
Athletically, the Gators are a very good matchup for a Memphis team that loves to run. They have also been winning the big games for a few years now and are no strangers to it all coming down to the last few minutes. Memphis could have a tough time besting an experienced Gators team.
1. at Louisville Cardinals
Yes, Louisville is that good. Good enough that both games the Tigers have against them rank in the top five, with their trip to the Cardinals' home being the toughest all season. There is really no need to go much further than that. It's no secret why this is No. 1.
A win here could be season-defining for the Tigers.