The Memphis Tigers have been on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster over the past week. First, the Tigers rekindled their rivalry with the Cincinnati Bearcats from Conference USA past, which resulted in Memphis losing by 16 on their home court. Then, Memphis beat longtime rival Louisville on the road, marking the biggest win for the Tigers since Josh Pasnter has become head coach. To say there has been some ups and downs this week would be an understatement, but if the Tigers are not careful they could be in for another letdown Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday, Memphis travels to Philadelphia to play Temple. The Owls aren’t having their best season — they are 5-8 thus far — but the Tigers are coming off of their biggest win in five seasons, and have Connecticut coming up next week. This game sets up perfectly to be a trap game for Memphis. I could see a scenario where the Tigers coming off of their big high, and mentally preparing for UConn, not being ready for Temple. Not paying attention to Temple could result in a huge loss for the Tigers.
Playing on the road has not been a problem for the Tigers; they are 2-0 this season on the road in American Athletic Conference play, so I wouldn’t expect the travel or the opposing fans being a problem, but I would worry about their mindset. They went on the road during the holidays and ran South Florida off the floor and, of course, they had their big road win over Louisville. They can beat Temple, and they should beat Temple rather handily, but with only one day off and not coming home, the Tigers could very easily sleepwalk through this game.
The biggest problem will be if Memphis stops playing its uptempo game, and slows down too much and ends up forcing long jumpers because it is tired and complacent after beating the Cardinals. This team has proven that for it to win, it needs to get the ball in the paint, whether it is in the post to Shaq Goodwin or Austin Nichols, or it’s Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson or Michael Dixon getting in the lane with dribble penetration. They need to be in the paint to win. Memphis ranks 323rd out of 351 NCAA Division I teams in three-point shooting, and if it tries to lazily get through its game with Temple, it could be flying home with a bad loss on its resume.
Temple is not the team that it have been in years past, but Fran Dunphy will have his team prepared to play, and you can bet he knows that by slowing the Tigers down, and clogging the paint, they have a tendency to rely on long jumpers. Temple has two big-bodied men in the paint–Anthony Lee and Mark Williams–that will be up to the task of clogging the paint, and expect Temple guards to lay off of every Tigers guard except Chris Crawford. If Memphis doesn’t force the action and get in the lane, or get fouled, it will be in for a long game Saturday, and an even longer flight home. As of now, it is expected to be full of joy, but there is still work left to do on this road trip for the Tigers.
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