The Bearcats are playing their most complete basketball of the season right now. Sure the offense is shaky at best (let’s just accept that this is par for the course for a Mick Cronin team) but the defense has been spectacular and free throw shooting clutch. But Cincinnati faces yet another challenge tomorrow in the 18th ranked, 10-2 Memphis Tigers. Being that it’s on the road makes the mountain all the taller for UC to climb. Even so, the Bearcats should have more than a puncher’s chance at knocking out Memphis on Saturday, especially with the way Justin Jackson has played of late.
Like the Memphis teams of old, these Tigers score points and they score them quickly. Josh Pastner’s squad is averaging almost 83 points per game (27th nationally), 74 possessions per game (39th nationally), and efficiency rating of 112 (72nd nationally). And while Memphis is shooting 48.5% from the field (37th nationally) with a not-too-surprising 17 assists per game (13th nationally), they really don’t shoot all that well from three. The Tigers are shooting just 30.7% from beyond the arc, which is one of the worst averages in college basketball. Clearly it’s the transition game and an uptempo, crash the paint offense that has propelled Memphis offensively this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Joe Jackson (#1): Memphis’ scoring starts with this guy. Jackson is averaging 15.2 points and 3.7 assists per game, both of which lead the Tigers. The one chink in the armor is that he is struggling from three point land this season. Jackson is shooting just 25% from beyond the arc this year, which seems to be a team-wide struggle for Memphis but is certainly pulling down his numbers. Still, this is a player that can get to the rim in a hurry and runs the offense well.
Geron Johnson (#55): He’s arguably the Tigers’ biggest threat from the wing position. Johnson is averaging 12.8 points, 3.7 assists, and a pretty impressive 4.9 rebounds per game. But like Joe Jackson, the wing struggles from three. Johnson is making just 22% of the shots he takes there. But also like Jackson, his short- and mid-range game is very solid.
Michael Dixon Jr. (#11): He’s a game changer off the bench for Memphis, providing the Tigers with a scoring threat at key moments when Pastner chooses to unleash him. Dixon Jr. has only started 3 games this season but provides a nice wrinkle to the offense, contributing 11.3 points per game. He most recently scored a season high 18 points against USF. Keep an eye on him when he pops in the game tomorrow.
Justin Jackson vs. Shaq Goodwin (#2): I can’t can’t CAN’T wait for this matchup tomorrow. #JustinJacksonMeanFace has been a force of late, owning the paint and soaring through the air to block shots like Kenyon Martin in his prime. But he’ll be manned up on a pretty immovable object in Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin. The 6’9″ 242 lbs behemoth is a force to be reckoned with down low, contributing almost 13 points and 7 rebounds per game for the Tigers. Justin Jackson will have his work cut out for him keeping Goodwin in check and if the UC power forward runs into foul issues, Cincinnati could be in trouble tomorrow afternoon.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND PREDICTION
After burying my face in my pillow after the Crosstown Shootout, I’ve loved watching Bearcats basketball of late. But Cincinnati is taking on a juggernaut tomorrow at noon. As you can tell from the “players to watch” section above, UC can’t key in on any one player in an attempt to slow down the Tigers’ prolific scoring attack. Josh Pastner has a slew of weapons at his disposal. Every single one of UC’s players need to elevate their game tomorrow for Cincinnati to pull out a tough win on the road. Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening.